Syria spirals out of control. Iran marches toward nuclear Islamageddon. So, naturally, Secretary of State John Kerry schedules yet another trip to “solve” the region’s relatively stable, if not ideal, Israel-Palestinian dispute.
Like so many in foreign policy circles, Kerry and the Obama administration know — absolutely know — the key to peace in Israel’s neighborhood: Israel’s withdrawal, with perhaps minor adjustments, from all West Bank territory conquered in 1967.
Yet, history indicates that withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, absent major changes, is arguably the single most counterproductive act imaginable for long-lasting peace. There is no greater obstacle to peace than the perpetual temptation to launch another war against Israel from such lopsided lines.
What is so sacred about the pre-1967 lines, anyway? In 1967, there was neither peace nor an independent Palestinian entity. Similar lines were part of the 1947 Partition Plan, and were overrun by invading Arab armies. The pre-1967 lines were never an internationally recognized border — thanks to Arab insistence that they not be. They were merely the armistice lines of 1949, an armistice honored mostly in the breach. In 1967, Arab armies finally shredded the armistice by attacking across those lines, in spite of Israeli pleas to Jordan’s King Hussein not to do so. With new ceasefire lines in 1967 and 1973, the pre-1967 lines were rendered meaningless, having lasted all of 18 years, 1949-1967. R.I.P.
Even putting aside Israel’s own legitimate legal, cultural, and historical claims to disputed territories, Israeli withdrawal to those lines won’t happen now due to Israeli aversion to existential vulnerability.
We all know Israel is small, but rarely appreciate just how tiny and exposed it is. Pre-1967 Israel is about 1/10th the size of Kansas, roughly the size of New Hampshire. But even that exaggerates the practical reality of Israel’s size, as about 57% of pre-1967 Israel is made up of the sparsely inhabited Negev Desert. Most of Israel’s population, business, industry and technology reside in the narrow central Coastal Plain. That is a strip of land between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea which varies between 9 and 11 miles wide. “Start-Up Nation” Israel squeezes into that Rhode Island-sized area.
Think about that. An entire country, nine miles wide. A bicycle could easily cross it in 30 minutes — and a rocket in a matter of seconds. Nine miles is less than the distance from Barack Obama’s Chicago home to Wrigley Field. It’s the distance between Manhattan’s George Washington Bridge and the Holland Tunnel. It is 1½ times around the Central Park loop.
Still hard to grasp? This photo might help:
This is the view from the West Bank hilltop settlement of Peduel, about three miles over the Green Line. In the foreground is the West Bank Arab village of Dayr Balut. In the middle ground are Tel Aviv and its surrounding neighborhoods. Behind Tel Aviv is the Mediterranean. That’s it.