President Barack Obama stirred up a hornets’ nest when he declared during his highly anticipated Middle East speech Thursday that Israel’s borders should be based on the pre-1967 lines. He added enough caveats to render his demand unattainable from a practical standpoint, but, as a matter of political and strategic perception, Obama has inflicted a serious wound on America’s most reliable ally. For that reason, it’s important to understand what Obama is demanding of Israel.
If Israel were to return to the lines that existed prior to its defeat of invading armies from three of its Arab neighbors in the 1967 Six-Day War, that nation would be left with a constricted sliver of land only eight miles wide at its narrowest point. That would be roughly equivalent to the distance between the downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Israel would lose control of Jerusalem and its holy sites. When Arabs controlled the sites prior to 1967, Jews were banned from visiting them and they fell into disrepair. Since then, Israel restored them and has preserved them for access by all religions for future generations. In addition, reverting to the pre-1967 status quo would mean that the 300,000 Jews currently living in Judea and Samaria would end up in the new Palestinian state.
Even if Israel were to accept these crushing preconditions, there’s no reason to believe that doing so would lead to peace. Arab possession of the disputed territories prior to 1967 did not prevent three major Arab-Israeli wars. Nor did it prevent the Arab League from forming the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, a terrorist group whose original charter called for the eradication of Zionism. The PLO has allegedly renounced terrorism, and its current leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is supposed to pass as a Palestinian peace partner.
Yet the PLO recently agreed to form a unity government with Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization. Over the past decade, Hamas has targeted Israeli civilians with a campaign of suicide bombings and rocket attacks and has never renounced its own 1988 charter calling for the destruction of Israel. The PLO and Hamas have clearly formed an unholy alliance: Imagine if America were in a land dispute with Mexico and ahead of the negotiations, Mexico decided to let al-Qaida join its government.
Obama did say the new borders he envisions would involve land swaps that would have to be mutually agreed to, which effectively means nothing will happen with the peace process. Israel offered the Palestinians a similar deal in 2000, including a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, but their leader, the late terrorist Yasser Arafat, rejected it. Palestinian leaders have changed over the years, as well as their grievances, but the one constant throughout the decades has been that they have never accepted any Jewish presence in the region. Somehow forcing Israel into making such concessions won’t change that reality.