[Abba] Eban’s characterization of
Israel s " Auschwitz borders" [in a November 5, 1969 interview] is now 36 years old, and relatively few people remember the Six Day War. Nowadays one is just as likely to hear it referred to as the "1967 Middle East War," apparently from politically-correct deference to Arab feelings, for after only six days of fighting, vastly out numbered Israeli forces were in position to march on Cairo, Damascus and Amman.
Before the war started, however, such a victory was anything but certain.
Israel in 1967 was isolated, not even twenty years a state, and subject to dire provocation, threats and hostile actions by surrounding Arab countries. . . .
Even for those who lived through it, it is hard to recall the atmosphere that preceded the war, which Lieberman’s day-by-day recounting recaptures. Worth reading in its entirety.
We were born into a Jewish identity that the Soviet steamroller had almost completely crushed. We knew nothing of our roots, only that for some reason others considered us different and inferior. We knew all too well the anti-Semitic stereotypes about greed, parasitism, and cowardice -- but about what Judaism stood for, we knew nothing.
That was before 1967. In the months leading up to the war, animosity towards us reached a fever pitch. Then, in six dramatic days, everything changed for us. The call that went up from
Jerusalem, “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” penetrated the Iron Curtain and forged an almost mystic link with our people.
And while we had no idea what the
Temple Mount was, we did know that the fact that it was in our hands had won us respect. Like a cry from our distant past, it told us that we were no longer displaced and isolated. We belonged to something, even if we did not yet know what, or why.
Sharansky’s essay, an extended reflection on whether the vision of David Ben-Gurion or Theodor Herzl represents the greatest hope for
Dan Diker, a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, recalls the proposal Israel made right after the Six Day War -- to return most of the West Bank for “secure and recognized” borders: The plan was based on the premise that:
[A]ny final-status agreements concerning the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights would necessarily have to involve the annexation of at least some territory as a correction to the extremely unstable 1949 armistice lines, whose very vulnerability had invited Arab aggression and led to the perpetuation of conflict.
Immediately after the Six Day War in 1967, [Yigal] Allon proposed a series of territorial adjustments that would incorporate into
Israel key tracts of largely unpopulated land, especially in the Jordan Valley, while maintaining territorial contiguity between the Palestinian population centers and the Kingdom of Jordan . . . .
[W]hat became known as the Allon Plan was meant as the antidote to a 1949 armistice whose frontiers were so perilous for the Jewish state as to move Israel’s venerable dovish diplomat, Abba Eban, to dub them “Auschwitz borders.”
Diker’s article, on the reasons why “defensible borders” is returning as the central strategic concept in
[I] believe that it is fundamentally in the interests of the
United States that we not bear responsibility for the defense of Israel. And therefore, Israel has to be able to defend itself and that means borders that can be defended.
If you look at the size of the Israeli Army that would be required on those  borders with no time to mobilize, it is an army of a size that
Israel cannot sustain over the long term. It takes, as I think the report observes, 48 hours to mobilize the Army fully. Where do you find those 48 hours?
Geography is important, and the concept of defensible borders has been at the very heart of a potential solution between
Israel and the Palestinians from the beginning, from the earliest U.N. resolutions. It's a shame that we lost sight of it for so long in a period in which the focus was shifted to other issues.
It is a useful reminder that U.N. Resolution 242, although colloquially referred to as "land for peace," is actually more accurately described as "land for secure and recognized boundaries" -- which will themselves produce the peace that a mere "agreement" cannot.UPDATE: Martin Peretz is in Israel, where he found that, as the disengagement approaches, Palestinians “hurled in a day and a half more than a hundred rockets and mortar bombs across the 1949 lines into the Negev.” He uses the term “1949 lines” intentionally:
Forgive my insistence on truth in labeling. But the habit of naming these lines "1967 borders" is meant to deceive, as if it was Israel that broke the ceasefire and not Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and as if all the troubles started with the occupation.
This little correction reminds that the Palestinians, even the more sober among them, had not and have not yet come to terms with the very existence of Israel. After all, the PLO was founded long before Israel held any part of the West Bank or Gaza and while Jerusalem was divided, with the Western Wall and other Jewish holy sites in Arab hands. . . .
It is actually quite frustrating to need to dwell on this elementary history. But it is also a necessity. Almost nobody knows it.
Which is why Anne Lieberman's recounting, Natan Sharansky's recollection, and Dan Diker's analysis are timely and important.(Hat tip: Ed Lasky)