In 1967, Israel and multiple Middle Eastern states were engaged in a bloody war. Israel effectively won the conflict, claiming multiple swath of territory including the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank. Now, the Palestinians and other surrounding Arab states are calling for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders as part of a larger peace settlement. Is this justified? Would Israel be wise to accept? The issue has become increasingly significant in recent years because a number of countries around the world have unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Ecuador are among them, and other countries around the world are expected to follow, helping press the issue and the debate forward. The United States has consistently condemned such diplomatic recognition, and has remained hostile or cool to the idea of returning to the 1967 borders.
Because Israel won the land during war, it is considered occupied territory under international law, and it is illegal for Israel to annex it.
If Israel was to return to its pre-1967 borders, it would have to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, both territories that it took it from the Palestinians, whom were not fighting the Israelis in the war. All territory won during wartime (and stolen from defenseless civilians) is illegitimate annexation, illegal under international law. The UN “moaned” because the Israelis were killing innocent civilians and acting as though International law/the Geneva Conventions were beneath them.
The fact that Arab states initiated the 1967 war does not justify Israel responding by annexing Palestinian territory. A just settlement would have been a return to the previous borders in exchange for security guarantees, etc. Instead, Israel unjustly used the opportunity to take land from an innocent people. And yet supporters of the status quo seem to think that one bad act justifies another bad act in return.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in 2006 that the pre-1967 borders uphold the “legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people for a secure, united, democratic and economically viable state coexisting peacefully with Israel.”
Israel won the 1967 war, even thought this tiny nation was up against numerous Arab nations that aggressively initiated the conflict. It had and has a right, therefore, to govern territory it rightfully fought and died for.
Israel has been the victim of multiple major illegal wars of aggression on the part of the Arab world, most notably in 1948 and 1967. These wars invalidate any special claim made by Arabs and Palestinians to pre-1967 territory. If you illegally launch wars against an innocent state, there will be consequences. The loss of territory is one of such consequences, and it is permanent.
As is explained in the below section, the minimal slivers of territory that Israel claimed and that it seeks to maintain through a peace settlement [ie, after returning 90% of the pre-1967 territory], is very important to its national security as it offers a buffer against future Arab wars of aggression. For this critical purpose of national survival, the annexed land serves a legally legitimate purpose, especially considering that the Arab wars of aggression were what caused the annexation of the land in the first place. In such circumstances, a nation that won a defensive war has a right to set terms to ensure against future wars of aggression.
The UN actually guaranteed Israel’s right to “safe and secure boundaries” in Resolution 242.
The Middle East, and the world more generally, is a far different place than it was in 1967. There is a significantly smaller risk that Arab states will gang up in a conventional war against Israel. This owes significantly to the fact that Israel is much more powerful militarily, Arab states are less powerful relatively, and the military alliances and dynamics in the region tend to favor Israel more. All of this means that maintaining a buffer in Israel, with the post-1967 borders, for the sake of defending against a collective Arab assault is highly unreasonable. Israel does not need this buffer. It can return to its pre-1967 borders.
Israel won the 1967 war, demonstrating that despite a major coordinated Arab attack on Israel, it could defend its pre-1967 borders adequately. This puts the lie to the central argument that the pre-1967 borders are indefensible. They defended them before under extremely hostile conditions; they can defend them again now under less conventionally threatening conditions, with a greater conventional military capacity to wage a defense, and with the unwavering support of the United States.
“We can never totally return to the indefensible pre-1967 borders, … We simply cannot afford to make Israel [9 miles] wide again at its center. We can’t allow the Palestinians to be a couple [miles] from [Tel Aviv’s] Ben Gurion Airport in the age of shoulder-fire missiles with the capacity to shoot down jumbo jets. But that doesn’t mean we must remain in every corner of the West Bank or in Gaza, where fewer than 10,000 Jews, living next to 1.3 million Palestinians, have been protected by twice as many soldiers.”