“Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC Monday night, amidst thunderous applause and a standing ovation. His declaration was seen as a response to President Barack Obama’s recommendation that border negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians be based on “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
Much bandwidth has been wasted arguing whether or not the president was advocating a return to the pre-1967 borders (he was not), yet few have stopped to examine the harsh realities of the borders today. While Netanyahu can legitimately argue that the 1967 borders are indeed indefensible, his naiveté that the current borders are in any way defensive is, in fact, downright offensive, and borders ignorance.
At present, there are roughly an equal number of Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the occupied territories. This means that if Netanyahu is content with the status quo, he must answer the difficult question he’s masterfully eluded throughout his time in office: Is Israel a Jewish state or a democratic state? As long as Palestinians are denied citizenship and fundamental political rights, Israel’s democratic principles will be called into question. However, if Palestinians are granted these rights, Israel’s Jewish identity and majority — the pillar of its existence — will be lost forever.
Moreover, Netanyahu’s explicit support of settlement expansion and a continued Israeli military presence in the West Bank undermines Israel’s already tenuous standing in the international community. In this regard, the upcoming United Nations vote may be presented as a vote on Palestinian statehood, but if Israel is left to rely solely on the United States to defeat the measure, it will prove to be something much more significant: the Netanyahu doctrine’s final blow to Israeli legitimacy.
The existential threat to the survival of Israel is not Iran, nor is it Hezbollah or even Hamas; while these entities can surely damage the Jewish State, they cannot destroy it. Rather, the greatest threat Israel faces is that its current leaders are unable to envision a long-term strategy that ensures both Israel’s democratic principles as well as its Jewish identity; a strategy that reclaims Israel’s lost legitimacy in the international community. As former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in 2007, “if the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”
It is therefore in Israel’s strategic and national security interests to actively pursue a two-state solution; one that is based on “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” as laid out by Obama.
The vast majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support a lasting peace agreement, and understand that painful concessions are inevitable. Still, compromise will not be easy.
There are many core issues that will need to be addressed, dissected, and resolved — namely the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and Palestinian refugees in neighboring Arab countries — before any peace agreement can be signed. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Obama is committed to Israel’s security, and will not accept a return to indefensible borders. The question remains whether or not Netanyahu is equally committed to Israel’s security and its continued survival; based on his disrespectful and disappointing display in the oval office on Friday, it seems unlikely.
Photo Credits: James Brian Taylor