Eight out of 10 of the last American presidents agree that Israel should retain some of the West Bank of the Jordan River forever, or the Golan Heights, or both.
Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, W. Bush, Trump — every president except H. W. Bush and Obama — agreed that the Arab-Israel armistice borders of 1949, which were erased during the Six Day War of 1967, should not return.
This presidential view began with UN Resolution 242, passed in 1967. That may sound like ancient history, but UN 242 remains the agreed upon plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Everybody demands adherence to UN 242. It calls for Israel to withdraw from “territories” it captured in 1967, but not from “all territories.” This wording is deliberate, as testified to by the person who wrote 242, the US ambassador to the UN at the time, Arthur Goldberg.
Fast forward. In 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, the largest swath of territory it captured in 1967. In 1995, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Israel has not withdrawn from the territory it captured from Syria, the Golan Heights.
Which leaves the West Bank of the Jordan River. Every American president since 1967, except Obama and H. W. Bush, has stated that Israel must retain some of the West Bank to save itself from mortal danger.
President Lyndon B. Johnson: “It is clear . . . that a return to the situation of 4 June 1967 will not bring peace. There must be secure . . . borders. Some such lines must be agreed to by the neighbors involved.”
President Richard Nixon: “You [Henry Kissinger] and I know they [they Israelis] can’t go back to the other [pre-1967] borders.”
President Gerald Ford: “The US has not developed a final position on the borders. Should it do so it will give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights.” And: “ . . . we have been engaged for the last two years in a peacemaking effort . . . this effort will continue until the achievement of a negotiated peace as foreseen by UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”
President Jimmy Carter: “ . . . the Arab nations, the Israeli nation, had to agree on permanent and recognized borders, where sovereignty is legal as mutually agreed. Defense lines may or may not conform in the foreseeable future to those legal borders. There may be extensions of Israeli defense capability beyond the permanent and recognized borders.”
President Ronald Reagan: “In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again . . . So the United States will not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and we will not support annexation or permanent control by Israel. . . . it is the firm view of the United States that self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan offers the best chance for a durable, just and lasting peace. . . . When the border is negotiated between Jordan and Israel, our view on the extent to which Israel should be asked to give up territory will be heavily affected by the extent of true peace and normalization and the security arrangements offered in return.”
President Bill Clinton: The Clinton parameters proposed a Palestinian state comprising between 94-96% of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip. Israel would annex the remaining land, which would include Israeli settlements, containing 80% of the settler population, mainly in major settlement blocs. Israel would cede 1-3% of land to the Palestinians in land swaps to compensate for the annexations.
President George W. Bush: In letters exchanged between Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in 2004, Bush made it clear that Israel did not have to return to the 1949 armistice lines. “The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”
President Donald Trump: He recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in March, 2019.
Bottom line: Israel has given back 88% of the territory it captured in the war of 1967 — the defensive war preceded by Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser’s declaration that he would push Israel into the Mediterranean Sea; and preceded by the UN’s withdrawal of its troops acting as a buffer between Israel and Egypt.
Of the remaining 12% of the land Israel won in 1967, roughly half of it is the West Bank. Of that, Israel occupies a small part, measured by acreage. This, then, is the “Israeli occupation,” which, were it to end in entirety, would reestablish Israel’s border at its narrowest point as 10 miles wide.
“Auschwitz borders,” the late Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, called them.
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