Debate Forum Topic: 5/31/11

By Glenn McCoy By Glenn McCoy

Obama’s Call for a Return to the 1967 Lines Sparks Controversy

By Glenn McCoy

Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent unrest that the presence of the Jewish State of Israel has caused in the Middle East, American presidents have attempted to broker a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Many of the territorial disputes come from the Israeli success in the Six Day War.

On June 5, 1967, the Six Day War began with a large-scale surprise air strike by Israel. Opinions vary on whether Israel’s attack was an act of aggression or a preemptive strike against a planned attack by the Arab nations surrounding Israel. The outcome was a swift and decisive Israeli victory. Israel took effective control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The situation remains unresolved today as the parties grapple with how to establish a homeland for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people displaced by the outcome of the war.

Last week, just before the Israeli prime minister flew to Washington for a White House meeting, President Obama delivered a speech on the Middle East. The speech focused mostly on the ongoing events known as the “Arab Spring” and the Obama’s analysis of those events. Near the end of the speech he made the following statement.

“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.”

Those 33 words have caused a flurry of debate and some pointed reaction by Israel and the Palestinians. Did this mention of 1967 lines with the caveat of mutually-agreed swaps, amount to a shift in U.S. policy on this very volatile issue? The Israeli prime minister thought so. He immediately rejected President Obama’s proposal and then boarded his Washington-bound plane. Following a two-hour meeting with the president, and during a joint photo-op in the Oval Office, Netanyahu lectured President Obama on the history of the Israeli struggle and the fact that the 1967 lines were not a starting point for future negotiations. A clearly annoyed President Obama sat listening to Netanyahu, as he was chastised by the Israeli prime minister. Some observers felt that Netanyahu went over the line to use that moment in the Oval Office to publicly disagree with Obama. Although many disagree with how Netanyahu publicly expressed his displeasure with the Obama’s words, many in Congress are siding with the prime minister. Even members of his own party such as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and other Democrats appeared to reject the president’s reference to the 1967 lines, believing that he was asking Israel to give away too much, too soon.

Those who support the withdrawal by Israel to the 1967 lines believe that for more than three decades, Israel’s occupation of Arab land has been the key unresolved issue between the parties. They believe Israel must give up the occupied land in exchange for peace. They believe international law has been clear, as expressed through United Nations resolutions, as well as the official policies of the U.S.: Israel must withdraw from those lands won in the Six Day War.

The issue for the Israelis is that it is difficult to begin negotiations with political opponents who are seeking your destruction and refuse to acknowledge your right to exist as a nation. The peace agreement uniting Hamas, a recognized terrorist group, and Fatah, recently brokered by the post-Mubarak government in Egypt, makes any realistic peace process between Israel and the Palestinians more difficult. Netanyahu argued last week at the AIPAC conference and before a joint session of Congress that the pre-1967 lines based upon the 1948 armistice lines were simply indefensible and that to agree to them would be to sign Israel’s death warrant.

Forum Question of the Week:

Does President Obama’s proposal provide a foundation for advancing a lasting Middle East peace, or is it the formula for further conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians?

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