The fallacy of the 1967 ‘borders’

The PA’s attempt to push these lines is absurd: They have never figured in any international, agreed-upon document and have no basis.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: AP)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: AP)
With ongoing and increasing intensity, the Palestinian leadership is fixated on advancing a policy vis-à-vis the international community and public opinion, demanding recognition of what they claim to be the “1967 borders,” and acceptance of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state within those borders.
Indeed, this campaign appeared to have some initial successes recently when Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay decided to recognize a Palestinian state within what they described as the “1967 borders.”
In fact, the Palestinian leadership, as well as the international community, are well aware that such borders do not exist, and have never existed. They have never figured in any of the international, agreedupon documents concerning the Israel-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian issues, and have no basis whatsoever, either in law or in fact.
There were never any geographic imperatives that sanctified the 1967 lines. Clearly, there could be no legal or political logic to enshrining as an international boundary a coincidental set of cease-fire lines that existed for less than 19 years.
While the above is fully evident to the Palestinian leaders who are actively advancing this policy – principally the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and the head of the PA negotiations department, Saeb Erekat, both of whom were themselves actively involved in all the stages of negotiation – they nevertheless continue to present the “1967 borders” as an accepted international term, and an Israeli commitment.
THE TERM “1967 lines” refers to the line from which the IDF moved into the territories at the start of hostilities on June 4, 1967 (the Six Day War).
These lines were not based on historical fact, natural geographic formations, demographic considerations or international agreement. In fact, they had served as the agreed-upon armistice lines from the termination of the 1948 War of Independence, pursuant to the armistice agreements then signed between Israel and its neighbors – Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon – in 1949. These lines remained valid until the outbreak of the 1967 hostilities.
The armistice lines represented nothing more than the forward lines of deployment of the forces on the day a cease-fire was declared, as set out in Security Council Resolution 62 of November 16, 1948, which called for the delineation of permanent armistice demarcation lines beyond which the armed forces of the respective parties would not move. The line was demarcated on the map attached to the armistice agreement with a green marker pen and hence received the name “Green Line.”
The Security Council in its resolution stressed the temporary nature of the armistice lines – lines that were to be maintained “during the transition to permanent peace in Palestine,” intimating that permanent peace would involve negotiating permanent bilateral borders that would differ from the armistice demarcation lines.
In fact, the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement signed on April 13, 1949, as well as all the other armistice agreements, emphasized the transitional nature of each armistice as “an indispensable step toward the liquidation of armed conflict and the restoration of peace in Palestine.”
The language of the agreement went to great pains to stress that the armistice lines were of a provisional and nonpolitical nature, and were not intended to and did not constitute international boundaries, and as such do not prejudice the rights, claims and positions of the parties in the ultimate peace settlement: “No provision of this agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.
“The basic purpose of the armistice demarcation lines is to delineate the lines beyond which the armed forces of the respective parties shall not move.
“The provisions of this article shall not be interpreted as prejudicing, in any sense, an ultimate political settlement between the parties to this agreement.
“The armistice demarcation lines defined in... this agreement are agreed upon by the parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either party relating thereto.”
STATEMENTS FROM Arab and other sources between 1949 and 1967 confirm the shared understanding as to the transitional nature of the lines. During the debate in the Security Council before the outbreak of hostilities in 1967, the Jordanian ambassador stated: “There is an Armistice Agreement. The agreement did not fix boundaries; it fixed a demarcation line. The agreement did not pass judgment on rights political, military or otherwise.
Thus I know of no territory; I know of no boundary; I know of a situation frozen by an Armistice Agreement.”
Prof. Mughraby wrote in the Beirut Daily Star: “Israel is the only state in the world which has no legal boundaries except the natural one the Mediterranean provides.
The rest are nothing more than armistice lines, and can never be considered political or territorial boundaries.”
US president Lyndon Johnson is on record stating: “The nations of the region have had only fragile and violated truce lines for 20 years. What they now need are recognized boundaries and other arrangements that will give them security against terror, destruction and war.”
In this context, international jurists have also acknowledged the limited effect of the armistice lines.
THE TRANSITORY nature of the 1949 armistice demarcation lines was clearly acknowledged by the Security Council in Resolution 242 of 1967, after the Six Day War, which affirmed, in its first paragraph: “...respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
There is no call in this resolution for a return to the armistice demarcation lines, or to any other line or border.
The Security Council specifically dismissed the Arab demand for a text that required Israel to completely return all the territory it occupied during the 1967 conflict.
Israel was instead called upon to withdraw from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” not from “all the territories” or even from “the territories.”
At the same time, the council called upon the parties to work together to promote agreement on a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles of the resolution. Clearly, this settlement was intended to include the negotiation of secure and recognized boundaries to replace the armistice demarcation lines, pursuant to the above references to “ultimate peaceful settlement.”
During the Security Council debate on the acceptance of Resolution 242, the representative of Brazil, in accepting the resolution, declared: “Its acceptance does not imply that borderlines cannot be rectified as a result of an agreement freely concluded among the interested states. We keep constantly in mind that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East has necessarily to be based on secure permanent boundaries freely agreed upon and negotiated by the neighboring states.”
While this fact has been widely acknowledged in both legal and political literature throughout the years, the basic reciprocal undertaking by the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships to negotiate borders between their respective territories was given formal confirmation by Yasser Arafat, his deputy and later replacement Abbas, and Erekat during the groundbreaking “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self- Government Arrangements” (signed inter alia by Abbas) of September 13, 1993, in which the PLO and the Israeli government acknowledged that negotiations on the permanent status of the relationship between them would cover: “...remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.”
On the eve of the signature of the declaration, Arafat made the solemn commitment in a letter to Yitzhak Rabin: “The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides, and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.”
Clearly, the present fixation by Abbas and Erekat, in attempting to bypass the agreed-upon negotiating process and achieve unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state within the “1967 borders,” runs squarely against Arafat’s solemn undertaking in 1993.
The references to permanent-status negotiations on borders and to achieving the aims of Security Council Resolution 242 were repeated in a series of mutually agreed documents between the PLO and Israel. Furthermore, with a view to strengthening this commitment, they undertook in the 1995 Interim Agreement not to act unilaterally to change the status of the territories pending outcome of those permanent-status negotiations.
This undertaking was reiterated by the parties in Article 9 of the 1999 Sharm e-Shiekh Memorandum.
Throughout all the phases of the negotiations, there was never any reference to the 1967 lines as a potential border, nor was there any reference to any commitment or obligation by Israel to withdraw to those 1967 lines.
FURTHER INDICATION of the nonexistence of “1967 borders” and the rejection of any unilateral act by the Palestinians is evident from the terms of the Quartet-initiated “Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” of April 30, 2003.
In this document the parties were expected, in the second and third phases of implementation and after election of a responsible Palestinian leadership, to engage in negotiations focusing on the option of creating an independent, viable Palestinian state, initially with “provisional borders.”
This was intended to serve as a way station to the permanent settlement that was scheduled for the third stage, where final status borders would be recognized by an international conference convened for that purpose.
Clearly, if and when the parties return to a modus of bona fide negotiation and reach the issue of defining their mutual border, the 1967 line could indeed figure as a point of reference in the negotiations between them, assuming that it answers the criteria set out by the Security Council for a border that will avoid situations of threats of force and violence.
But this can only emanate from a reciprocal and goodfaith attempt by the parties to act together, and not unilaterally, in determining their own borders, based on their mutual interests as neighbors.
Such issues cannot and must not be dictated from outside, whether by the UN or by individual states.
In light of all the above, the question arises if and when the Palestinian leadership will come to admit the absurdity in attempting to invent “1967 borders” that lack any historical, legal or factual basis? Similarly, one may ask when they will see the utter lack of pragmatism and realism in their attempt to dictate to the international community a unilateral Palestinian state in violation of their own commitments, undermining the internationally accepted Middle East peace process as well as internationally recognized and witnessed documents.
The writer served as legal adviser of the Foreign Ministry and ambassador to Canada. He was actively involved in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and Arab states. He is presently a partner in the law firm of Moshe, Bloomfield, Kobo, Baker & Co. This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.