Israel’s borders with Egypt and with Jordan were formalized in peace treaties signed with those countries in 1979 and 1994 respectively. These borders have been largely quiet and peaceful since, though the instability of the Arab Spring has resulted in a number of terrorist attacks against Israel emanating from Egypt and threats that the 1979 peace deal would be abrogated. This has prompted the Government of Israel to build a security fence along its border with Egypt while it closely monitors developments there and in Jordan.
Israel’s other borders – with Syria in the northeast, Lebanon in the north and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – must still be defined and made permanent. On each front, the border issue is complex.
With Syria, the dispute rests on the precise location of the international border: the 1923 line designated by the League of Nations; the armistice line set at the conclusion of the 1948-1949 War; or the boundary as it stood on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War (modified by Syrian unilateral encroachments in the 1950s and 1960s).
The dispute over the exact location of the border is crucial, affecting, among other things, Syria’s access to the Sea of Galilee and the headwaters of the Jordan River (Israel’s primary source of water), as well as the size and location of the buffer zone separating Syrian and Israeli forces. Instability in Syria has heightened Israeli security concerns and has made future negotiations to resolve this dispute all the more precarious.
With regard to Lebanon, the border question is theoretically more straightforward. Israel has consistently declared that it has no claim to Lebanese territory beyond the 1949 armistice line. Israel’s primary concern is ensuring that a peace agreement provides enhanced security to its population centres abutting the Lebanese border, which have suffered from thousands of missiles fired by Hizballah, a proscribed terrorist entity in Canada. However, the border dispute with Lebanon remains unsettled because the Lebanese government and Hizballah (backed by Iran and Syria) refuse to recognize and respect the UN Security Council’s declaration confirming that Israel’s May 2000 withdrawal from Southern Lebanon was complete and to the international boundary.
Israel’s most complex border dispute is with the Palestinians. The delineation of the permanent border with a proposed West Bank-Gaza Palestinian state will impact a number of other bilateral issues, including the degree of physical separation between Israelis and Palestinians, the status of settlements, Jerusalem, economic relations, environmental concerns and water. Moreover, Israel’s immediate and long-term security requirements (against irredentist Palestinian terrorism and against the use of Palestinian-controlled areas for broader attacks on Israel) will be directly affected by the disposition of the border question.
It is now a core principle that the territorial dimension of the peace settlement with the Palestinians will likely be premised roughly on the 1949-1967 Green Line, with modifications to address Israeli security requirements and current political and demographic realities in the territories. However, there are continuing differences as to the precise nature of these modifications, differences made immeasurably more difficult by Hamas’ unabashed dedication to Israel’s destruction and the official incitement to hatred and violence propagated both by Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.