Former UN Ambassador Dore Gold, a world renowned expert on Middle Eastern affairs, explains with clarity: “Many continue to demand that Israel retreat to the lines that existed on the eve of the [1967 Six-Day War]. Let us say clearly: Israel cannot, should not, and will not withdraw to indefensible borders. In taking this position, Israel is fully within its rights under international law.”
The pre-war boundaries with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were armistice lines from 1949 that reflected where Israel halted the invading Arab armies in the War of Independence. Shortly after Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, Gaza from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria in a defensive war in June 1967, the Soviet Union tried to brand Israel as the aggressor and press for full Israeli withdrawal. That effort failed. Instead, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which defines the principles of Arab-Israeli diplomacy to this day. The resolution calls for Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in the war and not “from all the territories” – an intentional phrasing that was defended at the time at the highest levels of the U.S. government, including by President Johnson himself.
Given this background, says Gold, it is easy to understand why Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin specified in his last Knesset address in October 1995 that Israel would never withdraw to the pre-1967 lines. Rabin stressed that Israel would have to retain control of the Jordan Valley, the geographic barrier that has secured Israel’s eastern front since the Six-Day War.
Most importantly, Rabin also made clear that Jerusalem would remain united under Israeli sovereignty. He made this proclamation about Israeli policy two years after the signing of the Oslo Accords with the PLO, and after the peace treaty with Jordan.
Israel’s rights as a nation-state have their origins in the Allied powers’ decision to allocate the territories of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the First World War, when the historical connection of the Jewish people to their homeland was acknowledged. From then (and even in the years before the war), the Zionist movement worked to turn the dream of a state into reality. But undoubtedly, it was the diplomacy that followed the Six-Day War, and especially UN Security Council Resolution 242, that helped establish that Israel is entitled to “secure and recognized boundaries” – or defensible borders – that would replace the fragile 1949 armistice lines in any future Arab-Israeli negotiations.
For more on the concept of Defensible Borders, see the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ study at this link.