BACKGROUNDER: Camp David 2000

Many media accounts have misrepresented the “final status” issues that are now the subject of intensive negotiations at Camp David, often distorting Oslo, UN resolutions, the demographics and history of Jerusalem, and Middle East history in general.

Thus on July 6th Reuters ran a “fact box” which grossly misstated the terms of UN Resolution 242 (passed in the wake of the June 1967 Arab war against Israel), grossly misstated the terms of UN Resolution 194 (passed in the wake of the 1948 Arab war against Israel), and greatly exaggerated the Palestinian population of the city of Jerusalem by confusing the city itself with the Palestinian Authority-designated Jerusalem Governorate, a far wider area encompassing numerous surrounding towns and villages.

In a story on July 11th the New York Times made similar errors concerning Resolution 242, informing readers that “The Palestinians want a settlement based on United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for an end to Israeli occupation of the entire West Bank and Gaza, seized in the 1967 war.” That is not what the resolution says.

UN Security Council Resolution 242

Context for the resolution: On May 15 of 1967 Egypt’s President Nasser sent columns of tanks and troops – eventually numbering 1000 top line Soviet-built tanks and 100,000 troops – across the Suez Canal and into Sinai where they continued until they reached the Israeli border. The following day Nasser ordered UN peacekeeping troops to leave the border region, where they had been stationed since 1956. The UN peacekeepers complied immediately, whereupon official Egyptian radio announced:

As of today there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain anymore to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which shall result in the termination of Zionist existence.

On May 22 Egypt blockaded Israel’s southern port of Eilat, under international law a casus belli, or act of war. On May 27 Nasser stated “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel,” and the following day he stated “We will not accept any … coexistence with Israel.”

After the war, which the Israelis won decisively, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which, after difficult negotiations, was carefully worded to require that Israel withdraw from “territories” rather than “the territories.” This construction, leaving out “the,” was intentional, because it was not envisioned that Israel would withdraw from all the territories, thereby returning to the vulnerable pre-war borders. And any withdrawal would be such as to create “secure and recognized boundaries.”

The British UN Ambassador at the time, Lord Caradon, who introduced the resolution to the Council, has stated that, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”

Our UN Ambassador at the time, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, has stated that, “The notable omissions – which were not accidental – in regard to withdrawal are the words ‘the’ or ‘all’ and the ‘June 5, 1967 lines’ … the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This would encompass “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territory, inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

The reasoning of the United States and its allies at the time was clear: Any resolution which, in the face of the aggressive war launched in 1967 against Israel, required complete Israeli withdrawal, would have been seen as a reward for aggression and an invitation to future aggression. This is assuredly not what the UN voted for, or had in mind, when it passed Resolution 242.

There is one final thing to be said concerning the missing “the.” Some commentators have argued that since the French “version” of 242 does contain the phrase “the territories,” the resolution does in fact require total Israeli withdrawal. This is incorrect — the practice in the UN is that the binding version of any resolution is the one voted upon, which is always in the language of the introducing party. In the case of 242 that party was Great Britain, thus the binding version of 242 is in English. The French translation is irrelevant

Finally, it should also be noted that by withdrawing from Sinai after the peace treaty with Egypt, Israel has already vacated 91 percent of the territories it gained in 1967.

• UN General Assembly Resolution 194

Reuters and other media outlets have uncritically accepted Palestinian claims that Resolution 194 established a Palestinian “right to return to their homes in villages and towns now part of Israel.” No such right was established; instead, in its relevant paragraph, the resolution suggested (not required, since it was passed by the General Assembly rather than the Security Council) that:

refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date … [R]epatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation [should be facilitated].

Thus the resolution required any returning Palestinian refugees to first accept living at peace with their neighbors in Israel, therefore accepting Israel’s right to exist. Very few of those refugees, even today, seem truly willing to accept this. It should also be noted that (1) the resolution applies equally to Palestinian refugees from Israel, and to the similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who came to Israel after 1948, and (2) that it placed repatriation, resettlement, and payment of compensation on an equal footing.

Finally it should be noted that all the Arab states voted against Resolution 194, precisely because it did not establish a “right of return,” and because it implicitly recognized Israel.

• How many Palestinian refugees?

Many reporters have uncritically accepted Palestinian claims that there are today roughly 4 million Palestinian refugees, and that these people were somehow expelled from Israel. Thus, the usually reliable John McWethy on ABC’s World News Tonight reported that “3.7 million refugees … were forced out of Israel and are demanding the right to return and be compensated.” Recent research by Israeli scholars such as Efraim Karsh (Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians) have thoroughly discredited authors such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe who had charged Israel with mass expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war. Of course, it should be remembered that the Palestinian refugee problem was caused by this war, and that the war was initiated by the Palestinians themselves and by the five Arab states whose armies invaded Israel the day it declared independence. It should also be remembered that the roughly 550,000 Palestinian r
efugees were not alone — there were a similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. At great expense and effort the newly born state of Israel settled these Jewish refugees. Unfortunately, the Arab states, many of them flush with oil wealth, made no such effort, often acting to keep the Palestinian refugees in continuing, festering poverty, all the better to use them as a weapon against Israel.

With regard to the Palestinian refugees today, according to the “Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – 1 July 1997 – 30 June 1998” there were 3,521,130 refugees as of June 30, 1998 (Table 1). However, the report (available at also states that:

UNRWA registration figures are based on information voluntarily supplied by refugees primarily for the purpose of obtaining access to Agency services, and hence cannot be considered statistically valid demographic data; the number of registered refugees present in the Agency’s area of operations is almost certainly less that the population recorded.

Moreover, not only does the UN admit the figures are of doubtful accuracy, there being obvious reason for families to claim more members and thereby receive more aid, the UN also admits that the total includes 1,463,064 Jordanian citizens, who cannot by any stretch be considered refugees. Indeed, if they are refugees, then the more than 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries who came to Israel after 1948 were nonetheless still refugees even after receiving Israeli citizenship, as are their descendants (since, in these claims, descendants of Palestinian refugees are themselves considered refugees). That is, there would be in Israel today at least 2 million Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Whether or not one accepts that the descendants of refugees are themselves refugees, if the claims of the Palestinian refugees are now being discussed, so should the claims of these Jewish refugees.

• Arabs refused Israel’s 1949 offer to unconditionally admit 100,000 Palestinians

As a goodwill gesture during the Lausanne negotiations in 1949, Israel offered to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees prior to any discussion of the refugee question. The Arab states, who had refused even to negotiate face-to-face with the Israelis, turned down the offer because it implicitly recognized Israel’s existence.

Despite this, on humanitarian grounds Israel has since the 1950’s allowed more than 50,000 refugees to return to Israel under a family reunification program, and between 1967 and 1993 allowed a further 75,000 to return to the West Bank or Gaza. Since the beginning of the Oslo process Israel has allowed another 90,000 Palestinians to gain residence in PA-controlled territory.

• Israeli compensation to Arabs who lost property; no Arab compensation to Jews

Arabs who lost property in Israel are eligible to file for compensation from Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property. As of the end of 1993, a total of 14,692 claims had been filed, claims were settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunums of land, more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Sheckels) had been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land had been given in compensation. Israel has followed this generous policy despite the fact that not a single penny of compensation has ever been paid to any of the more than 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were forced by the Arab governments to abandon their homes, businesses and savings.

• Jerusalem

Many press reports have repeated Palestinian claims that Israel is “ethnically cleansing” Jerusalem of its Arab residents. Some, like Agence France-Presse (AFP), have even used the offensive term “judaisation” (July 5, 2000). Once again the facts are otherwise — since 1967 Jerusalem’s Arab population has grown faster than its Jewish population. For example in the period 1967 – 1996 the city’s Jewish population grew by 113.1 percent, while its Arab population grew by 163.7 percent. Similarly, home construction in the Arab sector also outpaced home construction in the Jewish sector.

rev 11/03/2000

UN Security Council 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 the recent conflict;

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

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