(c) United Nations
On 22 November 1967, following the conclusion of the Six-Day War, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 242. The resolution provided the international community’s vision for a lasting peace deal between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
While the resolution is one of the most cited in the Israeli–Arab conflict, it is a particularly ambiguous, open-ended document, and leaves the details of a final peace deal to the parties involved. The resolution calls for an Arab recognition of the State of Israel and Israel’s “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” and for the withdrawal of Israeli forces “from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” the latter being perhaps one of its most controversial clauses.
Those words caused a heated debate about whether the resolution calls for Israel to withdraw from all or some territories acquired in the Six-Day War. Complicating matters, even more, is the fact that the resolution in French calls for Israeli forces to withdraw “from the territories occupied in the recent conflict,” seemingly implying that Israel must withdraw from all of the territories acquired, while the resolution in English doesn't include the word “the,” implying that a withdrawal from some of the territory would be in compliance with the resolution.
Several drafters of the resolution including British Foreign Secretary Lord Caradon and American Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur J. Goldberg declared that the omission of the word “the” was intentional and that the resolution does not call for Israel to withdraw from all the territories acquired in the Six-Day War.
The resolution has been interpreted by several countries, including the United States, as advocating for “land for peace,” meaning that a peace deal occurs simultaneously with Israeli concessions of land acquired in the Six-Day War. Other countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria, interpreted the resolution to mean that until Israel conceded territory there would be no peace between Israel and the Arab League. The resolution did not specify which came first: Israeli withdrawal or Arab recognition of Israel.
The resolution does not explicitly mention the words “Palestinians” or “Palestine”. Rather it calls for a just settlement of “the refugee problem”, a veiled reference to the Palestinians.
Less than a year after the resolution’s adoption, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban declared at the UN Security Council: “My government has indicated its acceptance of the Security Council resolution for the promotion of agreement on the establishment of a just and lasting peace. I am also authorized to reaffirm that we are willing to seek agreement with each Arab State on all matters included in that resolution.”
The resolution was initially rejected by Palestinian leadership until the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) accepted the resolution’s legitimacy 1988. At that time, the Reagan administration announced that it would drop the longstanding U.S. refusal to talk to the PLO if the organization met several conditions, including an endorsement of Resolution 242. Following the acceptance of the resolution, it proceeded to serve as the basis for several failed peace initiatives between Israel and the Palestinians.
While the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East has drastically changed since the adoption of the barely 300-word-long document, the resolution remains hotly contested. Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne described it as “the pivotal point of reference in all Arab–Israeli diplomacy since 1967.”