The Borders That Never Were

When the guns stopped. July 20, 1949Recent pronouncements by the US president have again focused attention on the “pre-1967 borders of Israel,” and they are being spoken about as if they lay in some golden age of legitimacy that Israel abandoned when it made war on the Arab world in 1967.

Some years ago I was on a cable TV show in Toronto, part of a panel of pro- and anti-Israel speakers, and one of my interlocutors was an attractive young Arab woman who represented the Canadian Branch of an Arab-American organization. The issue of Israel’s security barrier came up, and she trotted out the standard line about Israel lying about the anti-terror motive that Israel claimed for building it. Surly, she claimed, if Israel were only motivated by a desire to fight terrorism, they could have built it on “their own land” inside the “1967 borders.”

I asked her if she was actually stating, on national TV, that she as a leader of a major Arab organization in North America was publicly accepting the legitimacy of Israel within its pre-1967 boundaries – a recognition never before proffered by any Arab government (except for Egypt and Jordan)?

She spluttered and tried to change the subject, but the cat was out of the bag – and she was the one who had untied the string!

We all know that Israel is a unique country, but one of its lesser-known peculiarities is that for most of its history, it had no borders. The Jewish state’s first, recognized border only came into being in January 1980, with the implementation of the peace treaty with Egypt. Before that, all Israel had were ceasefire lines.

In 1947 the UN had proposed a partition of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean into Jewish and Arab states. The Jews (reluctantly) accepted this suggestion; the Arabs rejected it. Local Palestinian Arabs and the armies of five Arab states set out to strangle the Jewish state in its cradle. The Jews stubbornly refused to die, and when the fighting stopped in July 20, 1949, they were in possession of 50 percent more land than had been allocated to them under the UN plan. But this was not some new agreement; it just happened to be where the Jewish forces had beaten their genocidal attackers to a standstill. That’s where the situation was and stayed until the attack was renewed against Israel in 1967.

The “pre-1967 borders” were really the post-1949 ceasefire lines. These boundaries of a failed genocide are today being spoken of as if they are Israel’s natural borders that the Jewish state is required to draw back to. She is not. Even the UN Security council accepted this point when, in the famous resolution 242, they looked forward to a peace in which Israel (like other states in the region) is entitled to boundaries that would be both “secure” and “recognized” – something the 1949 ceasefire lines manifestly were not.

Whatever your views are on the desirability of Israel making territorial concessions, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Israel is required to return to the borders that never were.

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