Obama pre-1967 borders remark recalls Carter-Rabin kerfuffle


President Obama gave an internationally televised speech yesterday outlining United States Middle East policy. The address was largely lauded by American Jewish institutions, but raised some eyebrows while addressing the future borders of a Palestinian state, especially from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Washington today, and had responded that the pre-1967 lines are "indefensible."

In 1977, while U.S. attention was focussed on Israel’s borders with several Arab nations — though not about Palestinian state — a similar exchange over borders took place between the leaders of Israel and the U.S.:

Rabin Says that the 1967 Borders are not defensible by Joseph Polakoff (March 9, 1977) WASHINGTON –

Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin declared today that "defensible boundaries" for Israel do not coincide "in any way with the lines before the Six-Day War." Responding to a question about the term used by President Carter yesterday, Rabin said, "I believe defensible boundaries can be interpreted in different ways by different people. For me it allows Israel to defend itself by itself."

Answering questions at a crowded news conference at Blair House, Rabin said "legally we have a right to negotiate boundaries." He stressed that the only lines that existed in 1949 were those that the Arabs stressed were demarcation lines for military purposes and not necessarily boundaries that would be reached in a peace agreement. He said that 1967 lines "were not defensible."

Rabin met with the press following a one-hour meeting in the White House Oval Office with Carter this morning. It was his fourth meeting, and one of two that were unscheduled. The other was a one-hour and 45-minute discussion late last night in the President’s private quarters at which only the two leaders were present. White House News Secretary Jody Powell said the meeting last night, which was at Carter’s request and followed the working dinner for Rabin, "covered core issues of the Middle East."

Before last night’s dinner ended, Carter told the 35 guests that he wants to see Israel remain secure for a thousand years and he will do everything in his ability toward that end. (Full article)

The topic was addressed again at a Carter press conference the following day:

Answering questions at a wide ranging press conference, Carter said "I am not trying to act as the one to lay down an ultimate settlement. I don’t know what an ultimate settlement will be." But he indicated that he believed it would involve "minor adjustments to the pre-1967 border but that is a matter for Israel and her neighbors to decide between themselves."

Carter’s clarification mollified Rabin somewhat, but the Israeli prime minister anticipated that the issue of borders between Israel and its neighbors would prove to be a contentious issue in future U.S.-Israel relations:

Premier Yitzhak Rabin said that he was pleased with President Carter’s definition of peace in the Middle East, with his distinction between "defense lines" and "legal borders" and his recognition of Israel’s need for defensible borders. On the other hand, he thought that Carter’s view of Israel’s final boundaries meant that a tough struggle lay ahead between the U.S. and Israel over that issue.

Some Israelis were more alarmed:

But Rabin, who returned from his visit to Washington Sunday, has been hard-pressed this week to explain Carter’s press conference remarks of last Wednesday that a full peace in the Mideast would require Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders with only "minor adjustments." Yesterday, hours before Carter spoke in [Clinton, Mass.] Rabin told the Knesset that Israel would have to launch a major information campaign aimed at U.S. officials and public opinion to explain its position on defensible borders.

Of course, the American position on "the Palestinian issue" was very different in 1977.

Carter Will Not Miss the Moment (November 23, 1977)  SAN FRANCISCO —

[Deputy Secretary of State Warren] Christopher noted that President Carter has endorsed the concept of a Palestinian homeland or entity. He stated, however, that the U.S. does not prefer an independent Palestinian state and that our preference would be for such an entity to be linked with Jordan. Christopher reaffirmed that the basis for negotiations must be UN Resolutions 242 and 338. He declared: "Our position on the Palestinian issue and on the role of the Soviet Union poses no threat to the security of Israel. (Full Article)

(This U.S. position earned praise from Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister who did not hold an official position at the time.) 

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