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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He also states:
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:
The French representative to the Security Council, in the debate immediately after the vote, asserted:
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."
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:
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:
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:
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):
He also points out that attempts to explicitly widen the motion to include "the" or "all" territories were explicitly rejected
Rostow's President, Lyndon B Johnson, appears to support this last view:
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:
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."
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."
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:
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:
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".
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