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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Putting lipstick on a pig

I was having a political discussion with my parents this past weekend (hey, they're Israelis now, so what else would we be talking about?!), when I suddenly realized we were talking at cross-purposes.  Specifically, we were using different terminology to describe the same thing... but only I seemed to realize it.

My parents were using terms and phrases they'd read and heard in the media... and I was using more historically accurate terminology to describe the exact same thing they were. 

Yet we were arguing.  Strange.

They kept talking about the various plans being bandied about in the news for Israel to "return to the '67 borders" (with small modifications, of course), and I kept correcting them saying, "you mean the 1949 Armistice lines".

This went back and forth a few times before I had to call a time out and clear things up.

I patiently explained that using the phrase "the 67 borders", while not necessarily wrong, was misleading due to the fact that Israel had two different sets of borders during that year.  Our present borders (with the exception of Gaza, which we recently relinquished) are the "67 borders".  Specifically our current borders (except for Gaza) are those that existed on June 12h, 1967 after the Six Day War.

But when most people today say "the '67 borders" in relation to territorial compromise, they are talking about the borders that existed on June 5th, 1967... which were, in fact, the 1949 Armistice lines.... Israel's de facto borders at the end of the War of Independence.   

But since a return to the 1949 borders - even a modified version - would be tantamount to admitting that every war fought since (and every Israeli killed in 60 years of Arab aggression) was for naught, you will almost never hear that phrase used in the news.

It's really no surprise that the left-leaning media and the Olmert government are very careful to only talk about returning to "the '67 borders".  How else can one consider giving a do-over on not one, but three major wars (and six decades of Arab intransigence)... in return for nothing more than vague promises to recognize our right to exist.  Sort of.

"But what about the Palestinians?" I hear you asking.  "The Palestinians didn't attack Israel in the War of Independence, so why should they be punished?"  An excellent point, which calls into question the entire legitimacy of the oft-heard claim that Israel is occupying 'Palestinian Land'.  You see, the Palestinians had never been heard of in 1948, and were not a party to that conflict (except perhaps as stateless refugees).  Therefore, when you look at a map of the 1949 Armistice lines, you will see no mention of such a people/entity.

Here, let's have a look, shall we?  The Blue areas below are what Israel agreed to accept under the UN's Partition Plan in 1947.  The Arabs unanimously rejected the Partition Plan and instead went to war. And lost.  The result was that when the 1949 Armistice lines were drawn, Israel had added the peach colored areas and some of the gray area as well... and Egypt and Jordan had occupied the green, gray and purple areas. The 1949 Armistice lines remained Israel's borders until the end of the Six Day War in 1967 when we acquired the green and purple areas, as well as some areas in the Golan that aren't pictured here:



[Map Source Here]

Now, my parents happen to be two of the smartest, most well-informed people I know.  Yet they'd both assumed that I was arguing semantics (i.e. being difficult) when in fact I was trying to make a very important historical/geographic distinction.  As soon as my father understood what I was saying, all he could say was, "a return to Israel's 1949 borders would be madness!"

Funny how just changing the terms with which a topic is discussed can change one's entire perception.  Basically, when the product you are selling stinks, the best strategy is to make sure it is packaged nicely.  And let's face it... calling for a return to relatively modern borders sounds a heck of a lot nicer than a retreat to indefensible borders that existed at the end of our War of Independence!  Yet, without saying as much, it is the latter that everyone seems to be talking about today. 

Look, if you want to talk about the poor, suffering Palestinians.  Let's talk about them.  Really!  I'm not saying that there isn't something to talk about.  But let's also talk about who they are, and what legitimate, legal claims they may have.  Let's talk about what obligations they have to themselves and their neighbors (us)... and most importantly let's talk about what this sudden yearning for Palestinian self-determination has to do with the sovereign State of Israel. 

Then, if you want to talk about giving them some land to call their own, we can talk about that too... again, in the framework of what is best for everyone in the region (including us).  Maybe some of the land needs to come from other sovereign states in the region... states that were legally part of the League of Nation's Palestine Mandate and which were supposed to be carved up amicably between Jewish and Arab entities (instead of unilaterally at the whim of the British caretakers of the land). 

Heck you'll notice that during the 19 years that Jordan and Egypt were in possession of the land the Palestinians call 'occupied territory' (from '48 thru '67) nobody - not even the 'Palestinians - asked them to create a Palestinian state.  So I figure if somehow the pie didn't get properly divided to everyone's satisfaction back then, let's see if maybe we can rectify that.

But to make the creation of a Palestinian State entirely Israel's problem (and at Israel's territorial expense) is untenable.  And to promote this flawed agenda by arbitrarily tossing around terminology that is not only intentionally misleading, but which is actually describing borders and wars that were established/fought before anyone on the planet had ever heard of 'the Palestinians'... well, it sounds a lot like someone is selling a pig and thinks applying a little lipstick will make the swine a bit more marketable.

[this post was built around a comment I left yesterday over at Yourish.com]

Posted by David Bogner on January 8, 2008 | Permalink


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Why would "a return to the 1949 borders - even a modified version -... be tantamount to admitting that every war fought since (and every Israeli killed in 60 years of Arab aggression) was for naught"? I don't see the connection at all.

Posted by: Yellow Boy | Jan 8, 2008 12:19:49 PM

Aren't you glad that the Muslimy countries got all lathered up and attacked in '49, and got their hinders handed to them? The blue zones (true to anything drawn up in a bureaucratic committee) look totally indefensible as a single country. Michigan (USA) is silly in a similar way.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jan 8, 2008 4:29:41 PM

OMG... thanks for opening my eyes about the '67 vs '49 borders. I thought I knew about most of the media biases surrounding israel but this is a new one! I keep wishing that Sharon will wake up out of his coma and beat Olmert across the head for being such an incompetent leader, and this is definitely one of those times...

Posted by: chantyshira | Jan 8, 2008 8:40:49 PM

I saw your comment on Yourish, and was hoping you would expand it into a post... I hope this post gets much exposure. It nicely summarizes both the mindlessness of the left's position - and the underhanded techniques it uses to get its way.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jan 8, 2008 9:32:02 PM

Good point, and one that many people miss. In fact some guy on an Israeli quiz show lost because he got confused on this exact point, even though it wasn't a very hard question. A couple of corrections. You forgot to note that the post 67 borders included the Sinai peninsula. It is also not true that the Arabs of Eretz Israel (a.k.a today as the Palestinians) did not fight. Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni and Hasan Salama led the Jaysh al-Jihad al-Muqaddas.

Posted by: Amir | Jan 8, 2008 11:08:38 PM

As usual, regarding this and similar issues, we see eye to eye.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Jan 9, 2008 12:15:05 AM

As usual, regarding this and similar issues, we see eye to eye.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Jan 9, 2008 12:15:07 AM

About your comment about Jordan/Egypt occupying the land from 49-67 ....

I always wonder that myself. What was the universal political mindset back then? And what about the refugee camps - what is the pass down stories about the treatment and conditions of the refugee camps in Jordan during that time period and even afterwards? Weren't their lives worse under Jordanian rule? No idea, just something I thought I remembered hearing.

Why doesn't that ever come up in conversation?

Posted by: Jaime | Jan 9, 2008 1:51:50 AM

Marginally concerning your comments:
I'm reading this after performing at a dinner for Beit Orot, an organization dedicated to keeping Jerusalem united under Jewish rule. They showed a video of Ehud Olmert soon after his election as Mayor of Jerusalem. Olmert said (I'm paraphrasing here), "These new neighborhoods (Mt. of Olives, Gilo, Ramot, etc.) are not 'settlements'. They are an integral part of the city of Jerusalem, and keeping Jerusalem united was the main reason I was elected mayor." The video juxtaposed this speech with Olmert now - "We must make painful concessions, yada yada yada..." Until that moment, I don't think I fully appreciated how completely Olmert has betrayed the city he once ruled, and supposedly loved. I think history will judge that man very harshly.

Posted by: psachya | Jan 9, 2008 11:23:31 AM

BTW - those maps of many colors tend to give me headaches. I would scrap the maps and make it simple:

"Look, dudes - you guys won't let us live. You started a bunch of wars with us. You kidnap our soldiers, gun down our preschoolers, push old men in wheelchairs off boats, and send your kids to blow themselves up in our restaurants. You are clearly not the sort of people that can be engaged in rational conversation. All we can do is fight you - and every time we've faced you guys on the open battlefield, we've creamed you. As a result of which, we have all this territory - and who cares who was originally supposed to have it? We have it now. And since you're obviously not inclined to be neighborly (your ceaseless attempts to destroy the town of Sderot is a dead giveaway), we think we'll keep it. Have a nice life."

What can I say - I guess I wasn't cut out for the diplomatic corps.

Posted by: psachya | Jan 10, 2008 11:39:40 AM

Here's a counter argument put as strongly as I can:

Why does it matter that Palestinians had "never been heard" of before the Mandate? Neither had Iraqis.

The point is that it is usually the native inhabitants that get to form a country based on the fact that they are the native inhabitants.

It's all one to the native inhabitants if perceived outsiders come in, settle and make a country for themselves and not the inhabitants whether they do so on the basis of ancient history or mere desire for land.

Arguments about legalities tend to impress them as unjust. And no wonder.

If Iraq had been handed over to Gypsies or Senegal to the Copts, the natives would not have been comforted by the fact that no one had heard of their national indentities before.

National identity is a matter of perception.

Posted by: Jeff | Jan 11, 2008 1:25:56 PM


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