Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said May 30 that Israel could not prevent the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state, in the sense of adopting a resolution on the subject. Two weeks ago, U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech, called on Israel to return to some variation of its pre-1967 borders. The practical significance of these and other diplomatic evolutions in relation to Israel is questionable. Historically, U.N. declarations have had variable meanings, depending on the willingness of great powers to enforce them. Obama’s speech on Israel, and his subsequent statements, created enough ambiguity to make exactly what he was saying unclear. Nevertheless, it is clear that the diplomatic atmosphere on Israel is shifting.
There are many questions concerning this shift, ranging from the competing moral and historical claims of the Israelis and Palestinians to the internal politics of each side to whether the Palestinians would be satisfied with a return to the pre-1967 borders. All of these must be addressed, but this analysis is confined to a single issue: whether a return to the 1967 borders would increase the danger to Israel’s national security. Later analyses will focus on Palestinian national security issues and those of others.
It is important to begin by understanding that the pre-1967 borders are actually the borders established by the armistice agreements of 1949. The 1948 U.N. resolution creating the state of Israel created a much smaller Israel. The Arab rejection of what was called “partition” resulted in a war that created the borders that placed the West Bank (named after the west bank of the Jordan River) in Jordanian hands, along with substantial parts of Jerusalem, and placed Gaza in the hands of the Egyptians.
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