This paper was submitted to Professor Arie M. Kacowicz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for the subject ‘Negotiating Middle East Peace’. Please note that the paper only aims to address Resolution 242 and makes no reference to the ongoing events. However, the author believes that every nation has the right to self-determination, sovereignty, and self-defense, including the people of Palestine. The author is currently studying a Master’s degree in ‘Dynamics of Cooperation, Conflicts and Negotiation in International Relations and Diplomacy’ in Madrid, Spain, and has no political affiliation with any of the parties involved in this (asymmetric) conflict.
This essay will discuss and evaluate the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, one of the most important UN resolutions ever passed. The resolution addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict and was passed in the aftermath of the Six Days War/June War that took place in 1967. First, the immediate conflict is explained that serves as background information to the resolution. Second, Operative Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be analyzed on a clause-by-clause basis using existing literature from relevant scholars and actors. It is concluded that the resolution allows for several interpretations depending on ones preexisting bias. However, it provided good a framework for future negotiations that was unanimously approved – something that would not have been possible had the resolution attempted to solve the longstanding conflict then and there.
The Six Days War/June War of 1967 was an unintentional endeavor that no one wanted (Dowty, 2017). The Egyptian-Israeli border had been stable for 10 years, and although Palestinian freedom fighters had been attacking Israeli targets from within Jordan as well as there being the usual tensions between Syria and Israel, none of the parties seemed interested in going to war (Dowty, 2017). Indeed, perhaps the triggering mechanism that lead to the outbreak of violence came from questionable Soviet intelligence that warned Egypt that Israel supposedly was about to strike Syria, which led Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser to move troops north east into the Sinai peninsula and request the removal of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) (Dowty, 2017). Following this move, the situation in the economically invaluable maritime passages intensified and the Arab countries Jordan, Syria, and Egypt joined together in mutual defense agreements (Dowty, 2017). However, despite being outnumbered 3 to 1, Israel swiftly launched both land and, more effectively, air attacks, which in the matter of days gained them occupation of not only the Sinai peninsula and Gaza strip from Egypt but also the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria (Dowty, 2017).
To some extent, it can be argued that all moves on all parts made during the war can be categorized as defensive. Starting with the case of Egypt, it is true that the public sentiment and statements about Israel had been aggressive and Anti-Semitic leading up to the war (Dowty, 2017). However, when a powerful government such as the one of the Soviet Union warns them about Israeli military advances (however flawed that intelligence may have been), there was a need to act to protect the interests of the country and their vision for the region. At the same time, the other Arab states looked to Egypt as a leading figure in the conflict as a whole and were thus compelled to follow suit and prepare to defend themselves against a supposedly combat-ready Israel. Furthermore, from the perspective of Israel, it is possible to make the same type of claims about a defensive nature of their actions. Since Egypt had moved their military forces into the Sinai peninsula and got control of the international waterways, Israel had good arguments for defending their economic, geographic and security interests (Dowty, 2017). Additionally, it is apparent that their security was further threatened by the mutual defense agreements of the surrounding states, which border Israel on three fronts. Hence, not only was the war unintentional, it was also based on similar claims of defensive actions (Dowty, 2017).
Resolution 242 was drafted and presented by Lord Caradon who served as the Permanent Representative from the United Kingdom to the United Nations at the time (Goldberg, 2011). Given that the resolution addresses a violent conflict, hence making it about peace and war, it could (or, perhaps, should) have been be adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which would make it binding. However, as former US Ambassador to the UN Arthur J. Goldberg pointed out, the resolution was instead adopted under Chapter VI which made it “recommendatory in nature” (2011, p. 9). This nature of resolution 242 was confirmed by the former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, who said in an interview that the resolution was non-binding given that it was not based on Chapter VII of the Charter (Goldberg, 2011). Finally, the use of the word ‘should’ in operative clause (OC) 1 further indicates that the resolution was meant as a recommendation rather than a binding document. However, in order to best examine the implications of Resolution 242, it is necessary to analyze the most important parts of the resolution itself, namely OC 1 and OC 2.
Operative Clause 1
Looking at the first operative clause of Resolution 242 (Annex I), there are several elements to discuss. Addressing OC 1 subclause (i) and writing from a pro-Israel perspective, Goldberg argues that “[t]he resolution does not explicitly require that Israel withdraw to the lines that it occupied […] before the outbreak of the war” (2011, p. 44). Indeed, there is no mention of explicit dates nor specific geographical areas when and from which Israel was supposed to withdraw. At the same time, the resolution calls for states to acknowledge the sovereignty and independence of everyone in the area, meaning endorsing their right to exist. Since Israel and its borders had to be recognized by the previously reluctant Arab states, there could be no withdrawal since such recognition was given. Hence, through the wording of OC 1, Israel effectively had the opportunity to trade land for peace and recognition, which they had been fighting for persistently.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that OC 1(i) does not include the words “all” nor “the” when mentioning the occupation of territories. This gives even more leeway for negotiation between the states about where the Israeli borders were to be determined (Dowty, 2017; Lapidoth, 2011). Although it is true that the French version of the resolution says “des” (from the) when mentioning the territories, Lapidoth points out that French Security Council Ambassador Bernard publicly announced that the phrasing incontrovertibly refers to and means the same as the English phrasing (2011). As a final point in favor of Israel, Lapidoth (2011) discusses the second preamble in the resolution, which states the “inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war” (United Nations, 1967, p. 1). He argues that “[t]he distinction between the terms “acquisition” and “occupation” in terms of territory, is very significant” (Lapidoth, 2011, p. 10). Since the resolution addresses Israel’s “occupation” of territories and not their “acquisition”, Lapidoth’s conclusion is that their actions were not illegal, since only “acquisitions” were denounced (2011).
Conversely, writing from a pro-Arab perspective, Neff (1994) argues that OC 1 of the resolution indeed did require Israel to withdraw from exactly those territories that were occupied in the June War. This argument is based on several quotes from relevant actors, the first of which is a statement by Lord Caradon, the drafter of the resolution. Neff points out that Lord Caradon himself wrote that “[t]he test was which territories were occupied. That test was not possibly subject to doubt. As a matter of plain fact East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan and Sinai were occupied in the 1967 conflict; it was on withdrawal from occupied territories that the Resolution insisted” (1994, p. 26). Albeit it that this quote still is somewhat vague (omitting the use of defined articles), it still shows that the intention of the clause may not have been as arbitrary as others made it out to be. Moreover, Neff uses the words of Henry Kissinger to further his further his defense of Israeli withdrawal, which stated that the only reason Jordan acquiesced to the resolution was because of a promise made by Ambassador Goldberg that little modification would be made to the pre June 5th borders and that the United States would help them obtain a role in Jerusalem (1994). It is possible that had those promises not been made, Resolution 242 may not have been passed unanimously.
Operative Clause 2
OC 2 of Resolution 242 outlines three necessities, the first of which is to ensure that the international waterways allow free movement and navigation (United Nations, 1967). This subclause (a) is a very important question both in terms of geopolitical strategy but also in terms of economics. It was only recently that the massive cargo ship MV Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal, a canal that opened in 1869 located in northeasterly Egypt through which approximately 12% of global trade passes through (BBC, 2021). While it is difficult to determine the cost of the 7-day blockade, it is reported that the ship held up almost $10 billion of trade per day (BBC, 2021), highlighting the importance of waterways in the area. Specifically related to the conflict status in 1967, Goldberg states that the language of OC 2(a) “underscores the fact that blocking Bab el Mandeb and other points of access to the Red Sea is prohibited” (2011, p. 44). Although, despite the fact that there was general consensus on securing free navigation in the area, McHugo writes that the language used in the subclause allows for the interpretation that this does not apply to all the international waterways (2006). Once more the ambiguity of the resolution allows for several understandings.
The second necessity of OC 2 is to achieve a solution to the ‘refugee problem’ United Nations, 1967). As Goldberg mentions, the omission of any reference to Palestinians, Palestine, or the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is quite notable (2011). Indeed, the language used presumably refers to all refugees of the conflict, Jewish and Arab alike (2011; Lapidoth, 2011). This is part of the reason why it took over 20 years for the Palestinian leadership to acknowledge the resolution, which they did in November 1988 (Dowty, 2017). From the Arab perspective, however, the claim was that the resolution inferred an endorsement of Resolution 194 (1948), which was interpreted as allowing for the right of return of the Arab (Palestinian) refugees (Lapidoth, 2011). Yet, as Lapidoth explains, “[i]f there had been an intention to incorporate GA Resolution 194 (111), it should have been said expressly. One cannot read into a resolution something which is not mentioned nor hinted at in it” (2011, p. 13). Again, it is vital to stress that the ambiguity of Resolution 242 is why it passed, since each party could interpret uniquely and take away from it only the elements that were favorable in eyes of the beholder.
The third and final necessity of OC 2 is found in subclause (c), which echoes above notions of sovereignty but more importantly emphasizes the importance of establishing demilitarized zones (United Nations, 1967). These demilitarized zones are yet another attempt at ensuring ‘negative’ peace processes, which is only effective in the short run and not adequate for ensuring long-lasting self-sustaining ‘positive’ peace (Miall, Ramsbotham, and Woodhouse 1999). Furthermore, where the demilitarized zones were to be established is (unsurprisingly) not defined in the text, and it was up to the states to continue negotiating on that front, like for instance Egypt and Israel did at Camp David (Goldberg, 2011).
Operative Clauses 3 and 4
OCs 1 and 2 are undoubtedly the most controversial and debated clauses of Resolution 242, greatly overshadowing 3 and 4 with their ambiguity and room for interpretation. OCs 3 and 4 are much more specific but were allowed to be so since their messages were of little controversy. The only contestation of OC 3, requesting the designation of a Special Representative to facilitate communication and negotiations between the states, would have been on the choice of such representative. However, the Secretary General chose wisely to appoint a Swedish diplomat, Gunnar Jarring, who came from a region in the world that was (and still is) looked favorably at in terms of international mediation. OC 4 simply mirrors the recurring statements of most resolutions that declares that the parties will remain actively seized on the matter. Overall, OCs 3 and 4 were the most clearly written and were the only ones not to spark heated debates.
It is notable that OCs 1 and 2 (as well as the less impactful OCs 3 and 4) omit any at all reference to Jerusalem, which is probably the most contested geographical space in the world, since the UN had passed previous resolutions suggesting that the cultural and religious emblem be subjected to international rule (Goldberg, 2011). It is quite obvious, though, that the decision not to include the question of Jerusalem would have been counterproductive to the ambiguous nature of the resolution.
This essay had the objective of analyzing each Operative Clause of Resolution 242 and discuss the implications of the much-debated document from 1967. This was done by thoroughly going through each sentence of the resolution and their meaning as well as engaging with existing scholarly literature from both sides of the conflict. It was seen that the ambiguity of the resolution allowed for several interpretations of each Operative Clause, especially 1 and 2, which addressed the most contentious elements of the conflict. The most significant outcome was the notion of land for peace, which entailed that the Arab Countries had to recognize Israel in order to negotiate their withdrawal from the occupied territories. However, no specifics were mentioned in the resolution, which is both why it was unanimously adopted yet not apt for direct implementation. Overall, Resolution 242 is a controversial document with many possible interpretations, the symbolic value of which cannot be understated.
 The border between Egypt and Israel had already been internationally recognized in the Camp David Accords (Goldberg, 2011).
 Goldberg furthers this point by stating that it is logical to include refugees from both sides, since he estimates that an approximately equal number of Jews and Arabs left their homes over the course of several wars (2011).
 General Assembly resolution are not binding – they serve as recommendations.
BBC (2021). “The cost of the Suez Canal Blockage”, published on March 29th by Mary-Ann Russon. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56559073. Last accessed 30/03/2021.
Dowty, A. (2017), Israel/Palestine, fourth edition. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Goldberg, A.J. (2011), “What Resolution 242 Really Said”, American Foreign Policy Interests, 33, p. 41-46.
Hugh Miall, Tom Woodhouse, Oliver Ramsbotham (1999), Contemporary Conflict Resolution, second edition. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Lapidoth, R. (2011), “The Misleading Interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967)”, Jewish Politics Studies Review, 23 (3/4), p. 7-17.
McHugo. J. (2006), “Resolution 242: A Legal Reappraisal of the Right-Wing Israeli Interpretation of the Withdrawal Phrase With Reference to the Conflict Between Israel and the Palestinians”, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 51, pp. 858–9.
Neff, D. (1994), “The Clinton Administration and UN Resolution 242”, Journal of Palestine Studies, 23 (2), p. 20-30.