Videos & Speeches
May 24 2011
Mr. President, on Thursday in a speech on the Middle East, President Obama said, “While we believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
While the president has since sought to revise or clarify his remarks, it is valuable to remind ourselves what a retreat to pre-1967 boundaries would mean for the security of Israel.
After Israel declared independence in 1948, it was invaded by five neighboring armies and an armistice line was subsequently established in 1949. This line is known as the Green Line and while some refer to it as a border, it was never officially recognized as an international border.
If Israel was forced to retreat to the Green Line—its pre-1967 boundary—Israel would be only 9 miles wide at its narrowest point. Such close borders are untenable today and would subject Israel’s population to great and grave danger.
Following the Six Day War, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 affirmed Israel’s right to “secure and recognized borders.” As Robert Satloff of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy points out—calls for Israel to withdraw to those “secure and recognized” borders have never been interpreted as being synonymous with the pre-1967 boundaries. A quick look at a map of Israel will explain why these boundaries cannot be secure.
Prime Minister Netanyahu reminded us today in a Joint Session of Congress that “Israel needs unique security arrangements because of its unique size.”
Two-thirds of Israel’s population and infrastructure lie within a 60 mile strip along the Mediterranean coastline. Tel Aviv would only be 11 miles away from a Palestinian state with its border as the Green Line and the Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s largest and busiest, would be a mere 4 miles away. It would only take one rocket fired at Ben Gurion for the entire airport to shut down—isolating Israel from the rest of the world.
With the Green Line as its border, the dangers to Israel come not only because of the short distances between major Israeli cities and a Palestinian state, but also from the geography of the land. The 60 mile strip along Israel’s coastline lies below the hilly heights of the West Bank. With control of that high terrain, terrorists could easily target and terrorize much of Israel’s population just as they have from Gaza, but with even more deadly accuracy.
When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Israel’s leaders had hoped that the Palestinians would demonstrate they could live peacefully with Israel. Instead, Hamas assumed power and Israelis living in the southern part of Israel have had thousands of rockets and mortar attacks directed at them. So far this year, more than 300 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza, terrorizing countless families in Israel.
The threats to Israel from a Palestinian state with its borders as the Green Line are clearly understood in this context—especially since Palestinian Authority, President Abbas’ Fatah Party, inked an accord with Hamas to form a unity government earlier this month. Although welcomed by President Abbas, Hamas still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. The United States designated Hamas as a terrorist organization 1997. It has killed more than 500 innocent civilians, including dozens of Americans.
The United States does not negotiate with terrorists and we should not expect or ask Israel to do so either. Instead of calling for negotiations based on boundaries that leave Israel vulnerable to attack, the President should have insisted the Palestinians prove that they are ready to be responsible and peaceful neighbors.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “the Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.”
Israel’s security must come first. Any effort to force Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 boundaries—the 1949 Armistice Line—would undermine Israel’s security and threaten the future of any peace talk.
In 2004, the Senate overwhelmingly passed S.Res. 393, which endorsed U.S. policy for a Middle East peace process. In particular, the Senate supported a statement that said “in light of realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, 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.”
I believe it is important for the United States to again oppose any plan to force Israel to withdraw to those ’49 boundaries. Borders between Israel and a Palestinian state should be decided only by Israel and Palestinian leaders through direct negotiations. Borders should not be a precondition set for negotiations by the President of the United States or anyone else. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said today, “peace cannot be imposed.”
Since recognizing Israel eleven minutes after its founding in 1948, our two countries have worked side by side to advance democracy and peace and stability. Israel is our staunchest ally in a volatile part of the world. We cannot now turn our back on Israel by forcing it to take a position in negotiations that would endanger its very existence. I oppose any plan or effort to force Israel back to those 1949 Armistice Lines and encourage my colleagues to work to see that that is not the case. I ask my colleagues to support that position as well.