When it comes to the Middle East conflict, UN Security Council Resolution 242, of 22 November 1967, is the mother of all resolutions. No other resolution is ‘officially accepted’ by all contending parties (it was adopted unanimously at the council’s 1382nd meeting) and yet so contested for the interpretation of its provisions –each party seems to have a different understanding of what it stipulates.
So, is the resolution really ambiguous, and thus triggers this interpretational controversy?
In a satiric way, it is akin to the eternal patriarchal controversy between religious Zionists and non-Zionists, where verses from the Holy Scriptures can have several different implications, depending on your prejudice. Then, certain verses are selectively referenced to make a point; other verses are taken out of context, again, to state an already predetermined conclusion.
Background information (the June six-day war):
On 5 June 1967, Israel launched a full-scale military offensive against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, which resulted in its immediate occupation of Syrian Golan Heights, Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and West Bank and Gaza. Israeli propagandists propagated this assault as ‘preemptive self-defense.’
[On June 8, to create a distraction, and fearing the expose of their bellicose agenda, Israel attacked the USS Liberty killing 34 American sailors. ]
A few months after the war, Yitzhak Rabin remarked: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai on 14 May would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it” (Le Monde, 29 February 1968).
In 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in a speech delivered at the Israeli National Defense College, confessed: “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him” (Jerusalem Post, 20 August 1982).
In a recent New York Times article, dated 09 June 2002, however, Ariel Sharon directly contradicted his predecessor :
“Israel entered the West Bank only after its cities and airports had come under heavy fire. Israeli actions were legal – resulting from a clear-cut war of self-defense. For that reason, the United Nations Security Council determined in a historic decision, Resolution 242, that Israel was entitled to “secure and recognized boundaries” and was not expected to withdraw from all the territories that its forces had entered – and from which it was attacked – in the Six Day War. In effect, the resolution established that these were disputed territories where Israel had legitimate rights to defensible borders, besides the claims of the Arab parties to the conflict.”
Does Mr. Sharon here (re)presents a biased interpretation of the resolution?
[To review the full text of the resolution, see footnote .]
1. Selective & out of context quoting:
In his 09 June 2002 New York Times article, Sharon says:
“For that reason (i.e. since Arabs attacked (sic) Israel), the United Nations Security Council determined in a historic decision, Resolution 242, that Israel was entitled to “secure and recognized boundaries”é”
The (false) impression that this statement gives is that since the belligerent Arabs can’t leave a peaceful Israel alone, the UN is making it clear that Israel is in fact entitled to “secure and recognized boundaries.” The truth couldn’t be farther.
In fact, this oft-cited (mis)quote, “secure and recognized boundaries,” seen in the proper context, is meant as condemnation and warning for Israel not to transgress boundaries.
Consider what happened: Israel attacked sovereign States and thence annexed portions of their territories; the UN then emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and asserted that every State is entitled to live in peace within “secure and recognized borders.”
This is not nearly the same as saying that:
“éthe United Nations Security Council determined in a historic decision, Resolution 242, that Israel was entitled to “secure and recognized boundaries”é”
You could argue that, still, the resolution does not exclude Israel from the entitlement to live in peace within secure and recognized borders, and you would be right! The question then arises, what is stopping Israel from attaining this status, especially, from having recognized borders. Expansionism is the obvious answer.
It also bears noting that this oft-misquoted phrase, “secure and recognized boundaries,” was redundant to begin with.
Looking back at the text of the resolution, it states:
“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 Charteré”
Article 2 of the Charter stipulates :
“The Organization and its Memberséshall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangeredé(and) refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nationsé”
2. Biased interpretation:
In his 21 March 2002 New York Times article, Professor George P. Fletcher (Columbia University School of Law) wrote:
“Few seem to care anymore that the 1967 war was a war of self-defense for Israel or that United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 referred to withdrawal from “territories” rather than from “the territories” – a crucial distinction that shows that the resolution does not necessarily require withdrawal from all of the land occupied in 1967.”
Echoing George Fletcher (and other official Zionists), Mr. Sharon, in his 09 June 2002 New York Times article, also alluded to the idea that the UN resolution does not really demand Israel’s withdrawal from all the territories it occupied in the six-day war. He wrote:
“For that reason, the United Nations Security Council determined in a historic decision, Resolution 242, that Israel was entitled to “secure and recognized boundaries” and was not expected to withdraw from all the territories that its forces had entered – and from which it was attacked – in the Six Day War. In effect, the resolution established that these were disputed territoriesé”
There are four compelling arguments against this (outrages) claim.
First, by saying that ‘territories’ does not necessarily mean all the territories occupied, one must be overlooking the fact that this phrase is not a standalone, but is in a context of a whole resolution.
Again: Israel attacks sovereign States and acquires territories by war. The UN emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and hence demands the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
Is it cognitively conceivable that the resolution would directly contradict itself by stressing, first, that no territory could be acquired by war, yet Israel can in fact retain (some?) territory acquired by war?
Second, why should the absence of a qualifying adjective automatically infer that the missing adjective is ‘most’ or ‘some;’ why can’t we instead assume it is ‘all’?
Would we then get into an argument whether it should be ‘all’ or ‘all the’ (territories), still?
If we intend to be controversial, couldn’t we argue that the phrase “withdrawal of Israel armed forces (from territories occupied in the recent conflict)” does not apply to ‘Israeli’ armed forces? There is a difference you know. Or, argue that these are not ‘occupied,’ but ‘administered’ (or ‘disputed’) territories. It can get silly.
Third, assuming that the resolution text is linguistically infallible, is fallacy. And, that the omission of the article “the” was a result of a most meticulous drafting process. There are at least two clues in the resolution that suggest the contrary.
Look at this quote (from the resolution):
“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 boundariesé”
Grammarians will tell you that the singular noun ‘State’ (in ‘every State’) requires the singular pronoun ‘its’ (and not ‘their’) .
Furthermore, the word ‘state’ is capitalized throughout the resolution text, meaning it refers to a proper noun. This is in discrepancy with the nomenclature protocol adopted in Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations, which is generously referenced in the resolution and does not capitalize the word ‘state.’ (Palestine could be considered a state, but not necessarily a State).
[The official French text refers to “des territories.”]
Fourth, are we to assume that the UN resolution advocates the law of the jungle, when a state of superior military might can attack weaker states and occupy and then annex portions of their land (as it sees fit)?
In conclusion, the resolution is neither ambiguous nor pro-Palestinian/pro-Arab/anti-Israeli when seen in its proper context: the resolution was issued in response to what was a dire post-war situation and hence it demanded a halt to hostilities in order to achieve just peace.
Yet, if resolution 242 were taken as the ultimate working formula for resolving the Middle East conflict, it would be grossly ‘unjust’ to the Palestinians, for it means that Palestinians would be compelled to forgo some 78% of their historical homeland.
At its best (i.e. assuming total evacuation of all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which currently control some 42% of West Bank , for example), UN Security Council Resolution 242 sanctions the splitting of Palestine into three (not two) geographical entities: ‘Israel,’ ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza,’ where you have one contiguous Israel and two in contiguous statelets (Pales & Tine?) effectively partitioned by an ocean of Israeli territories and military posts, for eternity .
For a more congruous division, UN GA resolution 181 (the partition plan) of November 29, 1947 seems more ‘just’.
 The Way Forward in the Middle East, Ariel Sharon, New York Times, June 09, 2002
 Annan’s Careless Language, George P. Fletcher, New York Times, March 21, 2002
 Essentials of English Grammar (Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement), L. Sue Baugh, published by Passport Books 1993
 B’Tselem: Settlements control 42% of West Bank, Ha’aretz, May 14, 2002
(UN) Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 [Full Text]
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 within the state 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.
Mr. Baha Abushaqra is a Media Activist with Palestine Media Watch.