Why the 1967 borders are not safe for Israel (Part 3)

This post is a return to the interrupted historical series on the history of Israel (here’s the Intro, Part 1, and Part 2); it picks up just after the 1967 war which won Israel the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula. To recap, the first two decades of Israel’s existence included near-constant war, boundaries that shifted repeatedly, and deeply inconsisent support from the United States until the ’67 war itself. Events in the 1970s quickly and painfully reinforced the last view.

In fact, one could say the 1970s was when Israel’s place in the world permanently shifted. She began the decade as the darling of the democratic left around the world, and ended it as a hero of the right. Her already small number of allies dwlindled further still. She watched numerous American presidents pledge fealty to her on the campaign trail only to leave her hanging once they reached Washington.

Things began to go wrong for Israel when Egypt’s new leader – Anwar Sadat – made it clear he wanted the Sinai back, and found an interesting way to win over American favor: he kicked out the Soviets. Suddenly, Israel had competition for America’s favor. Thus when Egypt went to war for the Sinai in 1973, Nixon refused to come to Israel’s aid until the last minute (which made it clear Israel was, once again, vulnerable). Arab nations, unhappy the U.S. provided any support to Israel, responded with an oil embrgo that shocked the American economy into its first “stagflation” – and further made it clear the American and Israeli interests did not always coincide.

Meanwhile, the American support for Israel – as weak as it was – alienated much of the left from the Jewish state. Given that Israel was still a social democracy, this came as quite a shock to her. Yet “anti-Zionism” quickly became gospel in left-wing circles around the world. Much of the democratic right was warming to Israel, but she had few, if any, contacts there. In the world of geopolitics, she was very much alone.

Despite this, things still looked bright when Israel made peace with Egypt. Sadat became the first Arab leader to make piece with Israel, a stunning move that seemed to mark an end to hostilies.

It took four years for the more painful reailty to hit home. In 1979, Israel oldest ally – Persia – had fallen to a radical anti-Semitic regime that turned a three-millenia friend into the vilest enemy. To drive the point home, the Iranian regime honored the assassins of Sadat (murdered in 1981), while Syria – now Iran’s new ally – used their Hezbollah puppets in Lebanon to wage guerrila war against Israel, who responded with an invasion in 1982.

By then, Ronald Reagan was president – a man who ran as a friend of Israel. Yet while Israel was battling its proxy war with Syria and Iran, the Reagan Administration refused to offer unvarnished support for its ally. For the third straight time, a Republican Administration had let Israel down – and even drove Prime Minister Menachem Begin to retire in frustration.

Once again, Israel was isolated, vulnerable . . . and lucky. Arab nations that normally could have united against her were instead taking sides in the Iran-Iraq War (the Iraq-allied Palestine Liberation Organization and Syria battled repeatedly in London, the former on occasion even tactically allying with Israel).

Amidst the chaos in the Arab world, Israel continued to survive. Egypt’s new leader – Hosni Mubarak – maintained peace with Isreal, but it was a “cold peace.” Jordan, long considered by Israel to the be the moderate force, officially handed its claim to the West Bank over to the PLO, granting Palestine its first claim to sovereignty in the modern era.

It was at this point that the call for “1967 boundaries” began in earnest. Yet few, if any, remembered that Israel had not been granted the ’67 lines, but won them through battle in 1948-49, with the fervent support of both superowers (whereas it now had only one), most of Europe (who now were distancing themselves from her) and Iran (which was now a virulent enemy).

In part it was Israel’s history of military victories that led to this global amnesia. It was simply assumed that Israel was invincible, and as such would be safe with 1967 boundaries. In reality, Israel had always relied on outside support to win its wars, and without that support, it was in trouble. Moreover, nothing had shown them that the Arab world would accept the 1967 lines (they were, in fact, preparing to wage war in 1967 itself to reverse Israel’s 1949 gains at the least, and destroy Israel altogether at the most).

Yet in the 1990s, Israel would try the peaceful route at the request of its American allies. The results should have been enough to convince anyone never to try it again. That, however, is for Part 4.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

  • I am surprised that such a one sided presentation of the facts did not include the “Three Noes”.

    I am going to provide a link from which I am going to lift a quote:


    “Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired in exchange for peace. As Moshe Dayan put it, Jerusalem was waiting only for a telephone call from Arab leaders to start negotiations.

    But these hopes were dashed in August 1967 when Arab leaders meeting in Khartoum adopted a formula of three noes: ‘no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel….'”.

    Almost immediately, the policy of settlements into the occupied territories began like a cancer that would slowly eat at the Israeli body politic. Even though some surgery was conducted (exchanges of land for peace) the cancer metastasized. Over time, the exchange of land for peace became thought of as evil.

    The link I previously provided also presents the current Israeli position on this subject if you want to explore it.

    What we currently are faced with is the perfect circle. Israeli settlements have expanded into the West Bank. As long as the question of their legitimacy remains in question, they are an obstacle to peace. If the Palestinians do not agree to Netanyahu’s demands, then the Palestinians need to be punished with greater expansion.

    As long as Netanyahu remains unreasonable in negotiations, peace is impossible. As long as no peace deal is reached, the settlements are allowed to continue to expand. The perfect circle where we reward the Israeli right wing for failing to compromise. It does not matter to them that expansion of the settlements thwarts attempts to arrive at peace because peace is not their objective.

  • DJ- Your posts on the history of modern Israel are a public service and should be required reading in our schools. Notwithstanding LD’s unsupported characterization that your essays are “one-sided,” they are, in fact, very accurate, as I can attest to as a longtime student of Israeli history myself. It is, in fact, LD’s stubborn anti-Israel position that is one-sided and that ignores both history and the situation that exist today. I look forward to reading Part 4.

  • Ken Flakenstein,

    Any history I would have given would have included most of what DJ included. Please note that in my own post, I also brought out the three noes. However, I think that any study of the history of Israel that might seek to explain how we got here from there needs to understand the history of the settlements; particularly since Netanyahu’s refusal to even temporarily stop expanding them is a great impediment to peace negotiations right now.

  • Ooops, Ken I apologize for the transposition of letters when I typed your last name. It was not intentional.

  • D.J. —

    This has been an outstanding series. Very much looking forward to Part 4!!!!!

  • Little David —

    Do you believe that, should the Israelis truly unilaterally withdraw their settlements as they did in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, that it would lead to a lasting peace in the region?

  • Shaun Kenney,

    I am not saying that the occupation should end absent a peace settlement or that Israel should not have a robust right to self defense after such a peace agreement is realized. What I am saying is that even absent a peace agreement expansion of the settlements should stop.

    The Israeli hardliners should not be rewarded with what they want if there is no peace. They want unrestricted rights to settle in Judea and Samaria. As long as there is no peace agreement, they are allowed to expand. The more they are allowed to expand, the less likely there is to be a peace agreement. Perfect circle.

    Israeli hardliners really are not motivated towards a peace agreement are they?

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