Fact vs. Fiction on the 1967 Lines

Now that 31 Senators have signed a non-binding resolution undermining long-standing U.S. policy regarding Israel and the Occupied Territories in an effort to do nothing more than pander to AIPAC and the Israel Lobby (which I wrote about here), the Center for American Progress’ Middle East Progress blog has tried to set the record straight.

I’ll admit, these 1967 border/Armistice line issues can be confusing so it’s worth a read.


What are the 1967 lines?

The 1967 lines are the common phrase used to describe the separating lines that existed between Israel and its Arab neighbors on the eve of the 1967 War, also known as the Six-Day War. In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, the 1967 lines are actually the armistice lines that ended the 1948-1949 war.

On the Gaza front, the Israel-Egypt Armistice Agreement was signed on February 24, 1949, but its line was finalized only a year later in February 1950, under what is known as the Israeli-Egyptian ‘Modus Vivendi.’ On the West Bank front, the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement was signed on April 3, 1949, but its original line was modified over the following months and ended in 1951 in a process called the ‘generals agreements’ in which Israeli and Jordanian security officials demarcated the line on the ground and resolved outstanding issues emanating from the relatively low resolution of the original map.

So why are they called the ‘1967 lines’ and not the ‘1949 lines’?

There is not really a good reason (President George W. Bush actually referred to them as the 1949 Armistice Lines), except that the defining moment in the evolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict was in 1967 (when Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights). The relevant United Nations Security Council resolution—UNSCR 242—introduced the ‘land for peace’ formula, which has served as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace processes ever since.

Aren’t the 1967 lines borders?

No. The 1967 lines are the 1949 armistice lines, hence not borders. For practical purposes, only treaties—usually peace treaties—between consenting countries can define borders. Referring to the 1967 lines as the ‘1967 borders’ is an unfortunate but common mistake. President Obama was correct in referring to them as “lines.”

For decades, the international community has considered the 1967 lines as Israel’s de facto borders, with Israeli action on the Israeli side of them legal and legitimate and Israeli action beyond them—most notably settlement activity—illegitimate and in many instances illegal.

What are land swaps?

To better understand the concept of land swaps, there is a need to go back to the basic approach of each side to the question of permanent borders. Both sides fundamentally view the entirety of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as their historic homeland. The Palestinians perceive their acceptance of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines as a historic compromise, since they are now willing to be satisfied with only 22 percent of their homeland, with the other 78 percent remaining Israel. Israel, on the other hand, does not attribute much importance to the 1967 lines. From the Israeli government’s perspective, development on the ground—first and foremost the Israeli population that resides in settlements—should consider heavily in the demarcation of borders. In its view, asking Israel to evacuate roughly 500,000 Israelis that reside beyond the 1967 lines is morally unjust as Jews trace their heritage to the Biblical places in Judea and Samaria, and politically unrealistic. For example, look at what Prime Minister Sharon had to go through when he evacuated merely 8,000 Israelis from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Land swaps are simply the mechanism that would be used to bridge the gap between the two views: they would introduce slight modifications to the 1967 baseline (somewhere around 3 percent from the territories in question), while including the majority of the settlers that live there. The truth is that around three-quarters of the settlers reside in relative close proximity to the 1967 lines.

What feasible options exist for land swaps?

For the most part, when people think about land swaps, they imagine swaps that are equal in size, also referred to as 1:1 swaps. In practical terms, this means that for every square kilometer that Israel annexes from the West Bank or East Jerusalem, the Palestinians get a square kilometer from within Israel proper. The short answer is that land swaps of around 2-3 percent from the Palestinian territories in question should be feasible.

The longer answer is that there are two fundamental approaches to land swaps: for the Palestinians, lands swaps are an additional compromise on top of their historic compromise, and therefore should be equal in size and in quality, as well as minimal in extent; for the Israelis, land swaps are not a given right by any means, could be symbolic in nature (indeed, in the 2000 Camp David summit Israeli then Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered swaps in a 9:1 ratio), and Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank could be offset by Palestinian use of Israeli infrastructure, such as the Gaza-West Bank link or use of Israeli airports and seaports.

For these reasons, past negotiations—primarily the 2008 Annapolis Process’—saw remaining gaps. Israel wanted to change the 1967 lines by annexing roughly 6 percent in a way that would maintain 430,000 Israelis in its final borders and would require the evacuation of roughly 70,000 settlers. The swap proposed by Israel fell short of 1:1, as Palestine was to receive Israeli land equivalent to roughly 5.2 percent. The Palestinian map showed swaps in a 1:1 ratio of around 1.6 percent, with roughly 310,000 Israelis in Israel’s final borders and roughly 190,000 of them needing to evacuate.

Also see here and here for Prof. Juan Cole’s discussion of Mandate Palestine, United Nations Partition Plan and the implications for the Jewish homeland.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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5 Comments on “Fact vs. Fiction on the 1967 Lines”

  1. Lost Says:

    Thanks for these links. When Obama made his speech I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I still don’t but I was confused about the Armistice Lines, the 1967 borders and the Green Line which seem to sometimes be used interchangeably. So this helps.

    Enjoy the blog btw keep up the good work! Will come back often.


  2. Thain Says:

    Yay! It is you Stacy.

    Love the blog- very clean template and lots of great info. I agree with what Steve said in the comments to another post here though- I hope you don’t stop posting foreign policy info. on the Middle East over at your other site.

    Are you going to post a link over there so people know about this new site?


    • Stacy Says:

      Yes, it’s me, you found me.

      I will continue blogging over there. I just wanted a site where I could rant and opine about the Middle East in a way I didn’t always feel free to do over there.


  3. Thain Says:

    I don’t like my favicon.


    • Stacy Says:

      You could always add a Gravatar so you can use whatever photo or pic you want rather than an automatically-generated one. All you have to do is sign up at wordpress.com, upload a picture and whenever you post a comment on a wordpress site that gravatar is used. I wish more regular commenters here and over at Secy Clinton Blog would do that because I hate these user-generated avatars/favicons.


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