President Obama’s address at the State Department last Thursday damaged what had already been a shaky alliance with Israel since he was elected. In the address, President Obama said, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” Stating that the borders of Israel should be time warped back to 1967 is a nonstarter for Israel because it would threaten the security of the Israeli people.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the following in the Oval Office to President Obama, “While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace; it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible.” To fully understand this major foreign policy gaffe by President Obama, you have to look at the events surrounding the Six-Day War.
In the spring of 1967, Arab militaries, primarily from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and aided by other Middle Eastern countries, were amassing on the borders of Israel for a possible attack on the Jewish state. Israeli forces seized the initiative and launched a surprise attack on three fronts. At the time, the Israeli border was only nine miles wide between Samaria and the Mediterranean Sea. Within six days, the victorious Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) took control of the Gaza strip and the entire Sinai Peninsula in the south from Egypt. In the east the IDF seized control of Jerusalem as well as Samaria and Judea from Jordan. Finally, to the north the IDF captured the Golan Heights from Syria.
The Six-Day War was a tremendous victory for the Israeli people. Israelis were able to successfully defend their homeland against three countries that – at the time – had vowed to wipe Israel off the map while gaining a buffer zone to protect against future attacks.
In the 1979 peace accords, Israel agreed to pull out of the Sinai Peninsula. Israel still technically occupies Samaria and Judea, now known as the West Bank, as well as the Golan Heights. In 2005, Israel unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip in an attempt to move forward in the peace process, which only resulted in the terrorist group Hamas taking over and launching thousands of rockets over the border into Israel. Palestinian groups have also launched hundreds of suicide bombing attacks in the last few decades.
With that brief history as a backdrop, it is understandable why all of Israel was aghast at what President Obama said last Thursday. As Danny Danon, a member of the Knesset, said of President Obama, “Israel will not pay [Obama’s] private tuition as he tries to understand the essence of the conflict.”
By Sunday, the President and his team were in full fledged damage control, trying to spin out of mess that they created entirely themselves. In his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, President Obama tried to downplay the situation, “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has been long acknowledged privately.”
For Israel to even contemplate going back to its 1967 borders there would have to be a firm and lasting peace in the Middle East first. That time is not now, and unfortunately may never come. Terrorists and other radical Muslim extremists continue to call for Israel’s destruction. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just last week said of Israel, “Like a cancer cell that spreads through the body, this regime infects any region. It must be removed from the body.”
Israel cannot legitimately protect itself with borders that would allow easier incursions by foes into its homeland. President Obama must have taken his premature Noble Peace Prize to heart before he gave his speech last week at the State Department. Simply put, President Obama is in over his head and clearly does not understand the world in which we live and how precarious a position this puts Israel in. As our strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel deserved better from President Obama last Thursday.