Mt. Avital, Israeli occupied Golan Heights, with Syrian province of Quneitra in the background. Credit: Masih Sadat/The Turban Times

What are Israel’s borders? Does it have any?

Israel is not quite done devouring Palestine, yet. But it’s close.


There seem to be two general and central misunderstandings concerning Israel’s borders:

One is the idea that it has them in the form of ‘pre-June 5th 1967 borders’, and that this is ‘Israel proper’; the other is that it does not have them at all and has never defined them.

There is a shred of truth in both, but a lot of misconception.

In order to address this properly, we should go back to 1948, and look at the documents where the newly declared Israel informs USA as well as the UN of its precise borders.

Letter to Truman and the Israeli Declaration

The first important document is a letter from the Jewish Agency agent Eliahu Sasson to President Truman, stating that “the state of Israel has been proclaimed as an independent republic within the frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution of November 29th, 1947” (resolution 181). As the letter also notes in future tense, that “the act of independence will become effective at one minute after six o’clock on the eve of 14th of May 1948, Washington time”, it suggests that the proclamation has been made before the actual definitive end of the British Mandate, which was indeed to end at midnight May 14th (which was 6 PM Washington time). Thus, the self-proclaimed republic of Israel would be a direct overlap from the mandate control.

Truman recognized this state within a few minutes. Israel officially and proudly notes this recognition. He was thus no doubt poised to do so. But what is most interesting in this context is the mention of borders. It notes the precise borders outlined by the UN ‘Partition Plan’, appropriating 55% of Historical Palestine to a “Jewish state”.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence regarded the resolution in the following paragraph: “On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.”

How it stresses that resolution is very tactical and very disingenuous: It completely avoids regarding ‘frontiers’ as it did towards Truman. Thus, it is very ambiguous on borders. It represents Palestine as ‘Eretz Israel’, which is not only wrong in regards to the mentioned UN 181 which regards Palestine and not ‘Eretz Israel’ – it also betrays a perception that the whole of historical Palestine belongs to the ‘Jewish nation’. It also regards a ‘recognition’ by the United Nations of the ‘right of the Jewish people to establish their state’ – but this is highly misrepresentative of the UN for several reasons: the United Nations does not recognize and cannot recognize states per se. When a state is declared, the member states of the UN may relate to it as a fact, choosing to recognize it or not. It is an a-posteriori act, not an a-priori one. The UN does not have a mandate to create states, nor to decide or ‘recognize’ the a-priori ‘right’ of any ‘people’ to establish one. People do not have any fundamental legal right per se to establish states, nor does any state have a ‘right to exist’ as such. They exist simply because they do, they are regarded as a fact to be recognized or not recognized, and they come and go historically.

Now one of the most interesting things in the mentioned Israeli Declaration paragraph is its ending: that “this recognition”…”is irrevocable”. This is novel, because UN 181 is a mere UNGA resolution, a ‘plan’, which did not enter the sphere of the Security Council, which would have made it closer to what could be regarded as ‘law’. But that didn’t happen. And here we have Israel regarding a UNGA resolution as “irrevocable”. That is novel, because when we look at Israel’s track record with UN resolutions since, it systematically not only rejects the UNGA resolutions which oppose its expansionist goals, but even UN Security Council resolutions, which are much more serious in terms of international law. If Israel regarded a UNGA resolution as “irrevocable”, that suggests a very high Israeli standard of regard for the UN. Alas, this standard has proven totally and utterly false, as Israel’s historical track record of contempt for international law and most all UN resolutions shows, that is, when it perceived those resolutions to be against its goals. Israel’s aggressive and blatantly rejective response to the recent UNSC resolution deeming settlements illegal, which is in itself a simple statement of international law as perceived by the whole world (with USA a bit more ambiguous about it during Obama but still abstaining), demonstrates well how this is the case today, perhaps more than ever.

Israeli statements about its borders after the Declaration

Shortly after the Declaration, on May 18th 1948, the UN Security Council wrote to the Jewish Agency for Palestine (which considered itself already to be part of the apparatus of the State of Israel), posing a series of questions concerning the situation in Palestine, from the perspective of the ‘Jewish authorities’. It was answered by Aubrey S. Eban, later known by his Hebrewized name as Abba Eban. Eban had been appointed in 1947 as Jewish Agency liaison officer to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which was the background source for Resolution 181.

Eban stressed that the “Jewish authorities” addressed in the UNSC letter were now actually part of State of Israel. He then went on to answer the first question, which asked “Over which areas of Palestine do you actually exercise control at the present time?”. Eban’s answer is interesting in this context particularly because, beyond stating control over all areas regarded by UN 181 as suggested “Jewish state”, he lists a number of areas outside that area, including “city of Jaffa; Northwestern Galilee, including Acre, Zib, Base, and the Jewish settlements up to the Lebanese frontier; a strip of territory alongside the road from Hilda to Jerusalem; almost all of new Jerusalem; and of the Jewish quarter within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.” The interesting part here is, that he regards all these areas as being “outside the territory of the State of Israel”.

This is very clear language.

Eban also confirms this clarity in response to the second question, which asked “Do you have armed forces operating in areas (towns, cities, districts) of Palestine where the Arabs are the majority, or outside Palestine?”. Here Eban answers that “we consider the territory of Israel as a single unit with a Jewish majority. As indicated above, the Government of the State of Israel operates in parts of Palestine outside the territory of the State of Israel.” – So, Israel was, in fact, very clear about those borders.

This was a clarity that was present as the war involving several other armies had begun, almost exclusively taking place outside the borders of the State of Israel, which were, also by Israeli perception, the outlined UN 181 borders.

UN 194

As the war in Palestine was raging, came UNGA Resolution 194 on 11th December 1948. In its first article it notes the price that Swedish UN Mediator Count Folke Benadotte had to pay for promoting it – he was murdered by Itzhak Shaimir’s gang in Jerusalem on the 17th of September 1948. The terrorist leader Shamir later became prime-minister, and last year, leading educator Zvi Zameret suggested that perhaps Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström should receive the same treatment for her ‘anti-semitic’ suggestion that there may be a policy of extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.

The resolution thus expressed “its deep appreciation of the progress achieved through the good offices of the late United Nations Mediator in promoting a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine, for which cause he sacrificed his life”.

In its 8th article the resolution resolved that ”in view of its association with three world religions, the Jerusalem area, including the present municipality of Jerusalem plus the surrounding villages and towns, the most eastern of which shall be Abu Dis; the most southern, Bethlehem; the most western, Ein Karim (including also the built-up area of Motsa); and the most northern, Shu’fat, should be accorded special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control”. This was in fact a confirmation of the UN181 status of Jerusalem which was designed as a Corpus Separatum under UN auspices.

The resolution also regarded the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes (article 11).

But Israel never acquiesced to the demands of UN 194, which, if to judge by its own Declaration of Independence, were to be regarded as ‘irrevocable’.

By the time of the February 1949 Armistice agreements, Israel was controlling another 23% of Historical Palestine (78% in all).

No borders?

But these 1949 lines were not considered borders. These were and are considered by Israel as mere armistice lines (‘Green line’).

The late Naeim Giladi tells of an encounter and conversation he had with Ben Gurion in 1954:

After the Israeli attack on the Jordanian village of Qibya in October, 1953, Ben Gurion went into voluntary exile at the Sedeh Boker kibbutz in the Negev. The Labor party then used to organize many buses for people to go visit him there, where they would see the former prime minister working with sheep. But that was only for show. Really he was writing his diary and continuing to be active behind the scenes. I went on such a tour.

We were told not to try to speak to Ben Gurion, but when I saw him, I asked why, since Israel is a democracy with a parliament, does it not have a constitution? Ben Gurion said, “Look, boy”-I was 24 at the time-“if we have a constitution, we have to write in it the border of our country. And this is not our border, my dear.” I asked, “Then where is the border?” He said, “Wherever the Sahal will come, this is the border.” Sahal is the Israeli army.

Thus, Israel has been playing a double game throughout its history. At first, it accepted the UN 181 lines, but then it went beyond them, was admitted to the UN despite its defiance of related resolutions (some hoped that admittance would encourage Israel to follow through with the requirements of the resolutions – they could not have been more wrong), and then it tried to garner legitimacy for itself inside those ‘borders’, which it generally received, until 1967. Although UNSC Resolution 242 of 1967 merely calls for “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”, it does nonetheless emphasize in its preamble the central principle of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”.

This resolution does, therefore, not challenge Israel’s 1949 lines as such, and in itself could be said to provide a certain tacit recognition of them. Nontheless Abba Eban regarded even that 1949 expanded territory as “something of a memory of Auschwitz”, no less. Eban was then (1969) speaking to the UN in his capacity as Foreign Minister, saying “the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. For us, this is a matter of security and of principles. The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz.”

And thus, it continued, year after year, resolution after resolution. Israel keeps expanding, the UN condemns and Israel either gets shielded by USA veto, ignores, or fights back with sanctions against those who hold it to task for its violations, as we have recently seen with the UNSC resolution condemning all settlements as a ‘flagrant violation’ of international law. This resolution (UN 2334), is effectively calling it a war crime, and saying that Israel has no legal right to any of the territories conquered in 1967. The whole world effectively supports this, except Israel. Israel tries to portray this as an inherent hostility of the UN, but the UN is made of state representatives. So, Israel is basically saying that the whole world is against it. It is ostensibly against it, because it seeks to halt Israel in its quest to take over the whole of historical Palestine.

Israel took the ‘gift’ that the UN gave it in the form of UN 181 in 1947. It regarded this ‘recognition’ as ‘irrevocable’, and went on to consolidate itself upon the whole of historical Palestine. The world kept complaining, but generally giving in to Israel’s claims of ‘security’ and ‘Auschwitz’. And so, here we are. Israel is not quite done devouring Palestine, yet. But it’s close.

It is not strange, that as Israel’s counter-attacks to UN resolutions become more and more hysterical, many people are beginning to wonder what has happened throughout history, and whether it was such a good idea to be so lenient on Israel, much due to collective Holocaust guilt and pity for the supposed Jewish ‘nation’.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s only and do not represent those of The Turban Times.

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