Israel's 1967 Borders: What's The Big Fuss?

The place to begin an examination of Israel's 1967 borders is the 1947 UN Partition plan.

In 1947, Great Britain relinquished to the UN the power to make decisions relating to the status of the Land of Israel. The General Assembly appointed a special committee that collected evidence and decided unanimously that Israel should be granted independence. Most of the committee members favored partitioning the land into two states, a Jewish state and an Arab state, with Jerusalem under international supervision. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly accepted the partition resolution, 33 to 13.

(c) 2005-2011 Koret Communications Ltd.  From Israel's Story in Maps collection (

As the map indicates according to the UN partition plan, the territories of the West Bank of the Jordan River were given to the Arabs.  While the coastal plain and the Negev were given to Israel.  The UN decided that Jerusalem should be internationalized.  David Ben Gurion, the Yeshuv's leader, accepted the UN partition plan with all its shortcomings.  But the Palestinians rejected it and instantly started a war against the Jewish settlement, which they lost unequivocally.  The status of the West Bank did not change, however, until after Ben Gurion declared Israeli statehood in May 1948.  Following this dramatic announcement, the neighboring Arab countries invaded with their armies and their objective was to drive the Jews into the sea.  Among other things in the War of Independence, Jordan's King Abdullah occupied the territories of the West Bank and these remained under Jordanian sovereignty until 1967.
By the end of the war, Jordanian forces had control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  On April 3, 1949, Israel and Jordan signed an Armistice Agreement.  The agreement basically stipulated that Jordanian forces would remain in most positions they held in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Old City.  There was an agreement that Jordan would honor the holy sites and allow Jews to pray at the Western Wall for example, but this was never honored.

The Palestinians who lived under Jordanian rule in the West Bank, as well as those who lived in Gaza under Egyptian rule between 1948 and 1967, had every opportunity on earth to declare independence and create their own independent state in these territories.  But they never did this.

Then in 1964, three years before Israel occupied the West Bank in the Six Day war, the Arab League created the PLO as the sole representative for the Palestinian people.

The principles on which the PLO was founded stress above all: the "liberation of Palestine" through armed struggle.

One should note that the PLO was not interested in a West Bank/Gaza state within the 1967 borders but within all of the territory of Israel.  This is indeed identical to the aim of Hamas today -- in other words Israel's elimination and its being taken over by Muslims.

The Six Day War in June 1967 shuffled the territorial cards completely.  The large Palestinian population areas that had been under Jordanian political control since 1948 changed hands, and the IDF became the ruling party there.  Key emotional and very difficult battles took place like over the Western Wall and Temple Mount, and Ammunition Hill.  It's possible that the IDF recovery of the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordanian control was the most emotional moment of the war.  It meant Jews would be able to pray again at the Western Wall after a hiatus of 19 years.

IDF occupation of the West Bank territories also gave Israel carte blanche to build Jewish settlements in these territories.  Judea and Samaria contain the most prized biblical lands in the Land of Israel.  It was only natural for the government to begin building settlements in these territories immediately.  Just as was done in the Golan Heights that were conquered from Syria in the Six Day War.

According to latest statistics 304,569 Israelis live in the 121 officially-recognised settlements in the West Bank, 192,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem and over 20,000 live in settlements in the Golan Heights. Settlements range in character from farming communities and frontier villages to urban suburbs and neighborhoods. The three largest West Bank settlements, Modi'in Illit, Maale Adumim and Betar Illit, have achieved city status, with over 30,000 residents each.

Needless to say, the settlements Israel has built in the territories of Judea and Samaria since 1967 are located beyond the 1967 border prior to the Six Day War.  Retreating behind this border now would mean abandoning and uprooting over 300,000 Israelis who make their lives and raise their families there.


Forced evacuation of over 300,000 Israelis is essentially what the Palestinians and Pres. Obama are calling for when they demand Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders.  One must bear in mind that these Jews have moved in and established settlements, but they never displaced any Palestinian families.  Over a million Palestinians live in the West Bank side by side with Jewish settlers.  Thousands of Palestinians are gainfully employed by Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  But the Palestinian leadership has already declared that no Jews will be permitted in a future Palestinian state.1

Perhaps most important of all is the security issue involved in Israel's retreating behind the 1967 borders.  When Abba Eban appeared at the United Nations following the Six Day war, Israel's then foreign minister described the fragility of Israel's 1949-1967 map as Israel's "Auschwitz" lines.

"We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. For us, this is a matter of security and of principles. The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz. This is a situation which will never be repeated in history."
- Abba Eban, Israeli Statesman, in Der Spiegel, November 5, 1969 

Israel's pre-1967 borders -- the borders Palestinians and Pres. Obama want Israel to pull back to -- represent a severe security liability to Israel and reflect the deployment of Israeli and Arab forces when the 1948 armistice agreement was signed.

At one of the narrowest points in central Israel, the entire width of the state from the Mediterranean coastal town of Netanya to the armistice line is a mere nine miles.

IDF Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror gave Eban's "Auschwitz" metaphor regarding the pre 1967 borders operational context.  In a 2005 analysis of what "defensible borders for a lasting peace" means, Amidror explained that by any military standard, the pre 1967 borders lack minimum "defensive depth" -- an overarching principle of military doctrine for all armies: There is insufficient battle space for a defensive force to redeploy after being attacked; there is no room for reserves to enter or counterattack; and there is no minimal distance between the battle front and the strategic interior necessary for any army to function.

For two years the Palestinian Authority has demanded that Israel cease building homes in Jewish settlements in the territories or it will not negotiate a peace agreement.  This harks back to their other extreme demand that the Palestinian state will be totally free of Jews altogether.  But that is unacceptable and even racist.

The demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders for the purpose of establishing a Palestinian state is problematic for a whole range of reasons, but one which is hardly mentioned is the issue of Jerusalem Israel's undivided capital.  The issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian so-called right of return were egregiously absent from Obama's recent speeches on the Middle East.  Judaism's most sacred holy shrines were cut off from the nation between 1948 and 1967. Obama's call to retreat to the pre-1967 borders now unfortunately implies that we should retreat from East Jerusalem, too, and grant the Palestinian people sovereignty in the very parts of Israel's capital that mean the most to us.  For this reason and others, the demand that Israel withdraw to pre 1967 borders is preposterous and will never be considered by any self respecting Israeli government.

[1]Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made it clear that a future state called Palestine will not be a home to Jews.  "We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won't agree to the presence of one Israeli in it."
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