Resolution 242 remains basis for peace

November 23, 2017 by Peter Wertheim
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November 22 marked the 50th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 242, unanimously adopted after much negotiation, which laid down principles for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. The resolution was born out of the Arab-Israel war of June 1967 and can only be understood in that context.

How did that war begin?

Peter Wertheim

May 1967, the Egyptian government massed 100,000 troops in the Sinai peninsula to confront Israel, ordered out the UN peacekeeping force and imposed a naval blockade cutting off maritime access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat through which, at that time, Israel imported 90% of its oil requirements.   The latter measure, a clearly unlawful act of aggression which was widely denounced as such at the time, was the proximate cause of the 1967 war.

The background cause was that Syria, Jordan and Palestinian leaders had combined in an alliance with Egypt with the loudly proclaimed aim of destroying Israel by military means. This was at a time when there was no Israeli – or Jewish – presence whatsoever in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem.

Arab media propaganda cartoons in the lead-up to the 1967 war

Nasser kicking the Jews (Israel) into the sea       Jewish skulls piled in the ruins of Tel Aviv – al-Jundi al’Arabi, Syriav                                                          Tel Aviv – al-Jundi al’Arabi, Syria

backed by the armies of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq

al-Farida, Lebanon

On 5 June 1967, Israeli forces responded with military strikes against Egyptian forces, effectively breaking the blockade and, after several days of fighting, imposing a crushing defeat on the Egyptians. On the same say, the Israelis sent a message to Jordan via the UN confirming that Israel had no intention of taking any action against Jordan unless the Jordanians attacked Israel.

Regrettably, the Jordanians rejected Israel’s offer to keep out of the fighting. Mistakenly believing that the Egyptians were gaining the upper hand, the Jordanians commenced artillery attacks against targets in central Israel and the Israeli part of Jerusalem. The Israelis responded by driving the Jordanian forces out of the remainder of Jerusalem and, eventually, the West Bank.

This history, now often forgotten, remains an important consideration in any resolution of the future status of the West Bank.

It remains relevant that Israel was not the aggressor in the 1967 war. Indeed, immediately after the war, between June and November 1967, draft UN resolutions were put forward on six occasions by the Arab States and the Soviet bloc in both the Security Council and General Assembly seeking to condemn Israel over the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Each of them was decisively defeated or withdrawn for lack of support.   Draft resolutions demanding that Israel withdraw its forces unilaterally from territories it had captured in that war were defeated or withdrawn four times. Israel had acted out of self-defence.

The legal consequence of this is that Israel became entitled to remain in control of the territories it had captured (although it did not acquire legal ownership of them) pending the conclusion of peace agreements with its neighbours. The rationale is to ensure that these territories are never again used as a base from which to launch armed attacks against Israel – as had occurred previously in 1948 and again in 1967.

The formula ‘land for peace’ – Israel relinquishing land it captured in 1967 in exchange for formal peace treaties – was given expression in UN Security Council Resolution 242.

Resolution 242 calls for a peace based on two principles: “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” (the 1967 war) and “termination of all claims or states of belligerency” and the right of “every State in the area…to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

The two principles are of equal weight and are interdependent.

The absence of the words “all” or “the” before the word “territories” was deliberate, and confirms that Israel is not required to relinquish all territories it captured in 1967. This was attested to several times in public by Britain’s Lord Caradon, the principal drafter of resolution 242. For example in an interview on the MacNeil-Lehrer Report in the US on March 30, 1978 he stated:

We didn’t say there should be a withdrawal to the ’67 line; we did not put the “the” in, we did not say “all the territories” – deliberately. We all knew that the boundaries of ’67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers, they were a cease-fire line of a couple of decades earlier… We did not say that the ’67 boundaries must be forever.”

As regards the West Bank, resolution 242 thus allows for any final border to depart from the pre-1967 line, particularly to ensure that a final border will be one which Israel will be able to defend militarily in the event of any repeat of the aggression against it in 1948 and 1967.

Resolution 242 was formally accepted by Israel in May 1968 but was rejected by Palestinian leaders for 21 years, and not fully accepted by them until 1993. It has nevertheless become one of the most frequently affirmed resolutions on the Arab–Israeli conflict and formed the basis for the negotiations that led to Israel’s Peace Treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, as well as the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords and other agreements with the Palestinians.


Resolution 242 remains internationally recognised as foundational to any future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.


Peter Wertheim is the Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.



5 Responses to “Resolution 242 remains basis for peace”
  1. david singer says:

    Great article Peter.

    Might I just add the following – which I pointed out in my article published by J Wire on 29 August 2011:

    “The main points to note concerning Resolution 242 were detailed by Dr Meir Rosenne – former legal advisor for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Member of the Israeli delegation to Camp David and a former Ambassador to France and the United States – in the following terms:

    1. The USSR proposed on November 20, 1967, to include a clause requiring Israel to withdraw to the pre-war lines of June 5, 1967, but this language was rejected.

    2. After Resolution 242 was adopted, the Soviet deputy foreign minister admitted: “There is certainly much leeway for different interpretations that retain for Israel the right to establish new boundaries and to withdraw its troops only so far as the lines it judges convenient.”

    3.Resolution 242 is not self-enforcing; Israel is not expected to unilaterally withdraw from territories to fulfil its terms. It requires direct negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

    4.According to Resolution 242, there is no Israeli obligation to withdraw prior to the achievement of a comprehensive peace. Nor is there any requirement of Israel to withdraw fully from the territories it captured in 1967.

    5.There is no reference to a Palestinian “right of return” in Resolution 242.

    By the way – Israel has already withdrawn from 95% of the territory it captured in the Six Day War. Reading what passes as responsible media reporting – one would believe Israel has not withdrawn from one square kilometer.

  2. john McCormick says:

    Peter, you need to read UNSC 2334. it turns 242 on its ear and is very dangerous. This media always refer to 2334 as a resolution about settlements. It is not that at all. Settlements are a side issue and only a minor part of it. The protest here in New Zealand that started on December 24 and developed very fast to a protest at parliament on Dec 29 shows the people rejected our national party support of 2334. The protest has continued all year, it was an election issue in September 2017 and hurt the National party both in votes and money. The issue is the status of Jerusalem and the holy sites being attacked by UNESCO in Jerusalem, Hebron and elsewhere. 2334 and the actions of UNESCO are closely linked. MP’s were bluntly told the issue was not settlements but DON”T MESS WITH THE STATUS OF JERUSALEM. This was said to MP’s by lots of people, face to face and by letter. As one National MP noted to the Whaleoil Blogger the letters were from the usual Jewish people and Christian and secular lobbyists.But this time he got lots of letters written in the Christmas holiday period from people he had never heard from before. He said he didn’t know there was an Israel Lobby in NZ. Well there is and we hit them hard this year. There are those working to put 2334 where it belongs, in file 13 and to educate people about it. The first thing people need to do is read UN SC resolutions 242 and 2334 and see the differences. Then you need to read UNGA 181 of 1947 and start to work out what is going on.
    Read the mandate document as well.
    John McCormick
    Chairman Hawkes bay Province friends of Israel
    New Zealand.

  3. Michael Kuttner says:

    Resolution 242 remains internationally recognised as foundational to any future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Perhaps someone would like to remind New Zealand the co-sponsor of UN Resolution 2334 and most of the rest of the UN about this. Today’s revisionists know nothing about Res. 242 and it is ignored. The “progressives” of this world instead prefer to pass resolutions demanding that Israel commit suicide.

  4. David Zyngier says:

    While the term ‘all’ and ‘the’ are not present in Res 242 there is International Law that prohibits population transfer to territory occupied in war nor the expropriation of land from civilian title holders etc. Israel had and continues to have NO aright to settle in these “occupied territories ” apart from a promise from an adults imaginary friend!

    • david singer says:

      Sorry to contradict you David – but there is international law that expressly legitimizes the right of the Jewish people to reconstitute the Jewish National Home in what you call “the occupied territories” but which I call “the unallocated territories” i.e the last remaining 5% of the land comprised in the Mandate for Palestine where sovereignty remains unallocated between Israel and Jordan – the two successor States to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.

      The international law I am referring to is:
      1. article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and
      2. article 80 of the United Nations Charter.

      You should take the time to read and digest this very important territory-specific international law.

      You will then understand that Jews have EVERY legal right to settle in the “unallocated territories”

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