United Nations Security Council Resolution 242
(S/RES/242) was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council
on November 22
in the aftermath of the Six Day War
. It was adopted under Chapter VI
of the United Nations Charter
. The resolution was drafted by British
ambassador Lord Caradon
and was one of five drafts under consideration.
It calls for "the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East" to be achieved by "the application of both the following principles": "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (see semantic dispute), "termination of all claims or states of belligerency," and respect for the right of every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.
Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon entered into consultations with the UN Special representative over the implementation of 242. After denouncing it in 1967, Syria "conditionally" accepted the resolution in March 1972. Syria formally accepted UN Security Council Resolution 338, the cease-fire at the end of the Yom Kippur War, which embraced resolution 242.
It is one of the most commonly referenced UN resolutions in Middle Eastern politics.
Text of the Resolution
The Security Council,
Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,
Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,
Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,
- 1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:
- (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 acknowledgement 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;
- 2. Affirms further the necessity
- (a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
- (b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;
- (c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;
- 3. Requests the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;
- 4. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representative as soon as possible.
The resolution is the formula proposed by the Security Council for the successful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular, ending the state of belligerency then existing between Israel
. It insists upon the termination of all states of war in the area; guarantees the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of all Middle Eastern nations; and calls for a "just settlement" of the question of the refugees.
For obvious reasons, the U.N. could not force the relevant parties to make a peace agreement, nor would the rather ambiguous resolution have precedence over bilateral negotiations; however the resolution was the focus of numerous semantic disputes.
Broadly speaking, Israel interprets Resolution 242 as calling for withdrawal from territories as part of a negotiated peace and full diplomatic recognition. The extent of withdrawal would come as a result of comprehensive negotiations that led to durable peace.
Initially, most of the Arab world rejected Resolution 242. Today, the general Arab position is that the Resolution calls for Israel to withdraw from all the territory it occupied during the Six-Day War as a precondition to the start of peace negotiations.
Both parties point to the wording of the resolution to back their claims.
Supporters of the "Israeli viewpoint" focus on the operative phrase calling for "secure and recognized boundaries" and note that the resolution calls for a withdrawal "from territories" rather than "from the territories." This finds support from the resolution's drafters, this means Israel need not withdraw from all territory. Further, the United Nations had never recognized the West Bank as [de jure] Jordanian territory nor the Gaza Strip as Egyptian territory and could not enforce their claims to sovereignty.
Supporters of the "Palestinian viewpoint" focus on the preambulatory phrase emphasizing the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," and note that certain, albeit unofficial, translations of the resolution include the word "the" in the phrase "from the territories." For instance, if one translates the phrase from its official English into French and then back again, the definite article "the" will be necessarily added.
Supporters of the Israeli viewpoint note that this phrase would also apply to Israeli territory in the Jordan Valley captured by Syria in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, which Israel recaptured during the Six Day War. Syria believes that 242 requires that Israel return that territory to Syria. Furthermore, the second part of that same sentence in the preamble recognizes the need of existing states to live in security.
"Land for peace"
The resolution's most important feature is the "land for peace
" formula, calling for Israeli withdrawal from "territories" it had occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace with its neighbors. This was an important advance at the time, considering the fact that there were no peace treaties between any Arab state and Israel until the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty
signed in 1979. "Land for peace
" served as the basis of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty
, in which Israel withdrew from the Sinai peninsula
(Egypt withdrew its claims to the Gaza Strip
). Jordan withdrew its claims for the West Bank
shortly after the beginning of the First Intifada
, and has signed the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace
in 1994, that demarcated the Jordan River
as the border line.
Throughout the 1990s, there were Israeli-Syrian negotiations regarding a normalization of relations and an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights but a peace treaty failed to materialize, mainly due to the Syrian desire to recover and retain 25 square kilometers of Israeli territory in the Jordan River Valley seized in 1948 and occupied until 1967. As the United Nations recognizes only the 1948 borders, there is little support for the Syrian position outside the Arab bloc nor in resolving the Golan Heights issue.
The resolution advocates a "just settlement of the refugee problem" which applies to both the Arab and Jewish refugees of the Middle East. French President de Gaulle stressed this principle in his press conference of November 27, 1967 and assured them "a dignified and fair future" in his letter of January 9, 1968 to David Ben-Gurion. The UN resolution doesn't specifically mention the Palestinians, who were not represented in the debate. However, it did serve as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (Palestinians being represented by the PLO) that led to the Oslo Accords. The Accords' main premise, the eventual creation of Palestinian autonomy in some of the territories captured during the Six-Day War, in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel is obviously reminiscent of the "Land for Peace" principle.
The interpretation of the resolution has been controversial, in particular the meaning of Operative Clause 1(i):
- Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.
In simple terms, the semantic argument is about whether Israel's obligations under the resolution include the requirement that her armed forces withdraw from all the territories occupied in the 1967 or whether these obligations could be satisfied by the withdrawal from part of the territories.
French version vs. English version of text
The French version of the clause reads:
- Retrait des forces armées israéliennes des territoires occupés lors du récent conflit.
The difference between the two versions lies in the absence of a definite article ("the") in the English version, while the word "des" present in the French version seems to be - not the French indefinite article in plural ("des") - but rather a contraction of the words "de" and "les" (the latter being the French definite article in plural), equal to the English "of the". While some observers argue that the absence of the definite article in English does not preclude an interpretation meaning "all territories," others counter by claiming that the presence of the word "des" in French grammar does not preclude an interpretation meaning "territories" rather than "the territories." Although
some have dismissed the controversy by suggesting that the use of the word "des" in the French version is a translation error and should therefore be ignored in interpreting the document, the debate has retained its force.
For example, solicitor John McHugo, a partner at Trowers & Hamlins and a visiting fellow at the Scottish Centre for International Law at Edinburgh University, draws a comparison to phrases such as:
- Dogs must be kept on the lead near ponds in the park.
In spite of the lack of definite articles, according to McHugo, it is clear that such an instruction cannot legitimately be taken to imply that some dogs need not be kept on the lead or that the rule applies only near some ponds. Further, McHugo points out a potential consequence of the logic employed by advocates of a "some" reading. Paragraph 2 (a) of the Resolution, which guarantees "freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area," may allow Arab states to interfere with navigation through some international waterways of their choosing.
On the other hand, Shabtai Rosenne, former Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva and member of the UN's International Law Commission, notes that:
- It is an historical fact, which nobody has ever attempted to deny, that the negotiations between the members of the Security Council, and with the other interested parties, which preceded the adoption of that resolution, were conducted on the basis of English texts, ultimately consolidated in Security Council document S/8247. [...] Many experts in the French language, including academics with no political axe to grind, have advised that the French translation is an accurate and idiomatic rendering of the original English text, and possibly even the only acceptable rendering into French."[...] "[o]n the question of concordance, the French representative [to the 1379th meeting of the Security Council on November 16, 1967] was explicit in stating that the French text was "identical" with the English text.
He also states:
- It is known from an outside source that the sponsors resisted all attempts to insert words such as "all" or "the" in the text of this phrase in the English text of the resolution, and it will not be overlooked that when that very word "all" erroneously crept into the Spanish translation of the draft, it was subsequently removed.
Only English and French were the Security Council's working languages (Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Chinese were official but not the working languages).
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America argues the practice at the UN is that the binding version of any resolution is the one voted upon. In the case of 242 that version was in English, so they assert the English version the only binding one. Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy points out that this was indeed the position held by the United States and United Kingdom:
- ... both the British and the Americans pointed out that 242 was a British resolution; therefore, the English language text was authoritative and would prevail in any dispute over interpretation.
The French representative to the Security Council, in the debate immediately after the vote, asserted:
- the French text, which is equally authentic with the English, leaves no room for any ambiguity, since it speaks of withdrawal "des territoires occupés," which indisputably corresponds to the expression "occupied territories" We were likewise gratified to hear the United Kingdom representative stress the link between this paragraph of his resolution and the principle of inadmissibility of the acquisition of territories by force....
Opponents of the "all territories" reading remind that the UN Security Council declined to adopt a draft resolution including the definite article way prior to the adoption of Resolution 242. They argue that, in interpreting a resolution of an international organization, one must look to the process of the negotiation and adoption of the text. This would make the text in English, the language of the discussion, take precedence.
Moreover, Minister Nabil Shaath admitted that the resolution does not require a return to the lines that existed on June 4, 1967, when he declared that the PA will not accept "borders based on UN Resolution 242, which we believe is no longer suitable."
Expressio unius est exclusio alterius
The Common Law legal principle expressio unius est exclusio alterius (which, for Common Law jurisdictions such as the UK and USA, states that the terms excluded from a law must be considered as excluded intentionally) is cited by some as operating against an "all territories" reading. Arab states specifically requested that the resolution be changed to read "all territories" instead of "territories." Their request was discussed by the UN Security Council. However, it was rejected. The Security Council actively chose to reject writing "all territories" and instead wrote "territories." And it was this version, without "all" that was passed. Others insist that the legal principle in question cannot operate so as to create ambiguity. Per Lord Caradon, the chief author of the resolution:
- It was from occupied territories that the [r]esolution called for withdrawal. The test was which territories were occupied. That was a test not possibly subject to any doubt as a matter of fact...East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan and Sinai were occupied in the 1967 conflict. I[t] was on withdrawal from occupied territories that the Resolution insisted.
- We didn't say there should be a withdrawal to the '67 line; we did not put the 'the' in, we did not say all the territories, deliberately.. We all knew - that the boundaries of '67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers, they were a cease-fire line of a couple of decades earlier... We did not say that the '67 boundaries must be forever; it would be insanity.
The drafting process
A key part of the case in favour of a "some territories" reading is the claim that British and American officials involved in the drafting of the Resolution omitted the definite article deliberately in order to make it less demanding on the Israelis. As George Brown, British Foreign Secretary in 1967, commented:
- I have been asked over and over again to clarify, modify or improve the wording, but I do not intend to do that. The phrasing of the Resolution was very carefully worked out, and it was a difficult and complicated exercise to get it accepted by the UN Security Council. I formulated the Security Council Resolution. Before we submitted it to the Council, we showed it to Arab leaders. The proposal said 'Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied', and not from 'the' territories, which means that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories.
Lord Caradon, chief author of the resolution, takes a subtly different slant. His focus seems to be that the lack of a definite article is intended to deny permanence to the "unsatisfactory" pre-1967 border, rather than to allow Israel to retain land taken by force. Such a view would appear to allow for the possibility that the borders could be varied through negotiation:
- Knowing as I did the unsatisfactory nature of the 1967 line, I wasn’t prepared to use wording in the Resolution that would have made that line permanent. Nonetheless, it is necessary to say again that the overwhelming principle was the ‘inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ and that meant that there could be no justification for the annexation of territory on the Arab side of the 1967 line merely because it had been conquered in the 1967 war. The sensible way to decide permanent ‘secure and recognized’ boundaries would be to set up a Boundary Commission and hear both sides and then to make impartial recommendations for a new frontier line, bearing in mind, of course, the "inadmissibility" principle. The purposes are perfectly clear, the principle is stated in the preamble, the necessity for withdrawal is stated in the operative section. And then the essential phrase which is not sufficiently recognized is that withdrawal should take place to secure and recognized boundaries, and these words were very carefully chosen: they have to be secure and they have to be recognized. They will not be secure unless they are recognized. And that is why one has to work for agreement. This is essential. I would defend absolutely what we did. It was not for us to lay down exactly where the border should be. I know the 1967 border very well. It is not a satisfactory border, it is where troops had to stop in 1948, just where they happened to be that night, that is not a permanent boundary...
Eugene V Rostow, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in 1967 and one of the drafters of the resolution, draws attention to the fact that the text proposed by the British had succeeded ahead of alternatives (in particular, a more explicit text proposed by the Soviet Union):
- ... paragraph 1 (i) of the Resolution calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces 'from territories occupied in the recent conflict', and not 'from the territories occupied in the recent conflict'. Repeated attempts to amend this sentence by inserting the word 'the' failed in the Security Council. It is, therefore, not legally possible to assert that the provision requires Israeli withdrawal from all the territories now occupied under the cease-fire resolutions to the Armistice Demarcation lines.
- The USSR and the Arabs supported a draft demanding a withdrawal to the 1967 Lines. The US, Canada and most of West Europe and Latin America supported the draft which was eventually approved by the UN Security Council.
- Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338... rest on two principles, Israel may administer the territory until its Arab neighbors make peace; and when peace is made, Israel should withdraw to 'secure and recognized borders', which need not be the same as the Armistice Demarcation Lines of 1949.
He also points out that attempts to explicitly widen the motion to include "the" or "all" territories were explicitly rejected
- Motions to require the withdrawal of Israel from ‘the’ territories or ‘all the territories’ occupied in the course of the Six Day War were put forward many times with great linguistic ingenuity. They were all defeated both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council.
Rostow's President, Lyndon B Johnson, appears to support this last view:
- We are not the ones to say where other nations should draw lines between them that will assure each the greatest security. It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967 will not bring peace.
Arthur J. Goldberg, another of the resolution's drafters, concurred that Resolution 242 does not dictate the extent of the withdrawal, and added that this matter should be negotiated between the parties:
- Does Resolution 242 as unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council require the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from all of the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 war? The answer is no. In the resolution, the words the and all are omitted. Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict, without specifying the extent of the withdrawal. The resolution, therefore, neither commands nor prohibits total withdrawal.
- If the resolution is ambiguous, and purposely so, on this crucial issue, how is the withdrawal issue to be settled? By direct negotiations between the concerned parties. Resolution 242 calls for agreement between them to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement. Agreement and acceptance necessarily require negotiations.
Mr. Michael Stewart, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in a reply to a question in Parliament, 9 December 1969: "As I have explained before, there is reference, in the vital United Nations Security Council Resolution, both to withdrawal from territories and to secure and recognized boundaries. As I have told the House previously, we believe that these two things should be read concurrently and that the omission of the word 'all' before the word 'territories' is deliberate."
President Lyndon Johnson:
"The nations of the region have had only fragile and violated truce lines for 20 years. What they now need are recognized boundaries and other arrangements that will give them security against terror, destruction, and war.
"There are some who have urged, as a single, simple solution, an immediate return to the situation as it was on June 4. As our distinguished and able Ambassador, Mr. Arthur Goldberg, has already said, this is not a prescription for peace but for renewed hostilities."
Statements by other senior American officials
President Ronald Reagan:
"Israel exists; it has a right to exist in peace behind secure and defensible borders, and it has a right to demand of its neighbours that they recognize those facts.
"I have personally followed and supported Israel's heroic struggle for survival, ever since the founding of the State of Israel 34 years ago. In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel's population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again."
Secretary of State Albright to the U.N. General Assembly:
"We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 as 'Occupied Palestinian Territory'. In the view of my government, this language could be taken to indicate sovereignty."
Mr. Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State, 12 July 1970 (NBC "Meet the Press"): "That Resolution did not say 'withdrawal to the pre-June 5 lines'. The Resolution said that the parties must negotiate to achieve agreement on the so-called final secure and recognized borders. In other words, the question of the final borders is a matter of negotiations between the parties."
Secretary of State Christopher's letter to Netanyahu:
"I would like to reiterate our position that Israel is entitled to secure and defensible borders, which should be directly negotiated and agreed with its neighbors."
Secretary of State George Shultz:
"Israel will never negotiate from, or return to, the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders.
"So the state of Israel cannot agree to anything other than its own secure, defensible, and internationally recognized borders."
Statements by Security Council representatives
Supporters of an "all territories" reading point out that the intentions and opinions of draftsmen are not normally considered relevant to the interpretation of law, their role being purely administrative. It is claimed that much more weight should be given to opinions expressed on the matter in discussions at the Security Council prior to the adoption of the resolution. The representative for India stated to the Security Council:
- It is our understanding that the draft resolution, if approved by the Council, will commit it to the application of the principle of total withdrawal of Israel forces from all the territories - I repeat, all the territories - occupied by Israel as a result of the conflict which began on 5 June 1967.
The representatives from Nigeria, France, USSR, Bulgaria, United Arab Republic (Egypt), Ethiopia, Jordan, Argentina and Mali supported this view, as worded by the representative from Mali: "[Mali] wishes its vote today to be interpreted in the light of the clear and unequivocal interpretation which the representative of India gave of the provisions of the United Kingdom text."
Israel was the only country represented at the Security Council to express a contrary view. The USA, United Kingdom, Denmark, China and Japan were silent on the matter, but the US and UK did point out that other countries' comments on the meaning of 242 were simply their own views. The Syrian representative was strongly critical of the text's "vague call on Israel to withdraw".
The statement by the Brazilian representative perhaps gives a flavour of the complexities at the heart of the discussions:
- I should like to restate...the general principle that no stable international order can be based on the threat or use of force, and that the occupation or acquisition of territories brought about by such means should not be recognized...Its acceptance does not imply that borderlines cannot be rectified as a result of an agreement freely concluded among the interested States. We keep constantly in mind that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East has necessarily to be based on secure permanent boundaries freely agreed upon and negotiated by the neighboring States.
However, the Soviet delegate Vasily Kuznetsov said after the adoption of Resolution 242:" ... phrases such as 'secure and recognized boundaries'. ... there is certainly much leeway for different interpretations which retain for Israel the right to establish new boundaries and to withdraw its troops only as far as the lines which it judges convenient."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, who represented the US in discussions, later stated: "The notable omissions in regard to withdrawal are the word 'the' or 'all' and 'the June 5, 1967 lines' the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories, without defining the extent of withdrawal".
On November 23
, The Secretary General
appointed Gunnar Jarring
as Special Envoy to negotiate the implementation of the resolution with the parties, the so-called Jarring Mission
. The governments of Israel
recognized Jarring's appointment and agreed to participate in his shuttle diplomacy, although they differed on key points of interpretation of the resolution. The government of Syria
rejected Jarring's mission on grounds that total Israeli withdrawal was a prerequisite for further negotiations. The talks under Jarring's auspices lasted until 1973, but bore no results. After 1973, the Jarring mission was replaced by bilateral and multilateral peace conferences.
Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy and treaties
- Paris Peace Conference, 1919
- Faisal-Weizmann Agreement (1919)
- 1949 Armistice Agreements
- Camp David Accords (1978)
- Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty (1979)
- Madrid Conference of 1991
- Oslo Accords (1993)
- Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace (1994)
- Camp David 2000 Summit
- Peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs
- List of Middle East peace proposals
- International law and the Arab-Israeli conflict
- Original text of UN resolution 242 in English and French (from the UN archives)
- UN Security Council discussion prior to res242
- UN Security Council discussion and vote surrounding res242
- Article on PLO website arguing for full withdrawal
- U.N. Resolution 242: Origin, Meaning, and Significance National Committee on American Foreign Policy
- What was United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 and what does it say? Palestine Facts
- The Peace Process and the United Nations Resolutions Hadassah
- On Multi-Lingual Interpretation -UN Security Council Res 242 Shabtai Rosenne, Israel Law Review, Vol. 6, 1971; reprinted in The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Vol. II: Readings, ed. John Norton Moore (Princeton University Press, 1974).
- Peace Plans BICOM
- Daily Press Briefing Statements made by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson (excerpts) (Paris, June 14 2002)