UN Security Council Resolution 242

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United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (S/RES/242) was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 22, 1967 in the aftermath of the Six Day War. It calls for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (see semantic dispute) in exchange for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The "territories" here refer to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. It is one of the most commonly referenced UN resolutions in Middle Eastern politics.

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The resolution is the formula proposed by the Security Council for the successful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular, Israel's mutual belligerency with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. 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.

The resolution's most important feature is the "land for peace" formula, which implies Israeli withdrawal from territories it had captured in exchange for peace agreements 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.

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.

"Land for peace" served as the basis of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, in which Israel retreated 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 a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, that demarcated the Jordan River as the border line. Throughout the 1990s, there were Israeli-Syrian negotiations regarding a nomalization of relations and an Israeli retreat from the Golan Heights but a peace treaty failed to materialize.

The resolution advocates a "just settlement of the refugee problem" but doesn't specifically mention the Palestinians (who were not represented in the debate). This was one of the declared reasons why PLO didn't accept the resolution until 1988; another was the refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist in accord with the Khartoum Resolution of September 1, 1967. The UN resolution, however, 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 a Palestinian state 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.

Both Israel and her neighbors accept the legitimacy of 242, although the two sides interpret the resolution to mean quite different things. The two sides also disagree over the implementation of the resolution. Israel generally focuses on the latter part of the resolution first, which calls for the "termination of all states of belligerency" in the area. Thus, the refusal of the Arab states to end the state of war that exists represents a material and continuing breach of 242, making Israeli security control of the occupied territories a continuing necessity. This continued disagreement continues to be reflected even in Israel's peaceful relations with more "moderate" neighbors such as Egypt and Jordan, and is still a major stumbling block in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians -- the former insisting upon an end to terrorism as a prerequisite to negotiations, the latter claiming Israel's continuing violations of 242 as one of the justifications for their armed resistance to the occupation.

After territorial issues, perhaps the most widely disputed element of 242 is the call for "a just settlement of the refugee problem." Israel continues to refuse to consider any large-scale resettlement of Palestinian refugees on Israeli territory, claiming that such a move would undermine the Jewish character of the state of Israel and lead to its collapse. Moreover, Israel points to the continued refusal of the Arab nations to compensate Israeli Jews of Arab origin, many of whom were driven out of their home countries after facing the expropriation of virtually all of their property. Israel's official stand at present is that refugees will be resettled either where they currently live, or in a newly constituted Palestinian state at such a time when it is established. Recent evidence suggests that a moderate Palestinian leadership would accept a "symbolic right of return" to Israel in the framework of an overall peace agreement, along with an acknowledgement from Israel of its responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem. However, numerous Palestinian groups with substantial political power have stated their opposition to any agreement that does not allow for a full return of Palestinian refugees to their places of origin within the former Palestine Mandate, regardless of whether those places are currently in Israel proper. This argument reflects an even older conflict over the meaning of UN Resolution 194, the first UN resolution to deal with the Palestinian refugees. The refugee issue continues to be one of the most intractable facets of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and continues to hamstring efforts on both sides to implement Resolution 242.

Semantic dispute

The interpretation of the resolution has been controversial, in particular the issue of the correct interpretation of Operative Clause 1(i), in which the Security Council calls for

Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.

The French version of this reads differently:

Retrait des forces armées israéliennes des territoires occupés lors du récent conflit

The Russian version

вывод израильских вооружённых сил с территорий, оккупированных во время недавнего конфликта

In simple terms, the dispute is about whether the Resolution would require Israel to retreat from all the territories it has captured, or whether it would still comply the resolution by retreating, on mutually agreed terms, only from some of the territories.

The difference between the two version lies in the absence of a definite article ("the") in the English version (so that it means "from some of or all the territories"), while a definite article ("des") is present in the French version, so that it means "from all the territories". The change introduced into the English version was the result of a deliberate amendment made by the Americans (the drafting process being made on the English version, the French being a translation). Nevertheless, as both languages are official languages of the UN, the meaning of the resolution has given no end to controversy. The Russian and the Spanish readings support the English one, but only English and French were the Security Council's working languages, declaredly "equally authentic" (Russian, Spanish and Chinese were official but not the working languages). It is worth noting that Russian has no definitive article per sי.

Arguments in favor of "all territories" reading

Supporters of the "all territories" reading claim that the principle usually applied in international law is to adopt the interpretation which best harmonizes the meaning of the differing language texts. Applying this principle to this resolution, one would come to the interpretation that the resolution requires a full withdrawal is compatible with the English text, and is implied by the French text. On the other hand, even if an interpretation requiring only a partial withdrawal is compatible with the English text, it contradicts the French text. Therefore, the interpretation requiring total withdrawal best harmonizes the meaning of the texts, and therefore applying generally accepted rules of legal interpretation under international law. It should be noted that the Israeli government have always referred to the English text as being "authentic".

Other supporters of a full withdrawal argue that the absence of the words "all" or "the" before territories does not mean that Israel can retain some of the territories it captured in 1967. For instance, British solicitor John McHugo argues that the absence of a definite article in the notice "dogs must be kept on a lead" does not imply that "some dogs must be kept on a lead" but clearly means that "all dogs must be kept on a lead." [1] (http://www.nad-plo.org/nego/permanent/borders/related/McHugo.pdf) Advocates of this view point to a presumption in International Law that a document should be interpreted in order to make its meaning clear, and interpretations that lead to uncertainty should be avoided. The Israeli claim that resolution 242 requires only a partial withdrawal from territories creates uncertainty arises as to which territories it could retain and which it could withdraw from, and so cannot have been the intention of the Security Council, according to advocates of a full withdrawal.

Some claim that Preambulatory Clause 2, "Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" would imply a total withdrawal; this is based on a principle under international law on how to interpret treaties (see art. 31 in the Vienna Convention), but although preambulatory clauses never include specific directives, they can be used to interpret the operative paragraphs. Under such a view, an withdrawal would include "all territories". 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, Jordan, Argentina and Mali supported this view, and as worded by the representative from 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".

Lord Caradon, the British representative to the Security Council who drafted the language of 242, stated in 1981: "It was from occupied territories that the Resolution 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." In: Caradon, [Lord] Hugh, et al. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: A Case Study in Diplomatic Ambiguity. Washington, D.C., Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 1981.

Arguments against "all territories" reading

Opposers of the "all territories" reading remind that it was specifically disapproved by the UN Security Council, which is clearly seen in the fact that the phrase was amended. They claim that in interpreting a resolution of an organ 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, according to them the nature of the French language requires the use of a definite article in places where English does not, so the inclusion of the definite article in the French text does not imply what the inclusion of the definite article in the English text would. Finally, as they claim that the only reason for the re-appearance of this reading was translator error, which obviously does not justify the change in the document's meaning. According to the legal principle "expressio unis et exclusio alterus" (which states that the terms excluded from a law are excluded intentionally, and the interpretation of that law should be accordingly altered) it could be argued against the "all territoires" reading.

Opponents of the "all territories" reading also point to statements made by American and British officials involved in the drafting of UN Resolution 242 itself. These officials rejected Arab states' request that the word "all" be placed before "territories" and have since stated the following about UN Res 242:

Arthur J. Goldberg, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1965-1967):

"It calls for respect and acknowledgment of the sovereignty of every state in the area. Since Israel never denied the sovereignty of its neighbouring countries, this language obviously requires those countries to acknowledge Israel's sovereignty." "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."

"The Meaning of 242" - June 10, 1977

Lord Caradon, author of the draft resolution that was adopted as U.N. Resolution 242, U.K. Ambassador to the United Nations (1964-1970):

"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." MacNeil/Lehrer Report - March 30, 1978

Additional comments include: Eugene V. Rostow, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (1966-1969):

"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." "The Truth About 242" - November 5, 1990 Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. President (1963-1968):

"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." September 10, 1968

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On November 23, 1967, The Secretary General appointed Gunnar Jarring as Special Envoy to negotiate the implementation of the resolution with the parties. The governments of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon recognized Jarring's appointment and agreed to participate in his shuttle diplomacy. The government of Syria rejected Jarring's mission on grounds that only total Israeli withdrawal was in order. 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.