Defensible Borders Summary

A few years ago, a prominent Israeli think tank known as the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published a free online book titled “Israel’s Critical Security Requirements for Defensible Borders: The Foundation for a Viable Peace”. What follows is a summary of the book’s main arguments.


In June 1967 the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq amassed on Israel’s borders and threatened the young country’s existence. Israel launched a pre-emptive defensive strike against the attacking Arab armies. The Israeli Defense Force drove them back from the Israeli border seizing territories either legally belonging to or militarily occupied by the belligerent Arab states.

Both Israel and the international community hoped Israel could return control of the territories in exchange for a permanently binding peace treaty with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

defensible borderThe practice of returning territories in exchange for peace is known as the “Territories for Peace” policy. This policy was incorporated into UN resolution 242. Resolution 242 was adopted by the UN on November 22, 1967. The resolution called for:

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

In 1979 Israel signed a peace accord with Egypt on the basis of “Territories for Peace”. Israel returned all of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula; Egypt agreed to cease all military hostilities. During the 1990s, Israel unsuccessfully conducted peace negotiations with Syria utilizing the same tenet – peace in return for the Syrian Golan Heights.

Some of the land that Israel seized in 1967 was internationally recognized territories of Arab States such as the Sinai Peninsula However, the territories of Judaea, Samaria and Gaza did not legally belong to any country; they were illegally occupied by Jordan and Egypt. The Israeli government resisted a full withdrawal from these territories for two reasons – security and history.


The security problems created by withdrawing from the territories of Judaea, Samaria and Gaza can be clearly illustrated by a map of the area (see map). The majority of Israeli citizens live only kilometers away from these territories. Even a small terrorist group armed with rockets and missiles could terrorize the Israeli populace and paralyze civilian life. If a regular Arab army was allowed to enter these areas, it would be easy for the Arab army to seriously endanger the Jewish state.


The second reason Israel was reluctant to give back all of the territories was their historical importance to the Jewish people. The region of Judaea and Samaria is the historical birthplace of the Jewish people. Most of the important Jewish religious sites from the Bible – Jerusalem, Hebron and Beit El – are located within these territories.

Nevertheless, Israel was and is willing to trade even these historically invaluable and security-essential territories for peace. Since neither Jordan nor Egypt claim them as their own, the only remaining party to whom Israel could hand over control of the territories is the local population – the Arabs living in the Palestinian Authority. Over the course of the 1990s, Israel tried to negotiate a peace agreement based on the following terms – transferring the land of Judaea, Samaria and Gaza in exchange for a permanent peace.

A Change of Policy?

The contributors to the book in the link below argue that “(all the) territories for peace” is not feasible. Peace treaties in the Middle East are not permanent. Treaties can be revoked or ignored once a new government ascends to power. Current events in 2011-2012 portray contemporary Muslim parties in Egypt clamoring for a revision of agreements with Israel and possible abrogation of the 1979 peace treaty existing between the two nations.

Because peace treaties in the Middle East are not permanent, the book’s contributors argue that Israel needs to change its policy from “territories for peace” to “defensible borders”. This means Israel must negotiate a treaty in which Israel retains borders based on their military defensibility.

The legal basis for not fully withdrawing from Judea and Samaria is UN resolution 242. The resolution calls for withdrawal from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war. The fact that the resolution doesn’t call for a withdrawal from “the territories” implies that Israel is not obligated to withdraw from all of territories but rather from some of them.

Furthermore, the resolution calls for all sides to recognize every state’s “right to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries”. The books’ contributors argue that the pre-1967 lines are not “secure”. Therefore, Israel must negotiate for a withdrawal to “secure” borders. The book contains maps clearly indicating what those “secure borders” would look like.

All of the contributors are former Israeli diplomats or army officers. Thus, they speak with experience and expertise. This book is required reading for anyone who wants to learn more about the debate going on in Israel regarding future peace in the region.

Link to the book:

Published: 23-02-2012