ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And here is what President Obama actually said yesterday about the 1967 lines.
President BARACK OBAMA: We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.
SIEGEL: Well, Washington's partners in Middle East negotiations - the U.N., the E.U., Russia, the so-called quartet - applauded the speech. But the very mention of the 1967 lines inspired some angry polemics from Israel, and from some likely GOP presidential contenders.
Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota called the president's words a mistaken and very dangerous demand. Mitt Romney said, President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. And Representative Michele Bachmann claimed that the president has betrayed our friend and ally, Israel.
So what are the 1967 borders and what has U.S. policy been about them? Joining us to address those questions is Aaron David Miller, who spent many years in Washington working on the Middle East peace process for both Democratic and Republican secretaries of state. He's now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars. Welcome.
Mr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Middle East analyst, author and negotiator): Pleasure to be here.
SIEGEL: Welcome once again. First, in 1967, prior to the Six Day War, Israel's borders were, in effect, the cease-fire lines from the 1948 war. What was notable about it?
Mr. MILLER: Well, more precisely, they were the lines of where Israeli, Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian military forces were deployed on the eve of what was then going to be the Six Day War. And those lines, to some degree, coincided with the original armistice lines of 1949, and in other degrees with the international borders.
But there is no line on any political or diplomatic map which is called June 4, '67. It's created a - as the president's speech has - created an enormous amount of confusion around exactly what he intended by this particular formulation.
SIEGEL: Before the 1967 war, first, we can describe very easily the Gaza Strip was, in those days, occupied by Egypt. But the West Bank, and the old city of Jerusalem - or East Jerusalem - was held by Jordan.
Mr. MILLER: Correct.
SIEGEL: And after the war, all of that was held by Israel.
Mr. MILLER: Exactly.
SIEGEL: What has U.S. policy been - what importance does it attach to the lines pre-1967 and post?
Mr. MILLER: Well, the other irony here is that presidents Johnson to Carter all endorsed a much more severe formulation with respect to June 1967. Obama has used quite a generous interpretation by referring to June '67 as the basis with mutually agreed swaps. That is to say, if the Israelis assert that they need X amount of West Bank territory to deal with security and demographic considerations, they will then compensate the Palestinians, presumably, from Israel proper with territory - so that Robert, through creative accounting, it all ends up adding up to 100 percent.
SIEGEL: Well, in practice, what has been the view of Israelis toward that notion of, we want to keep the Ariel settlement and the territory around it, and so we would give up some land somewhere else along the border?
Mr. MILLER: Well, like most things in life, where you stand is a reflection of where you sit. Most of the serious efforts and negotiations over the course of the last dozen in years reflected the reality that June '67 minus X with swaps, mutually agreed swaps, would be the formula.
SIEGEL: What does X equal?
Mr. MILLER: Well, the gap is somewhere between 2 percent and 10.
SIEGEL: Which is real, but it's not earth-shaking.
Mr. MILLER: It's real. It's not earth-shaking, and it has to be considered in the context of the other issues.
SIEGEL: So for you, bottom line here: What the president said, however politically adept or not it may have been, not exactly brave new ground that was being broken here.
Mr. MILLER: Well, it's the first time an American president, in a much-anticipated, highly visible speech, took this negotiator's tactic and elevated it to heights of an American policy position. So there's no question that that is new.
But at the same time, the notion that Obama expects the Israelis to return to pre-'67 Israel is also illusory. He didn't say that and that, ultimately, will not be the result of a negotiation.
SIEGEL: He's just saying that's the starting point of the talks.
Mr. MILLER: And he's saying that you have to have mutually agreeable swaps, which presumably will take care of each side's political security and demographic needs. The question is, what is the size of the territory that the Israelis will insist on retaining from the West Bank?
SIEGEL: Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, thanks so much for talking with us once again.
Mr. MILLER: Pleasure to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.