When the United States abandoned its demand that Israel freeze settlement construction as a prelude to restarting stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, the Obama administration urged both sides to move straight into discussions about a future Palestinian state “based on the 1967 borders.”
Setting the border first, it was hoped, would automatically “resolve” the issue of the settlements, and this is now the focus of the “indirect talks” that US envoy for the Middle East peace process George Mitchell is trying to broker.
Of course the settlements, built on occupied West Bank land in flagrant violation of international law, would not be removed. Rather, the border would simply be redrawn to annex the vast majority of settlers and their homes to Israel, and as if by magic, the whole issue of the settlements would disappear just like that. This charade would be covered up with a so-called “land swap” of which Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority often speak as a way to soften up the Palestinian public for a great surrender to Israeli diktat.
All this is based on the common, but false notion that the 4 June 1967 demarcation line separating Israel from the West Bank (then administered as part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), is the legitimate border of Israel and should therefore be the one along which the conflict is settled.
This assumption is wrong; the 1967 border has no legitimacy and should not be taken for granted.
UN General Assembly resolution 181 of 29 November 1947 called for the partition of Palestine into two entities: a state for the Jewish minority on 57 percent of the land, and a state for the overwhelming Arab majority on less than half the land. According to the 1947 partition, the population of the Jewish state would still have been 40 percent Arab. Jerusalem would have remained a separate international zone.
Rather than “resolve” the question of Palestine, partition made it worse: Palestinians rejected a partition they viewed as fundamentally unjust in principle and in practice, and the Zionist movement grudgingly accepted it but as a first step in an ongoing program of expansion and colonization.
Resolution 181, called for the two states to strictly guarantee equal rights for all their citizens, and to have a currency and customs union, joint railways and other aspects of shared sovereignty, and set out a specific mechanism for the states to come into being.
The resolution was never implemented, however. Immediately after it was passed, Zionist militias began their campaign to conquer territory beyond that which was allocated by the partition plan. Vastly outgunned Palestinian militias resisted as best as they could, until the belated intervention of Arab armies some six months after the war began. By that time it was too late — as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already been ethnically cleansed from their homes. Israel, contrary to myth, was not brought into being by the UN, but by war and conquest.
The 1949 Rhodes Armistice agreement, which ended the first ever Arab-Israeli war left Israel in control of 78 percent of historic Palestine and established a ceasefire with its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Until the second round — in June 1967 — Arabs had been calling for the abolition of the “illegal Zionist entity” planted by colonial powers like a dagger in the heart of the Arab nation. They also waitied for the United Nations to implement its many resolutions redressing the gross injustices inflicted hitherto. The UN never tried to enforce the law or to exert serious efforts to resolve the conflict, which kept escalating.
Israel’s June 1967 blitzkrieg surprise attack on Egypt, Syria and Jordan led to the devastating Arab defeat and to Israel tripling the area of the land it controlled. The parts of Palestine still controlled by Arabs — the West Bank including eastern Jerusalem and Gaza — as well as Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai fell into Israeli hands.
Defeated, demoralized and humiliated, the Arab states involved in the “setback”, as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser called it, accepted the painful compromise spelled out by Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967.
It ruled that the 4 June 1967 border would have to be the recognized border of Israel provided the latter evacuated the Arab lands it had occupied that year. In other words if the Arabs wanted to recover their lands lost in that war they had to end the “state of belligerency” with Israel — a small step short of recognition — and accept Israel’s actual existence within the pre-June 1967 borders. This eventually became the so-called “land for peace” formula.
Instead of withdrawing from land in exchange for recognition and peace, Israel proceeded to colonize all the newly occupied territories; it continues to do so 43 years later in the West Bank and Golan Heights. Meanwhile it has also become uncontested that Israel has a “right” to everything to the west of the 1967 border. The only question is how much more land will it get to keep to the east.
Astonishingly, Palestinian leaders, Arab states and the so-called international community have all submitted to the lopsided concept that Israel should have this right unconditionally without evacuating the illegally occupied Arab lands. The legitimacy of the 1967 border was tightly linked to Israeli withdrawal and should remain so.
An inherent contradiction in resolution 242 is that while it affirmed “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of the territory by war” it in fact legitimized Israel’s conquest of 1948, including the 21 percent of Palestine that was supposed to be part of the Arab state under the partition plan.
In other words, the UN granted Israel legitimate title to its previous conquests if it would give up its later conquests. This has set a disastrous precedent that aggression can lead to irreversible facts. Encouraged by this, Israel began its settlement project with the express intention of “creating facts” that would make withdrawal impossible and force international recognition of Israeli claims to the land.
It worked; in April 2004 the United States offered Israel a written guarantee that any peace agreement would have to recognize and accept the settlements as part of Israel. The rest of the “international community” as they always do, quietly followed the American line.
The Palestinian submission to the common demand that the large settlement blocs be annexed to Israel against a fictitious land swap is another vindication of the Israeli belief that facts created are facts accepted.
If and only if Israel adheres to all aspects of UN Security Council resolution 242 and others, could the 1967 line have any legitimacy. Until then, if Israel tells the Arabs that the West Bank settlements of Ariel and Maale Adumim are part of Israel, then the Arab position can be that Haifa, Jaffa and Acre are still part of Palestine.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misquoted UN Security Council Resolution 242, erroneously using the word “admissibility” where “inadmissibility” should have been used.