A singular point of agreement

Thursday is the 40th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 242.

unsc 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
unsc 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
On November 22, 1967, following the Six Day War, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted. Since then, for the past 40 years, it has constituted the legal framework for the peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is the only UN Security Council resolution accepted by both sides of the dispute as a basis for peace. Originally submitted by the British delegation to the UN as a compromise solution, 242 has been incorporated as a legal basis of every agreement signed between Israel and an Arab partner: the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan respectively, and the Oslo Interim Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, were all based on Resolution 242. Although accepted by both sides to the conflict, the interpretation of the resolution advanced by each side has been quite different. Indeed, seldom in the history of international relations has a legal resolution been endorsed by two conflicting parties while being so differently interpreted. FOR INSTANCE, the resolution calls for the "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." The article "the," the word "all" preceding the word "territories" are omitted. This was certainly not due to any printing error. The aim of the drafters of this resolution was to call on Israel to withdraw without indicating precisely the extent of such a withdrawal; it was left for the parties concerned to negotiate it. That is the argument advanced by Israel. And, to be sure, the diplomats responsible for drafting the resolution subsequently made it clear that this was precisely their intention. However, the Arab side has contended throughout that the resolution does call on Israel to withdraw completely from the territories it captured during the Six Day War. One of the proofs they put forward is the French-language version of the resolution, in which the article "the" has been included preceding the word "territories." THE RESOLUTION makes no mention whatsoever of the Palestinian Arabs except in an implied manner as it refers to the "refugee problem." This has led in the past to a debate involving the PLO and the United States and Israel on whether the resolution should be amended so as to include a specific reference to the Palestinian problem. The resolution was never amended and the Arab side, including the PLO, nevertheless accepted it as a basis for peace. To be sure, other UN resolutions (mostly in the General Assembly) have been adopted meeting the demands of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states. However, none has been endorsed by Israel as well. It has become fashionable in some circles to claim that Israel does not implement UN resolutions. Particular reference, explicit or implicit, is made to UN Security Council Resolution 242, the argument being that Israel has not implemented this resolution as it has failed to withdraw from the territories it captured in June 1967. The resolution, of course, does not call on Israel to withdraw unilaterally and unconditionally. It has two components: The countries to the conflict have to negotiate peace and recognize each other, while Israel should withdraw. Israel is not required to withdraw prior to such a negotiated settlement, but as part of it. INDEED, this is precisely the difference between the aftermath of the Sinai Campaign of 1956 and the 1967 Six Day War. Following the former, Israel was required to withdraw from the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip unilaterally. Israel's withdrawal was unconditional; in the latter, on the other hand, Israeli withdrawal was called for in the context of a wider settlement of the conflict. Certainly, Israel could claim that it has implemented at least part of the resolution. For instance, as part of its peace agreement with Egypt, it withdrew completely from Sinai. Indeed, following the Oslo Accords, Israeli armed forces largely withdrew from territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Only two years ago, notwithstanding the fact that legally it was not obliged to, Israel withdrew completely, unilaterally and unconditionally from the Gaza Strip. PLAINLY, THE history of the past 40 years of UN Security Council Resolution 242 is characterized by the different interpretations advanced by the Israelis and the Arabs. A thorough study of it has yet to be undertaken. What is beyond doubt is that no other legal framework endorsed by all sides has been delineated to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict. The writer, a political/historical analyst, holds a doctorate in modern history from Oxford University and a masters degree in international relations from Cambridge University.