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Fact Sheets: The “Pre-1967 Border” - The “Green Line”

by Mitchell Bard

The area originally separating Israel from Jordan is typically described as the “1967 or pre-1967 border.” The frontier was never recognized as the border of Israel, however, and is actually the armistice line agreed to by Jordan and Israel in 1949. It is often referred to as the “Green Line” because that is the color of the pen used to draw the ceasefire line between Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan following the 1967 War. Today, it is used to demarcate Israel from the disputed territories of East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Israel had sought peace for nearly two decades before being forced to defend itself against Arab aggression in 1967. After defeating the Arab armies in just six days, Israelis thought the Arab leaders would realize they could not defeat Israel militarily and would instead choose the path of peace. Instead, after the war the Arab League declared: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it....”

Israel would not have captured the West Bank or reunified Jerusalem if King Hussein had heeded the warning of Prime Minister Eshkol to stay out of the war. Instead, Jordan attacked, and, while defending itself, Israel found itself in control of these territories.

The Arab states lobbied the UN to require that Israel withdraw from “all the” territories it captured. This is the demand made by the Arab League in the plan recently put forward by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. The UN rejected this formulation when it adopted Resolution 242 because the Security Council understood the ‘67 border was not secure or defensible.

Since the war, Israel has consistently said that in the context of a peace agreement it was prepared to withdraw to the 1967 border but with modifications - that is, to a new border that meets Resolution 242’s requirement of being secure and defensible.

After the 1967 War, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban told the United Nations: “The June [1967] 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.”

President Lyndon Johnson also rejected the idea that Israel should withdraw to the pre-war frontier: “There are some who have urged, as a single, simple solution, an immediate return to the situation as it was on June 4....this is not a prescription for peace but for renewed hostilities.”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded in 1967: “From a strictly military point of view, Israel would require the retention of some captured territory in order to provide militarily defensible borders.” More than three decades later, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Thomas Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, reiterated Israel’s strategic concern: “It is impossible to defend Jerusalem unless you hold the high ground.... An aircraft that takes off from an airport in Amman is going to be over Jerusalem in two-and-a-half minutes, so it’s utterly impossible for me to defend the whole country unless I hold that land.”

In 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin - the leader who came the closest to making peace with the Palestinians - reiterated that Israel cannot return to the 1967 boundary. “The border of the State of Israel … will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War,” said Rabin. “We will not return to the June 1967 lines.”

In 2004, President George W. Bush sent a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that outlined U.S. policy concerning the 1967 boundary lines. “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” Bush wrote. His letter was overwhelmingly supported by both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Within the 1967 borders Israel would lose almost all its tactical, strategic, geographic, and topographic military advantages. Tactically, a missile shot at Israel could land in any city in under two minutes. Strategically, Israel would lose early warning radar stations and its control over the Jordan Rift Valley where the IDF protects Israel from illegal weapons smuggling into the West Bank. Geographically, within the 1967 lines Israel would be diminished to only 9 miles at its narrowest point and every major city would fall within short missile range. Topographically, the West Bank and Golan Heights provide more than a 3,000-foot incline over the coastal plain and giving this up would give the Palestinians unfettered access to attack major Israeli population centers and transportation hubs.

President Bush put the border issue in perspective: “For a Texan, a first visit to Israel is an eye-opener. At the narrowest point, it’s only 8 miles from the Mediterranean to the old Armistice line: That’s less than from the top to the bottom of Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. The whole of pre-1967 Israel is only about six times the size of the King Ranch near Corpus Christi.”

A withdrawal to the 1967 border would not satisfy the radical Islamists. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have made clear that they will not end their terrorist campaign against Israel even if it withdraws to the pre-war frontier. These and other Muslim extremists have said they will not accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Islamic world.

When Egypt’s Anwar Sadat declared he was prepared to make peace, and matched his words with deeds, Israel withdrew completely from the Sinai, dismantled Jewish settlements, and gave up its oil fields. When King Hussein agreed to make peace, Israel agreed to return the small swath of Jordanian territory it held.

The Green Line
Click to enlarge

To date, Israel has withdrawn from approximately 94 percent of the territories it captured. In return for peace with Syria and an end to Palestinian terror, it is prepared to withdraw from most of the remaining 6% in dispute. In truth, the whole fight over the West Bank now boils down to an area of about 200 square miles out of the more than 26,000 originally captured by Israel.

Israel remains committed to trading land for peace, and never annexed the West Bank or Gaza Strip because it expected to return part of these territories in negotiations. When the Palestinians finally declared that they would recognize Israel and renounce terrorism, Israel agreed to begin to withdraw. Plans to withdraw from additional territory were scuttled by Palestinian terrorism and their violation of the Oslo agreements.

For peace, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to withdraw from 100% of the Gaza Strip and 95-97% of the West Bank, that is, to the 1967 border with minor modifications. He also agreed to dismantle settlements and allow the Palestinians to establish a state with east Jerusalem as its capital if they would end the conflict. Arafat rejected the offer and did not even offer a counterproposal.

Israel offered to negotiate a return of the Golan Heights to Syria, and a succession of Prime Ministers declared a readiness to concede this strategic high ground in exchange for peace. Neither Syrian President Hafez Assad nor his son, who succeeded him, have been prepared to follow Sadat and Hussein’s example and offer peace in return.

In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The disengagement plan also involved the dismantling of four settlements in northern Samaria.

In 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a plan in which Israel would evacuate most of the settlements in the West Bank, while holding onto five large settlement blocs. This plan, known as “Realignment,” would be executed unilaterally if Israel cannot negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians. The plan sought to permanently define Israel’s borders with a future Palestinian state and ensure that Israel will maintain its Jewish majority. The breakout of the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 and the EU’s opposition to an Israeli unilateral withdrawal led to the plan’s demise.

In 2011, President Barak Obama called on Israel to use the 1967 lines as a basis for peace negotiations and assured that Israel’s strategic depth would be maintained through “mutually agreed land swaps.” “Israeli and Palestinians,” Obama pledged, “will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4th, 1967.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that he is ready and willing to negotiate the border as President Obama said, and he maintains that Israel cannot be expected to move back to the 1967 lines. “I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve peace,” Netanyahu said before a joint session of Congress on May 24, 2011. “I recognize that in a genuine peace, [Israel] will be required to give up parts of the Jewish homeland.”

Maps: Armistice Lines UN Public Domain - Wikimedia.
Green Line Ynhockey at the English-language Wikipedia licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia.