Defensible Borders for Israel: The 1967 Lines are Just Fine

Gil Maguire

            In his Middle East policy speech last Thursday, President Obama said,

   The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

This unremarkable statement is consistent with prior  negotiations between the parties, including 2000 Camp David, 2001 Taba,  and the Erekat-Olmert negotiations of 2008-2009.  Moreover, UN Security Council Resolution 242 specifically requires Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 armistice lines from the territories it conquered and occupied  during its 1967 Six Day War.

Despite the banality of President Obama’s statement (which was quickly and universally endorsed by the Quartet, Germany, France, the UN, etc.), Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately condemned it as requiring Israel to retreat to “indefensible borders”, even though  Israel had survived three wars under those borders from 1948 through 1967.  The principal of defensible borders has become the mantra of the Israeli government, the US Israel lobby , and is quickly and predictably being adopted by many members of the US Congress, not to mention Republican presidential candidates, and is apparently aimed at maximizing the amount of land and settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that Israel will be allowed to keep under any future settlement with the Palestinians.

At a minimum, Israel insists that it be able to keep large blocks of West Bank territory – along the Jordan River in the east and along Israel’s border in the west, from the north-central settlement of Ariel to the Gush Etzion settlements south of Bethlehem, as well as all of its settlements in East Jerusalem.  It also demands early-warning stations on high ground near the Palestinian cities of Nablus, Ramallah, and Hebron and a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley.  This package of arrangements would create, in the words of Israeli negotiators, a “protection envelope” surrounding the new Palestinian state.  Needless to say, these requirements are unacceptable to the Palestinians who want secure and recognized borders in a sovereign and contiguous state of their own.

What are the legitimate security concerns of Israel, and what would be acceptable defensible borders?  Martin van Crevald, Israel’s preeminent military historian and theorist, recently analyzed this issue in the Jewish Daily Forward on December 15,
2010 in an article entitled: “Israel Doesn’t Need the West Bank to be Secure”.  He concluded that an invasion of Israel from Jordan through the West Bank would be suicidal for the attacker,

…since the West Bank itself is surrounded by Israel on three sides, anybody who tries to enter it from the east is sticking his head into a noose. To make things worse for a prospective
invader, the ascent from the Jordan Valley into the heights of Judea and Samaria is topographically one of the most difficult on earth. Just four roads lead from east to west, all of which are easily blocked by air strikes or by means of precision-guided missiles. To put the icing on the cake, Israeli forces stationed in Jerusalem could quickly cut off the only road connecting the southern portion of the West Bank with its northern section in the event of an armed conflict.

As his article demonstrates, Mr. van Crevald is not in any sense a hand wringing liberal Israeli with unrealistic views of Israel’s security concerns.  He approves of Israel’s security wall as well as the extreme violence of its invasions of both Lebanon and Gaza as effective means of deterrence.  Nonetheless, van Crevald views the Israeli settlement movement as the major threat to Israel’s security and feels Israel needs to withdraw totally from the West Bank as it is fast becoming an apartheid state.  His conclusion is both powerful and persuasive:

… it is crystal-clear that Israel can easily afford to give up the West Bank. Strategically speaking, the risk of doing so is negligible. What is not negligible is the demographic, social,
cultural and political challenge that ruling over 2.5 million — nobody knows exactly how many — occupied Palestinians in the West Bank poses. Should Israeli rule over them continue, then the country will definitely turn into what it is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only maintain its
control by means of repressive secret police actions.

To save itself from such a fate, Israel should rid itself of the West Bank, most of Arab Jerusalem specifically included.

Van Crevald’s views are not unique.  In a January 24 article from the
Jerusalem Post entitled “Encountering Peace: What does Netanyahu want?” Gershon Baskin, head of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, concludes the

ALL THE security experts I have spoken with, including several US generals and senior NATO officers, have said there are real military and security answers that would effectively guarantee security along the Jordan River. The Palestinian leadership, including President Mahmoud Abbas, has said in public and in
private, that they are willing to find a way to meet all security demands, including direct IDF involvement in patrols and monitoring missions that would be established based on Israeli security standards.

… In other words, most security experts, including a significant number of current and former IDF officers, Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials, believe that the security risks from peace – including a withdrawal from the West Bank based on the June 4, 1967 border with agreed-on territorial swaps in the order of around 3%-4% – pose no real strategic or security threat that cannot be answered.

On the other hand, failure to reach peace raises some real unanswerable existential threats that not only empower extremists locally and regionally, but also put an end to the
two-state solution, which is a death blow to the Zionist enterprise.

In early April, a group of former Israeli defense chiefs and heads of Israeli intelligence agencies including Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as former Israeli political leaders, created the Israeli Peace Initiative based on the 2002 Arab Initiative which calls for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders except for minor land swaps.  It is difficult to imagine that such a distinguished group of Israeli defense and intelligence officials would make such a recommendation if it would put Israel at risk by creating indefensible

The most likely motive for Netanyahu’s insistence that the 1967 border not be used as a basis for negotiations with the Palestinians is that he, his government, party, and right
wing Zionist supporters in Israel and the US, fully intend to keep as much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as possible.  The massive increases in illegal settlement building in both areas provide the starkest evidence of that motive.  Since its capture and occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem after its victory in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has transferred over 500,000, of its Jewish citizens into Jewish-only settlements throughout the lands intended by the UN for the creation of an Arab state of
Palestine.  These transfers, amounting now to about 10 percent of Israel’s Jewish population, constitute war crimes and are direct violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Israel has no legal right to continue to occupy and settle those territories and oppress the Palestinians who are the lawful owners of those lands some 44 years after conquering them.

Israel should not be allowed to legitimize its unlawful occupation and settlements on Palestinian lands and “negotiate” a permanent seizure of part of those lands under the guise of providing itself more “defensible borders”.  Israeli and US Jews, as well as US citizens in general, need to inform their politicians that Israel must agree to a two-state solution with the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines.  In the words of President Obama, “The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their
potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”  A first priority of the Arab Spring should be freedom for the long-oppressed Palestinians, and, at long last, a land of their

Gil Maguire practices law in Ventura and blogs on the Israel-Palestine issue at

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3 Responses to Defensible Borders for Israel: The 1967 Lines are Just Fine

  1. talknic says:

    No such legal thing as “defensible borders”. No mention in ANY International Law or in the UN Charter or in any UNSC Resolution or Armistice or Peace Agreement. It’s a bullsh*te mantra invented by Israeli spin meisters aimed at justifying taking more land than legally belongs to Israel.

    No matter how much of its neighbour’s territory Israel illegally acquires for its ridiculous ‘defensible borders’ it will still have a neighbour and there is NOTHING anywhere, in any Law or Convention or the UN Charter that gives Israel the right to more ‘defensible borders’ than its neighbours.

  2. The 67 borders aren’t quite “just fine”, but they could be.

    Security is constructed of good relationships with neighbors and defensibility, not one exclusively.

    I think 80% is good neighbor relations, and that takes intentional work, even when it is an “if”.

    Netanyahu seems to think that defensibility is the majority concern.

    I used to play strategic games with my kids. Risk was my favorite, especially the gamut of custom context maps. One thing that was evident to me was that there was NO military position that was secure. There was always an exposed flank, a new weapon (say that functioned in three dimensions rather than two), requiring taking over some other adjacent territory to protect the vulnerability.

  3. Pingback: Actually, 67 borders are perfectly defensible

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