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resolution 242 and the aftermath of 1967
This is a chapter from Eric Black's book, Parallel Realities. It is reprinted here with permission of the author and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Copyright 1992, Star Tribune. (See below for further information about the author and the book.)

The argument over which side to blame for the Six Day War goes on, but all of the parties acknowledge that Israel's dramatic victory altered the face of the Middle East and established the boundaries--literally and figuratively--within which the quest for an Arab-Israeli settlement has been conducted ever since.

  • Territories/In the 1967 war, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank including East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Except for the Sinai, Israel still holds all those territories.

  • Egypt regained the Sinai as part of the Camp David Accords of 1979. Israel has formally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, vowing never to relinquish those territories. But Syria vows never to make peace unless Israel withdraws from Golan. And the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) declares Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

    The so-called "land for peace" formula at the center of the 199-92 Mideast negotiations comes down to Israeli withdrawal from some or all of the territories acquired in 1967 in exchange for recognition by Israel's neighboring states of its right to live in peace, and a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

  • Population/By capturing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel also captured about one million Palestinians. Many were the same individuals who had fled their homes in 1947-49, or the children of those refugees. Since 1967, the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza has increased to about 1.8 million.

    This population is often described as a demographic time bomb for Israel. The birth rate of Arabs in the occupied territories and Arabs within pre-1967 Israel is significantly higher than the birth rate among Israeli Jews. Despite the influx of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to Israel in the early 1990s, if the higher Arab birth rate continues and no settlement is reached, Israel will lose its Jewish majority within the foreseeable future.

    Israel has not been willing to offer citizenship to the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, as they did with the Arabs in pre-1967 Israel, nor to expel them, as some hard-liners have advocated, nor to grant them self-determination, which would result in the creation of a Palestinian state.

  • PLO and Likud/Before 1967, the leading spokesman for the Palestinian cause was not a Palestinian but Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. After the humiliating six-day defeat, Nasser offered his resignation. It was not accepted, and his popularity remained high, but Nasser died in 1970 without having successfully reasserted his leadership of the Palestinian cause. In the aftermath of the 1967 war, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had been controlled by Nasser, was taken over by Yasir Arafat. The PLO soon gained the leadership position among Palestinians it has enjoyed ever since.

    Before 1967, Menachem Begin was an outsider in Israeli politics, shunned as too radical, expansionist and intransigent by founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. But in the weeks leading to the 1967 war, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Ben-Gurion's successor, brought Begin into the cabinet as a symbol that the crisis required national unity. It was a breakthrough toward respectability for Begin. Although he later resigned from the cabinet, he became prime minister himself in 1977. His hardline Likud bloc has dominated Israeli politics ever since.

  • The special relationship/Israel used French arms to win the 1967 test against the Soviet-supplied arms used by Egypt and Syria. But after 1967, the United States quickly began to emerge as Israel's top ally. Paris rejected Israel's first strike in 1967 while Washington accepted it. Israel's victory in the war, which was interpreted in America as an inspiring victory of David over Goliath, caused Israel's popularity in the United States to surge. Soon after 1967, Israel shot to the top of the list of countries receiving U.S. foreign aid. The war helped establish the U.S.-Israeli "special relationship" that has existed ever since.

» Resolution 242

The 1967 war also gave rise to U.N. Resolution 242, which has become a sort of mantra of all Middle East peacemaking efforts since it was adopted by the United Nations in 1967. By the late 1980s, Israel, most Arab states, the PLO, the United States, the Soviet Union and most of the nations of the world had accepted Resolution 242 as the proper basis for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Whenever negotiations are in the offing, all of the parties hasten to reaffirm their support for Resolution 242, to insist that the resolution provides the road map to peace, and to imply that the other side is the one that will not abide by the requirements of 242.

When the fighting stopped in June of 1967, the action moved to the United Nations. The Soviet Union, then the superpower-of-choice for Egypt and Syria, pushed for a resolution demanding Israel's withdrawal to its prewar boundaries. Israel wanted recognition of its existence and security guarantees. It found the United States more willing than ever to use its Security Council veto power on Israel's behalf. This was one of the benefits to Israel of the just-blossoming "special relationship." The Security Council argued throughout the summer and fall of 1967 before agreeing on Resolution 242 in November.

Resolution 242 was sponsored by Britain. It passed because it tied the main thing the Soviets and Arabs wanted--Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories--to the main thing Israel and the United States sought--recognition of Israel by its neighbors.

In its key sections, the resolution calls for:

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

"Termination of all ... states of belligerency and ... acknowledgment of the sovereignty ... of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries."

"A just settlement of the refugee problem."

So what's the hang-up? If all the requirements of Resolution 242 were fulfilled, the Arab-Israeli conflict would be settled. Yet a quarter of a century after it was adopted, Resolution 242 has turned out to be a road map to limbo. Israel still occupies several of the territories it captured in 1967; no Arab state except Egypt has recognized Israel's sovereignty nor formally ended the state of war with Israel; and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians still inhabit squalid refugee camps.

The hang-up, as you can also see, is that the language of the resolution is vague enough for each of the parties to see what it wants to see and interpret the rest out of existence.

The United States, for example, sees Resolution 242 as the embodiment of the principle of land for peace, which has been the core of U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967. But the United States has not specified what land Israel should give up, what peace guarantees the Arab states should provide, nor what would constitute a "just settlement" for the Palestinians.

For ten years after the 1967 war, Egypt, Jordan and Syria interpreted Resolution 242 in unison. It meant that Israel had to give back all of the territory captured in the war. Until Israel did so, the Arab League agreed, it would have no peace, no recognition and no negotiations. One of the shortcomings of the resolutions is that it doesn't say what should come first, Israeli withdrawal or Arab recognition of Israel. Each side insisted that the other make the first concession.

Traditionally, the Arab states argued that the only way to implement 242 was to convene an international conference that would consider all of the issues at once and have the power to enforce a solution. This negotiating format has always been unacceptable to Israel. The three front-line Arab states also forswore bilateral negotiations with Israel. Syria in particular has worried that if Israel got recognition and peace on its Egyptian and Jordanian borders, Israel would never negotiate the return of the Golan Heights.

Sure enough, in 1977 Egypt broke ranks, negotiated directly with Israel, and made a separate peace with Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai. The other Arab states kicked Egypt out of the Arab League.

But, as is often the case, the widest divergence of interpretation occurs when Israelis and Palestinians give their parallel versions of Resolution 242:

» The Israeli Position

Israel contends that Resolution 242 requires each of its neighbors to recognize Israel's right to exist and to negotiate bilaterally a secure border. That procedure, followed with Egypt in 1977-79, led to Egypt's recognition of Israel and Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai.

Israel always declared its readiness for a similar process with Jordan and Syria. But Israel generally insisted on bilateral negotiations with each of its neighbors. It rejected for years international negotiating formats that would have given a role to the Soviet Union or to the United Nations, arguing that in such a format Israel's adversaries would gang up and force a settlement inconsistent with Israel's security needs. One of the shortcomings of Resolution 242 was that it implied the need for a negotiated settlement, and suggested an endpoint for the negotiations, but it didn't establish a mechanism or a forum for negotiations.

In the decade after 1967, it was widely believed that if Jordan or Syria had engaged in bilateral talks, Israel would have offered territorial concessions in exchange for recognition and peace. Neither Arab neighbor put Israel to the test on this possibility. But in recent years, the Likud government has specified that it has no plans to withdraw from any more of the land captured in 1967.

Arab states have argued that Israel's position defies the language of Resolution 242 that calls on Israel to withdraw "from territories occupied in recent conflict." But Israeli officials reply that the resolution does not specify that Israel must withdraw from "all territories" or even from "the territories" captured in 1967. This was no linguistic accident, Israel argues. It contends that the word "the" was deliberately omitted to leave open the possibility that Israel could fulfill its part of the resolution by withdrawing from some, but not all of the territory it occupied in 1967.

Several U.S. officials who participated in the birth of the resolution have sided with Israel on this issue. The late Arthur Goldberg, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1967, and Eugene Rostow, who was undersecretary of state, have written articles agreeing with Israel's interpretation of the meaning of the missing "the."

The Sinai Peninsula, representing more than 90 percent of the acreage Israel occupied in the war, was returned to Egyptian sovereignty in the 1979 Egypt-Israel treaty. Therefore, Israel argues, it already has met its obligation to return some of the territory and is in compliance with Resolution 242. The parties in violation of the resolution are those Arab states who have refused to end their state of war and recognize Israel's "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries."

» The Palestinian Position

Palestinian leaders were outraged by Resolution 242 when it was adopted. Palestinians had no voice at the United Nations. But the PLO gained great impetus from the feeling of betrayal that Palestinians felt over Resolution 242 and the belief that this was what came from letting non-Palestinians lead the Palestinian cause. The PLO built its popularity in the years after the war partly on its rejection of 242.

The resolution doesn't mention the Palestinians. Instead, it mandates "a just settlement of the refugee problem." Many Palestinians resent being identified as nothing more than a problem. Furthermore, on a practical level, the resolution offers no basis for a settlement. Nothing in the resolution so much as hints at what would constitute "a just settlement of the refugee problem."

The resolution also encourages the states of the Middle East to recognize one another's sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and right to live in peace. Since Israel is the only state in the region whose right to exist is in dispute, the resolution seems to call on the Arab states to recognize Israel. And since the Palestinians had no state, it doesn't call on anyone to recognize their right to national self-determination.

For all of these shortcomings, the PLO rejected Resolution 242 for 20 years. In 1988, the Reagan administration announced that it would drop the long-standing U.S. refusal to talk to the PLO if that organization met several conditions, including an endorsement of Resolution 242. Arafat accepted Resolution 242, which led to a brief and ultimately fruitless U.S.-PLO dialogue. But at the same time, the PLO issued a declaration of independence for a Palestinian state to be formed from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians acknowledge that nothing in the language of Resolution 242 suggests the creation of a Palestinian state, but contend that the resolution requires Israel to withdraw from all of the territory it occupied in 1967, which would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Palestinians generally dismiss Israel's argument about the missing "the" as legalistic, hair-splitting and note that the definite article is present in the official French translation of the resolution. Palestinians prefer the language in the first sentence of the resolution that emphasizes "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war." This clearly suggests that Israel must withdraw from all of the land it captured in 1967.

» The Text of U.N. Resolution 242

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 Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment 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 for 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.

Adopted unanimously by the Security Council at the 1382nd meeting.

22 November 1967

»About the Author

Eric Black is a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where he specializes in pieces that put the news in historical context. Parallel Realities is based on a series of articles he wrote for the newspaper. The book describes the history of Israel/Palestine, from biblical times until just before Oslo, from the perspectives of each side of the ethnoreligious divide.

» About the Book

Parallel Realities is available for $9.95 per copy plus $2.00 shipping/handling for up to 10 copies. Orders should be sent to Eric Black/Star Tribune/425 Portland Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55488. There are discounts available for classroom orders of 10 or more (15 percent) and 30 or more (25 percent). Details or inquiries can be directed to the same address, or to

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