The furor about Israel returning to its 1967 borders has quieted down in the last few weeks, but it came to mind Sunday as I watched the Celebrate Israel Parade march up Fifth Avenue and listened as onlookers along the route debated the issue.
Naturally, the dispute remains a critical concern for Israel — and for a degree of peace in the region — even as the uprisings of the Arab Spring look like they’ll last into summer.
The debate cropped up after President Barrack Obama recently made references to the borders and not only caused a ruckus, but also unwarranted criticism. In the first place, what he said was previously accepted by two predecessors — Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — and never resulted in such an uproar. Secondly, the knee-jerk reaction was based solely on a portion of Obama’s remarks that was taken out of context. When you read the entire quote, it clearly includes words that did not imply that Israel should cede territory it won in its 1967 victory over Egypt.
The President said the borders of Israel and Palestine “should be based on the 1967 lines, (Emphasis is mine because this is the part most people overlooked or refused to acknowledge.) That point has been understood for years by both parties in these negotiations and by anybody who has kept abreast of these talks. Obama clearly realizes Israel’s security is paramount and articulated it in his remarks and reiterated that after he was criticized.
Israel has been asked to negotiate, compromise and trust a regime that has constantly refused to recognize its right to exist. Nonetheless, those who support Israel and also feel the Palestinians deserve a state know that for Israel to accept a Palestinian state, which many Israelis now favor, in order to achieve practical coexistence, must come with guarantees for the Jewish state’s security and its unconditional right to exist.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially appeared outraged over President Obama’s suggestion that Israel and Palestine borders should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, but in his congressional address the next day, he actually made the same suggestion.
When interviewed on NBC the day after Obama’s speech, Netanyahu pointed out, “If you listened to (Obama’s) statement, he said that the line would be different from the 1967 line. And I think that was an important emphasis on the president’s part.”
The PM also noted, “…the reason we don’t have peace is the Palestinians have refused to accept a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state… “Two years ago, I told my people I would accept a Palestinian state. Now, President Abbas has to say these six words to his people, ‘I will accept the Jewish state.’ I’ll give him a break, five words — ‘I accept the Jewish state.’”
That is the crux of the dispute and Israel will not make any concessions until the head(s) of the Palestinian government acquiesce on this matter.
If Israel agrees to the borders that existed in 1967, it should only do so when the proposed state of Palestine agrees to keep the new boundaries secure and promises to condemn any one or group that attempts to disturb whatever peace results from these tricky negotiations.
Mark Twain once remarked, “No…nation occupies a foot of land that was not stolen.”
As the ongoing talks between Israel and Palestine proceed, it is vital that both sides — and the United States — remember that or they will perpetually be engaged in a state of war. And that would not do either side any good.
Some of Israel’s allies and supporters may prefer the borders that existed in 1967, but that would not be the shrewdest option and would only delay any chance for giving peace a chance — not replace the current, defensible boundaries.
Israel must make some painful compromises and detours on the road to a pragmatic peace. But, for that to happen, Israel must have absolute guarantees that whoever governs a Palestinian state will abide by security of the borders in any agreement that is accepted.
And, despite what his critics think, that was the heart of President Obama’s remarks and crucial to his unwavering support for Israel.