Dore Gold Iran, Mid-East Strategy & Arab-Israeli Diplomacy
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The Myth of the 1967 Borders

In rejecting, the proposal for a Palestinian state with temporary borders, that Haaretz reported last Friday, Abu Mazen insisted that the only basis for any future political arrangements with Israel is "the 1967 borders". He is not the only one today talking about the 1967 lines. President Carter's, national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, just wrote an article in the Washington Post on April 11, along with former congressman Steve Solarz calling for a territorial solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "based on the 1967 borders." Brzezinski had recently been invited to discuss the Middle East with the President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser Jim Jones.

Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to slip by using the same language during a visit to Bahrain on February 4, 2010: "we believe that the 1967 borders, with swaps, should be the focus of the negotiations over borders." That sentence contradicted the formal policy of the Obama administration, that she carefully crafted herself, which said that the U.S. believed that it was possible to reconcile the Palestinian position demanding the 1967 lines with the Israeli position calling for secure boundaries, which took into Israeli security requirements and realities on the ground. Clinton subsequently corrected herself. 

In short, the 1967 lines are coming back as a common reference point when many officials and commentators talk about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is increasingly assumed that there was a recognized international border between the West Bank and Israel in 1967 and what is necessary now is to restore it. Yet this entire discussion is based on a completely distorted understanding of the 1967 line, given the fact that in the West Bank it was not an international border at all. 

Formally, the 1967 line in the West Bank should properly be called the 1949 Armistice Line.  Looking back to that period, on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts there had been a history of international boundaries between British Mandate and its neighbors. But along the Jordanian front what created the armistice line was solely where Israeli and Arab forces stopped at the end of the War of Independence, with some added adjustments in certain sectors. As a result, the 1949 line, that came to be known also as the 1967 border, was really only a military line. 

In fact, Article II of the Armistice with the Jordanians explicitly specified that the agreement did not compromise any future territorial claims of the parties, since it had been "dictated by exclusively by military considerations." In other words, the old Armistice Line was not a recognized international border. It had no finality. As a result, the Jordanians reserved the right after 1949 to demand territories inside Israel, for the Arab side. It was noteworthy that on May 31, 1967, the Jordanian ambassador to the UN made this very point to the UN Security Council just days before the Six-Day War, by stressing that the old armistice agreement "did not fix boundaries". 

After the Six-Day War, the architects of UN Security Council Resolution 242 insisted that the old armistice line had to be replaced with a new border. Thus Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the UN admitted at the time: "I know the 1967 border very well. It is not a satisfactory border, it is where the troops had to stop." He concluded: "it is not a permanent border." His U.S. counterpart, Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, added that "historically, there have never been secure or recognized boundaries in the area"; he then added that the armistice lines did not answer that description. 

For the British and American ambassadors, at the time, Resolution 242, that they drafted involved creating a completely new boundary that could be described as "secure and recognized," instead of going back to the lines from which the conflict erupted. President Lyndon Johnson made this very point in September 1968: "It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of 4 June 1967 will not bring peace. There must be secure and there must be recognized borders." It is for this reason that Resolution 242 did not call for a full withdrawal from all the territories that Israel captured in the Six Day War; the 1949 Armistice lines were no longer to be a reference point for a future peace process. 

Yet in recent years a reverse process has been underway to re-establish the 1949 Armistice line, calling it the 1967 border and sanctifying it as a legitimate international boundary. This is one of the side effects of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which talks about the 1967 lines.  The 2003 Road Map introduced a problematic terminology that a peace settlement "ends the occupation that began in 1967." This was partially offset by the reference to Resolution 242 in the Road Map, as well, with its caveats against a full Israeli withdrawal from the territories and its call for establishing secure boundaries.

Under President Obama, the 1967 lines have become a reference point for the peace process again. President Bush made clear in his 2004 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that "it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949". 

But while the Bush letter was approved by massive bipartisan majorities in both houses of the US Congress, the Obama administration has avoided stating that it is legally bound by the contents of the letter. This came out in a long exchange between a Fox News reporter and the State Department's Deputy Spokesman, Robert Wood, on June 1, 2009. At the UN General Assembly in September 2009, Obama used in his address the road-map phrase of "ending the occupation that began in 1967," but he did not refer to Resolution 242 as his predecessors did.

Over the last decade, Israel has made repeated mistakes in allowing the restoration of the 1967 lines and the downgrading of Resolution 242. It should have fought harder over the language of the Road Map back in 2003. Israel's right to defensible borders, that must replace the 1967 lines, has a strong foundation in international law and in the past policies of the UN Security Council. It would be a cardinal error to allow these rights to be eroded now, especially if new peace begin and the Palestinians seek to win international support for a Palestinian state next year that will undoubtedly be based on their demand to see Israel pull back to the 1967 lines.


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1 Comment
menashe says:

why did you carefully avoid mentioning that bush and condi rice after annapolis conference pronounced the 67 borders as the baseline. Will you update hte article so the article reflects the truth ?

palestine papers:
Obama’s capitulation on settlements wasn’t the only complaint from Palestinian negotiators, either.

The Palestine Papers reveal that, in the months after the Annapolis conference, Condoleezza Rice, the then-US secretary of state, explicitly endorsed using 1967 borders as a baseline for negotiations. On July 16, 2008, she tells Erekat and Ahmed Qurei that any proposed land swaps should use 1967 as a reference.

Rice: I believe that the assumptions should be, the US will [secure this]. Any swaps will be in reference to the area occupied in 1967. When they [the Israelis] talk about 7.3 [per cent] they are talking about this.

Two weeks later, her language is even clearer: "1967 as a baseline," Rice told Erekat and Qurei.

Mark Perry and Ali Abunimah: Israel's lawyer, revisited

"The US is perfectly willing to abandon the requirements of the Road Map as well as its insistence on a settlement freeze. In doing so, Mitchell and his team repeat the mistakes of Camp David; they become Israel’s lawyer."

Palestinian negotiators viewed that declaration as a significant victory – the first time a senior US official had endorsed such a baseline.

But it would prove to be a short-lived victory. In early October 2009, Erekat met in Washington with George Mitchell, Obama’s Middle East envoy. Erekat asked about the "terms of reference", the framework that would guide negotiations, and reminded Mitchell of Rice's promise. “This is a new administration that should state what others have tacitly agreed in the past,” Erekat told Mitchell on October 1. But Mitchell refused, saying that the US "would not agree to any mention of ’67 whatsoever” in order to avoid “difficulties with the Israelis".

The next day, Mitchell warned Erekat not to press the issue any further:

Mitchell: Again I tell you that President Obama does not accept prior decisions by Bush. Don’t use this because it can hurt you. Countries are bound by agreements – not discussions or statements.

Erekat: But this was an agreement with Sec. Rice.


[US state department legal adviser Jonathan] Schwartz: It is not legally binding – not an agreement.

Erekat: For God’s sake, she said to put it on the record. It was the basis for the maps.

This sense of moving backwards was a common Palestinian complaint during meetings with Obama officials. In September 2009, Erekat asked Hale why the administration opted to "relaunch" rather than "resume" negotiations. Hale, like Mitchell, described past agreements with the US as non-binding:

Hale: We prefer "relaunch" since there was no agreement – nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Erekat: There is a detailed record of our negotiations. The US administration kept it – it is perhaps our only achievement with the Bush administration. And so much for Obama and rapprochement… there is not a new word! Give me something at least to save face!

Hale: There is a lot of new stuff.

Erekat’s frustrations reached a peak in late October 2009, when he met at the White House with then-national security adviser James Jones. Erekat told Jones that Netanyahu had already outmaneuvered the Obama administration:

Erekat: I am planning to go on Israeli channel 10 to say one thing: congratulations Mr. Netanyahu. You defeated President Obama. You defeated Abu Mazen… if it’s my word against theirs in your Congress and your Senate, I know I do not stand a chance.