February 10, 2010
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
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 admissibility 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
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
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
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.