UN Security Council Resolution 242


United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242, adopted in 1967 after the Six Day War, defines guidelines to arrive at the desired goal of a peaceful environment in the Middle East. It aims to establish ‘a just and lasting peace in the Middle East’ between Israel and its neighbours. Israel has accepted these resolutions, and recognises them as the basis for all peace negotiations for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. Resolution 242 is a remarkably succinct document (291 words) with key provisions and principles. It has become the central document of the Middle East diplomatic effort.

The language of Resolution 242, painstakingly drafted and carefully worded by its British sponsors, was the product of long and exhaustive debate in the United Nations. Resolution 242 applies to ‘every state in the area’ of the Middle East, and therefore does not refer to Palestinians because it applied only to existing states. It explicitly calls for the Israeli armed forces to withdraw ‘from territories occupied’ in the June 1967 war – specifically not from ‘the territories’ or ‘all the territories’.

The omission of the definitive article ‘the’ in front of ‘territories’ in the binding English version of the resolution is of the highest significance, and should not be derided as mere wordplay or legal acrobatics. Some five and a half months of debate and diplomacy over the resolution’s wording produced several draft versions – such as ‘from the territories occupied’ (the Arab states) and ‘all territories occupied’ (the Soviet Union). All such versions were defeated in the UN General Assembly and Security Council, and the British version was unanimously adopted on 22 November 1967. Thus, the debate over which version of Resolution 242 is binding – the English or French version (which uses a definitive article – ‘des territories’) – is less complex than usually thought. In the UN, the binding version of any resolution is the one that is submitted to the voting body. In the case of Resolution 242, the English version takes precedence over the French version.

In other words, the resolution calls for a withdrawal from an undefined portion of territory, and only to the extent required by ‘secure and recognised boundaries’ in order for Israel to establish defensible borders. There is no demand on Israel to withdraw from all the territories captured in 1967.

In fact, Lord Caradon, Britain’s UN representative at the time and the principal author ¬†of Resolution 242, said, ‘It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967…That’s why we didn’t demand that the Israelis return to them and I think we were right to do so.’ Furthermore, the resolution requires ‘respect for and acknowledgment of…[every State’s] right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries.’ Eugene Rostow, US undersecretary of state for political affairs between 1966 and 1969 and a key player in the production of Resolution 242, has written, ‘Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 rule that the Arab states and Israel must make peace, and that when “a just and lasting peace” is reached in the Middle East, Israel should withdraw from some but not all of the territory it occupied in the course of the 1967 war. The Resolutions leave it to the parties to agree on the terms of peace.’

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