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Netanyahu's lie re: "indefensible" 1967 borders

When Netanyahu says the 1967 borders are “indefensible”, this does not mean Israel must seek to avoid conceding too much West Bank land. It means Israel cannot make any concessions.

Last week, in response to Obama’s speech, Netanyahu argued that for Israel, the borders that existed before the 1967 occupation are “indefensible”. He repeated the same point after their meeting yesterday. But what does it mean?

At its core, the “indefensible” borders argument relates to Israel’s small size, and the concentration of its population in a narrow strip along the Mediterranean coast, in great proximity to Palestinian areas of the West Bank. This geographic situation makes Israeli population and infrastructure particularly vulnerable to both “asymmetrical” attacks (e.g. terrorism, rockets, and guerrilla activities) and a conventional invasion by regular armies.

The argument has been used to justify continued Israeli control of the Palestinian territories, and in this form, this is a consistent, albeit cruel and unconscionable, position. Basically, it seeks to use the Palestinian lands as a buffer zone, surrounding and protecting Israeli population centers. Such an arrangement, however, would only make sense if Israel maintains full control over the vast majority of the West Bank’s Palestinian population.

To see why, one need only look at a typical map that aims to show the security threat posed by the 1967 borders.

1967 Borders (Image: JewishVirtualLibray.com)

This map clearly designates the Israeli major cities, but conveniently omits the Palestinian ones. Thus, the arrow showing the distance between the northern West Bank and the Israeli city of Haifa, actually emanates from the area of Jenin, a city and a refugee camp with a combined population of 50,000. The arrow towards Netanya, begins in Tul Karm, with 60,000 people. The Tel Aviv arrow emerges from the area of Qalqilya, with 40,000; and the Ashdod arrow come from the Beyt Jala-Bethlehem area, with 40,000 as well.

But these figures actually underplay the problem. All of these areas include other towns and refugee camps nearby, substantially increasing the relevant population numbers. And if Ashdod is threatened by a distance of 36 Kms, then surely Netanya should be concerned about Nablus, which is even nearer, and is home to 130,000 Palestinians. And we could go on to address Gaza, with over a million Palestinians, and even closer to Israeli cities than much of the West Bank; or A-Ram, Abu Dis, and Ramallah and all the other places with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, which sit right on top of Jerusalem, one of Israel’s largest population centers.

It is really quite simple. Israel is really small. But the West Bank is even smaller; and its Palestinian population lives just as near the 1967 borders as Israel’s. So if ceding territory near its population centers makes Israel truly “indefensible”, that means Israel must retain control of almost all Palestinians. In other words, when Netanyahu says the 1967 borders are “indefensible”, this does not mean Israel must seek to avoid conceding too much West Bank land. It means Israel cannot make any concessions.

That position, however, is completely incongruent with Netanyahu’s statements expressing willingness to negotiate and compromise, up to and including a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank. Therefore, when Netanyahu employs the 1967 borders argument, he is cynically using the security issue to disguise his true concern, which is to keep as much land as possible under Israeli control, while ridding it of the responsibility for the Palestinians who live near (sometimes, on) those lands. It has nothing to do with Israel’s defense.

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    1. max

      I’m not sure why this post is filed under News, but obviously it couldn’t be filed as Analysis.
      Of course a large buffer would create more defensible borders; in fact, it’s the only good option to protect Israel against standard terrorism – aiming for example at civilian planes – I can think of. But lacking this option, and considering strategic threats, what Netanyahu explicitly mentioned is the ability to control/monitor the access across the Jordan, tackling enemy forces before they cross the hills.
      But I’m sure you know that.
      No one can provide Israel with safe options (“defensible” is a relative term), but no leader should ignore plausible threats

      Reply to Comment
    2. Yonatan

      It is the standard Zionist MO. Always add another precondition. The precondition must then be ‘discussed’ while the land grab continues. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Koby

      Your analysis would mean something if the Palestinian State was surrounded by over 21 hostile Jewish states which tried to destroy it for the past 60 years. It simply doesn’t hold water.

      Keep in mind Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel used to be a single country. Up until the 1950’s Palestinians kept referring to themselves as South Syrians. Jews currently control less than 10% of this territory and now you want them to cede half of it ?

      You’d better find some way to assure their safety.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Josh

      The Golan Heights overlook major populations in Israel. Giving this land back to terrorists is wrong. Any president who suggests such a thing does not deserve a second term.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Roi Maor

      Max – If Netanyahu is willing to concede everything else in the West Bank except the Jordan valley, your argument might make sense. But that is not the case – he wants to keep more land in the West Bank, outside the Jordan valley.

      Koby – Your argument is relevant if you are suggesting the annexation of the entire West Bank. You are basically making the same point as I did.

      Reply to Comment

      I am sorry to say that yours is just propaganda.
      1) During the WWI, Arab nationalists cooperated with Sharif Hussein and his sons in order to have an arab kingdom. The Palestinians, who were part of this ideology, thought at that time, tactically, that it would be in their interest to be part of the Faisal kingdom in the Bilad al-Sham. That why it is only in the 2 years between 1918 and 1920 that they speak about palestine as southern syria. After Faisal is expelled from Damascus, the next conference doesn’t speak about being part of syria or the kingdom of feisal.
      They were part of Bilad al-Sham but they well aware of their peculiarities. To write “up until the 1950′” shows just a form of racism.
      2) If the Palestinians were not organized in a state, they didn’t have a capital, they didn’t have a national anthem…ect…was just because these are (actually were) concepts important just in the Wester world.
      3) Try once in your life to visit a family in Nablus (just 1 example) and let them speak about what was their city hundreds years ago: you will discover so many peculiarities that your great certanties will vanish.
      4) go to in some archives and search for Al-Munadi, Filastin, Al-Karmil…u will find dozens of reference to Palestinians and Palestine
      5) even accepting your position, there is a great difference between a palestinian who moved to south lebanon or a lebanese who moved to palestine, or a syrian or a jordanian, for that matter, and foreigners who came from europe, whether christans or jews..

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      Roi, your post referred to the security issue, and that’s what I addressed.
      Netanyahu referred to the other part as a demographic issue, unrelated to your reasoning.

      Reply to Comment
    8. As far as Jordan Valley….no one mentioned what’s been proposed many times, including in Geneva Accord: multinational force, including American soldiers, in the Valley.
      The U.S. does it in Korea, so why not in Jordan Valley?
      Smuggling of weapons (esp. missiles) across a large border is definitely not just Israeli paranoia.
      Using a multinational force would be a reasonable solution, and the force could include a few Israeli observers, but NO Israeli military units.

      Reply to Comment
    9. jordan valley

      As far as Jordan Valley…”The Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area contains the largest land reserves in the West Bank. The area covers 1.6 million dunams, which constitute 28.8 percent of the West Bank. Sixty-five thousand Palestinians, live in 29 communities, and an estimated additional 15,000 Palestinians reside in dozens of small Beduin communities. Some 9,400 settlers live in the 37 settlements (including seven outposts) in the area.

      Israel has instituted in this area a regime that intensively exploits its resources, to an extent greater than elsewhere in the West Bank, and which demonstrates its intention: de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area to the State of Israel”.
      B’tselem, may 2011

      Reply to Comment
    10. E Riley

      What is this nonsense about the width of Israel? The Palestinians will never have tanks or armoured vehicles. This is just a red herring for another land grab. Israel has access to satellite and drone sensors that would let it know if any land forces tried to invade Israel via Palestine (not that any Arab country has the means to do so). Iron Dome will shoot down any missiles from the Golan Heights, not that Syria would dare to launch any.

      Reply to Comment
    11. DT

      I think you are being delusional (please do not take this as an insult, just my opinion). International peacekeeping force have not been very successful against local armed insurgents (note that this is different from defending a border from a formal army on the other side, like in Korea). Look at examples in the Middle East. There have been peacekeepers in Lebanon during the civil war and after the war in 2006. How often have these forces apprehended Hezbollah terrorists, disrupted terrorist recruitment, prevented weapons from going to Hezbollah, etc?? Peacekeepers before the 6 day war left when the going got tough, also. Do you really think that the situation would be different in the West Bank?

      To E RILEY,
      I think you missed the point. Even if the Palestinians don’t have tanks or vehicles, they can still fire rockets to Israeli cities from hilltops in the west bank in as is already done in Gaza. In any case, if there were an independent Palestinian state that controls its own borders, they could probably obtain heavy weapons from other Arabs, through legal or illegal means.

      Reply to Comment
    12. DT

      I forgot to add to the previous comment, to E RILEY. Iron Dome is not totally effective for rockets over a very short distance. It takes time to detect the missile and fire. It wouldn’t work from very close villages, and almost certainly not missiles fired above from nearby hilltops. Technology has limitations, and is not the same as controlling terrain.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Bar

      Israel is armed with the latest in US weaponry, Palestine has rocks and tin cans with firecrackers in them. what is Bibi so afraid of? he mentions one Jewish kid killed. Israel murders Palestinian children by the dozen on a daily basis. aAre Jew kids more valuable than Palestinian kids? I don,t think so.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Dannecker

      I support the right of Jews to live in their historic homelands of Minsk, Grodno and Brooklyn, but stop squatting in Palestine. Once the Jews have returned to the Pale of Settlement, I can guarantee that the Palestinians will not harass them

      Reply to Comment
    15. Michael W.

      Dannecker, so as long as the Middle East is Judenrein, you’ll be satisfied?

      Reply to Comment
    16. J.D.

      There’s an elephant in the room, and I will speak its name: Water. The Israeli coastal cities rely on the aquafer that is under the West Bank. Solve this, and the strategic value for Israel of holding the West Bank disappears. Thoughts?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Leonid Levin

      I think the major point of Roi’s argument is that this is all about land and not so much about security. Israel wants to keep land and resources unter its control and comes up with security arguments. In the long run, this position is indefensible, and eventually Israel will be pressured by the united nations of the world or some other unforeseen circumstances to go back to the internationally agreed 1967 borders. For the time being, however, Israel continues quite successfully to exercise its military and PR muscles.

      Af for security, Israeli people will always feel extremely insecure until Israel and its neighbors convince each other that they truly want peace, that they can understand and trust each other and that they are prepared to share generously like brothers.

      Reply to Comment
    18. I will be the last person to defend Netanyahu’s “indefensible” claim, and agree with the current Haaretz analysis that today’s borders are the indefensible ones. However, this “analysis,” focusing on Palestinian population centers, does nothing to counter Netanyahu’s claims, and was poorly thought-out, IMHO.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Piotr Berman

      If being 10 miles from the border makes you insecure, you have to shift the border by 10 miles. Then you have another city that has to be secured, so we shift border once more. And again.

      Thus Netanyahu proved that Israel cannot ever have secure borders. Perhaps the evacuation to Grodno, Slonim, Brooklyn and Anadyr* should commence.

      * The Jewish roots in Anadyr are scant, but this is a capital (or a major city, check it) of Chukotka, a territory with governor Roman Abramovich, area of c. 200,000 sq miles and population about 50,000. Hence the local government can be friendly, and real estate is cheap. It is also close to US border.

      Reply to Comment
    20. DT

      your argument is flawed, because you fail to consider geography. The current frontier on the east is the Jordan rift valley, which is 1200 ft below sea level, which rises to hills at 3000 ft above sea level in the west bank. When people talk about defensible borders, this natural barrier is part of the argument. Having Palestinian territory on hilltops overlooking Israel is much weaker than this barrier. When you look more closely at geography, you will see it does not follow from Netanyahu’s arguments that borders need be extended indefinitely.

      Reply to Comment
    21. directrob

      The map you are showing is misleading, please use the green one from Dahlia Scheindlin’s article.
      I guess the point is not Israels borders but the Palestinian borders. Netanyahu wants defensible borders around the two Palestinian West Bank enclaves.

      Reply to Comment
    22. directrob

      It is always nice to see a youtube like this. I am still wondering why the commentator voice does not read aloud the highlighted text of resolution 242, but instead replaces it with his own different interpretation.
      “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”
      “Israel was entitled to new defensible borders, to replace the previous fragile lines from which it was attacked”

      Reply to Comment
    23. Omer

      Looking at the happening now in Gaza, one can learn exactly how things will be in a 67-lines based Palestinian state: Insurgents, bombing, etc., and when Israel will respond, she’ll be declared as an aggressive, racist, war-seeking country.

      Fundamentally,Before 67 the Israeli population next to 67 lines was far sparse than today, therefore the potential threat was smaller.

      Bottom line: Why go to an impossible situation if we can avoid it?

      Reply to Comment
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