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The fallacy that is the 1967 line that divided Israel and the West Bank
On May 20, 1967, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran and proclaimed "these waters are ours... the Israeli flag shall not go through the Gulf of Aqaba."
In their inveterate drive to confer self-determination upon the Palestinians, European governmental officials invariably cite the line of June 5, 1967, as the dividing line between Israel and the proposed Palestinian entity. It is as if this line was sanctified in Holy Writ and is binding upon all concerned as the starting point for any negotiations between the parties.
However, the lines that separated Israel from the Arabs in June 1967 were shattered by one man several weeks before that date. On May 20, 1967, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran and proclaimed, contrary to the UN agreement, “These waters are ours... the Israeli flag shall not go through the Gulf of Aqaba ... we are ready for war.”
With that proclamation Nasser nullified the June 5 lines. The finishing touch was delivered when Jordan opened fire on Israel in Jerusalem on June 5. Earlier that day, Israel had offered to preserve matters intact between the two countries if Jordan refrained from hostility, but Jordan replied with a barrage, destroying the last vestige of the June lines.
This is not theoretical analysis; it is confirmed fully by the subsequent negotiations that ensued between the powers, and at the United Nations.
In the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, the same Nasser demanded that Israel immediately withdraw from all territories it had occupied. Notwithstanding his belligerency, he charged Israel with aggression, something that would stamp Israel’s presence in the territories as a violation of international law.
The Soviet Union, smarting from the defeat of its weaponry, took up this refrain before the UN, but failed to secure the required majority in both the Security Council and the General Assembly that would charge Israel with aggression. Thereupon, Moscow dispatched its president, Alexei Kosygin, to the United States, in an effort to convince president Lyndon Johnson to join in pushing Israel back to the former lines. Johnson categorically rejected the Soviet proposal.
The president had earlier declared, “The nations of the region have had only fragile and violated truce lines for 20 years. What they now need are recognized boundaries and other arrangements that will give them security against terror, destruction, and war.”
IN REJECTING Kosygin’s suggestion, Johnson said, “This is not a prescription for peace but for renewed hostilities.” Moreover, “the parties to the conflict must be the parties to the peace.”
Long and arduous negotiations between the powers extended to November 22, 1967, when the Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which became the foundation document for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. With the adoption of 242, “secure and recognized boundaries” became the fundamental principle of any forthcoming settlement.
The June 5 lines were entirely abolished and not mentioned in any document. Israel was entitled to secure and recognized boundaries to be negotiated between the parties. Only such arrangements would help in ensuring future Israeli security.
Nor was Johnson the only US president to confirm this formula. President Ronald Reagan in his Mideast Peace Effort address of September 1, 1982, declared, “Having followed and supported Israel’s heroic struggle for survival ever since [its] founding... in the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab enemies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again.”
Thus, the American position renouncing the 1948 armistice lines as null and void is a reflection of bipartisan policy.
The question, therefore, arises: From where do these Europeans take this June 5 formula? The answer is that on December 23, 2016, the Security Council, at the behest of president Barak Obama, adopted Resolution 2334, which sought to renew the old formula of the June 5 lines.
This was Obama’s parting gift, three weeks before leaving the White House, to his faithful antagonist, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But 2334 also reaffirms Resolution 242, so it cannot cancel what 242 established. Moreover, 2334 was adopted over the abstention of the United States, which means only 242 remains the accepted and recognized scheme for any settlement.
In short, the June lines were killed by Nasser and buried by the adoption of 242. The effort to resuscitate the June 5 lines must be acknowledged to have been aborted. Israel is acting in accordance with international and UN law in rejecting any such abortive effort.
The writer is the James G. McDonald professor emeritus of American history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.