Israel’s pre-1967 borders had no geographical or military logic. Those borders simply were the armistice lines after the Arabs failed to drive the Jews into the sea.
The border is not defensible, as it leaves the middle of Israel only about 10 miles wide. One of the reasons the 1967 war took place is that Israel could not wait to be attacked, it had to act preemptively. These borders also left Jerusalem divided, with the old Jewish Quarter in Jordanian hands.
Yet these are the borders, with some minor land swaps, to which Obama wants Israel to withdraw, according to Obama’s Middle East speech today (emphasis mine):
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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.
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
At one level this statement does not go that much farther than the reality of where negotiations might end up. So why make the speech, why put the 1967 borders as an American imposition?
Whether the speech really accomplished anything is in doubt. If anything, it will be a negative, not because it ends up that much farther than prior positions, but because it fits with the unacceptable narrative that Israel is the problem. Why doesn’t Jordan, which constitutes most of the British Palestine, give up some land? Why only Israel?
This was a good day for the Palestinians because the President of the United States has sided with their territorial demands without the Palestinians having to give anything in return.
Update: How does the U.S. now not endorse the U.N. resolution expected in September recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders? Given this speech, what possible opposition do we have? And how will the Europeans join us in a hypocritical opposition?
A reminder of how vulnerable the 1967 borders were, from my prior post, Egyptian Upheaval Shows Why Territory Still Matters for Israel:
And, good history of how the 1967 border never was a recognized international boundry.
Update No. 2 – see my new post, Hey, Israel, Those Territorial Assurances Were From Bush Not Me, as to why this is not merely a statement of prior policy as Jeffrey Goldberg (via Andrew Sullivan) is asserting.