In the wake of President Obama’s May 19 speech on the Middle East and his statement that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” we’ve heard a lot about how Israel’s 1967 borders were/are supposedly “indefensible.” This trope featured prominently in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu various responses to President Obama’s speech, regardless of the fact that President Obama had not actually called for Israel to return to those borders, merely to recognize them as the basis of negotiations. As Noah Pollak of the neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel acknowledged, there’s nothing new about this approach.
Further undermining the complaints about the 1967 borders, of course, is the fact that in the 1967 war, those borders were defended by Israel. As we’ve just passed the anniversary of that war, this led to some pretty humorous formulations by those trying to simultaneously trumpet Israel’s victory and hold the Israeli government line on how unacceptable those borders are.
“In six days,” wrote Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in Foreign Policy, “Israel repelled” the Arab armies against whom it had launched a pre-emptive attack “and established secure boundaries”:
It drove the Egyptians from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrians, who had also opened fire, from the Golan Heights. Most significantly, Israel replaced the indefensible armistice lines by reuniting Jerusalem and capturing the West Bank from Jordan.
Understand? The armistice lines were so indefensible that they were not only defended, but expanded in six days to include the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula.
Similarly, Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, amidst a typical screed about how horrible and dishonest the Arabs are, describes “the 1967 borders” as “the lines at which five Arab armies were stopped in 1949.” Don’t look now, Cliff, but you’ve just described defensible borders.
I grant that all of this is somewhat beside the point, as President Obama has not suggested that Israel should withdraw to these borders. But, as Matt Yglesias wrote, “Israel needs defensible borders” is a much more sympathetic argument than “Israel wants to grab and keep as much Palestinian land as possible,” which is why, as long as borders are an issue, we’ll keep seeing self-contradicting claims about how indefensible the old borders were.