Empires, countries, and states since the beginning of time have gone to great lengths to defend and enlarge their borders. Nowhere are borders more controversial and disputed than in Israel.
Since its inception, Israel has had to fight to keep its land, and has more than once been pressured to give up land it claimed when it was attacked. In 1947, prior to Israel’s independence, the U.N. Partition Plan attempted to define the borders of a Jewish and Arab state. The Arabs rejected the plan out of hand, and after Israel subsequently declared its independence, the neighboring Arab countries invaded.
However, Israel emerged victorious – and with an area 50 percent larger than had been allotted to it in the Partition Plan. The state at that time did not, though, include the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem. The Six Day War, in 1967, changed that as Israel annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, reuniting the divided Israeli capital. Israel began settling the area and creating villages.
Israel defeated Jordan and Syria when the Arab countries attacked, and has kept the land it won in battle (in some cases for defensive purposes). But many have called for Israel to return to “pre-1967 borders” – in other words, a land without East Jerusalem, without the West Bank or Gaza Strip, and without the Golan Heights. Some who believe the land rightfully belongs to Israel have compared this to Britain demanding that the United States return the thirteen original colonies, or Mexico reclaiming Texas. Somehow, though no other country in the world would entertain the thought of returning land it conquered in a war, Israel is expected to do so.
Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 caused a great deal of concern for Israelis. Many feared – it turns out, realistically – that unchecked Palestinian control of Gaza would lead to more terrorism at Israel’s doorstep. Israel, they contend, needs “defensible borders,” borders which strengthen and protect Israeli citizens, not undermine that security.
Many Israeli leaders have been adamant about not returning to pre-1967 lines, but the pressure from the international community is great, and in the eyes of many, the Gaza withdrawal was viewed as a first step toward capitulating to those demands. Most leaders believe that retreating behind pre-1967 borders would leave many Israeli citizens defenseless.