What is wrong with “the 1967 borders and mutually agreed upon swaps?”
As a stand alone statement, it is problematic for a number of reasons.
- First, the pre-1967 lines are actually armistice lines, not borders. This means that they were simply where the armies were when the previous conflict ended. These were not necessarily reasonable, much less defensible, borders.
- Second, the situation on the ground has changed substantially since 1967 and hundreds of thousands of Jews now live on the other side of the lines.
- Third, this statement automatically places the vast majority of Jerusalem and all of the holy sites on the Palestinian side and makes Israel offer concessions from pre-1967 Israel in exchange for any of it to be agreed upon by the Palestinian side.
How can this possibly be acceptable to Israel?
We can discuss whether or not the “rough outlines” of a future Palestinian state would be mostly along the 1967 lines, but the President’s stated outline at this point is not that. Here is what he said at AIPAC Policy Conference on May 22, 2011 in clarification of his earlier statement:
Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
What is implied here is that the Palestinians have the ability to negotiate not from the status quo, but from the assumption that the entire West Bank including all of the Old City of Jerusalem with all of the holy sites is theirs to swap if they so choose. In other words, the President has de facto granted the Palestinians the West Bank including the Old City and told the Israelis to negotiate with them in exchange for what Israel wants to keep from it.
I am not sure how this can possibly be interpreted any other way. From the above statement, it is up to Israel to offer the Palestinians compensation (swaps) in order to account for the “changes” that are agreeable to the Palestinians. Now add on top of that the issue of Palestinian refugees!
Israel cannot negotiate from this position.
Regarding any hope for progress in the peace process, one needs to answer the following question:
What would the Palestinians accept in exchange for Israel maintaining control over most, if not all, of Jerusalem, maintaining the major settlement blocs, denying the “right of return” of the vast majority if not of all of the Palestinian refugees and maintaining security of the border with Jordan?
What could Israel offer? I cannot think of anything. This situation is untenable. It is even untenable if Jerusalem were to be negotiated separately as the President seemed to imply in his State Department speech.
The peace process cannot advance with these assumptions which is why the Palestinians are trying to go around the process and go to the UN. Meanwhile, having forced Israel into a position from which it cannot negotiate, literally having nothing that it is able to put on the table (since the assumption is that all of the West Bank belongs to the Palestinians and that none of it can be used by Israel as a concession), the US is also preventing the Palestinians from acting in the UN by exercising a veto.
Basically, the US is strongly enforcing the status quo while saying that the status quo cannot be maintained, blaming Israel for being unwilling to make concessions that it cannot possibly make, and blaming the Palestinians for avoiding negotiations in which they have nothing that they could possibly gain.
It is possible, if not highly likely, that this policy of enforcing the status quo in this manner is in response to Saudi Arabia which continues to insist on the entire West Bank being part of the Palestinian state and upon which the US remains overly dependent for its oil needs. It is hard to imagine that anyone seeking a swift solution to the peace process would strengthen the intractability of the process while also fortifying barriers to progress.
The impact of all of this is that President Obama’s rhetoric promotes a process in which it is not possible to achieve peace. This path also ratchets up criticism of Israel while granting Israel no possible way to alleviate it or counter it. Fortunately for Israel, sticks and stones can break bones, but words get vetoed in the UN. There is also a concern about delegitimization and that is the great task of Israel advocates, a challenge posed by the current situation.
Meanwhile, so long as the American President, now and into the future, supports the security of Israel with deeds, the real impact of words will be limited. Thus far, President Obama has vetoed anti-Israel measures in the UN and not only maintained, but increased military aid to Israel, including granting extra funding for the Iron Dome anti-missile systems that have already proven effective in Israel’s defense.
One can certainly criticize other aspects of the President’s policies and deeds in the Middle East and their impact upon Israel is also potentially problematic, but in this article I only wanted to address the specific issue of the 67 lines.
While criticism of the President’s words is certainly appropriate (just FYI, I have criticized every President’s words to some extent regarding Israel since Bush 41 and was too young to do so before that), we need to remember that under this administration America continues to stand by its staunch ally in the Middle East and that in spite of public disagreements between the leaders of the nations, the relationship between Israel and the United States on the whole is extremely strong. The Congress is quite possibly more strongly supportive of Israel at this point in time than it ever has been before.
Now, if only we could fix the economy and break our dependence upon foreign oil…