After the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel prevented an attempt by surrounding Arab nations to destroy it militarily, the United Nations Security Council prepared a carefully-worded resolution to guide the parties. Since then, U.N. Resolution 242 has been invoked as the centerpiece for negotiation efforts, including the Israeli-Egyptian Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords and the Road Map peace plan.
But while many sources correctly describe the wording and intent of Resolution 242, others have misrepresented it as requiring Israel to return to the pre-1967 lines – the armistice lines established after Israel’s War of Independence.
Such an interpretation was explicitly not the intention of the framers of 242, nor does the language of the resolution include any such requirement.
Sometimes, the misrepresentations are redressed, as was the case when the New York Times and others corrected errors about the resolution. In other cases, inaccurate characterizations still await formal correction, as is the case with Jimmy Carter’s repeated distortion of the resolution in his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.
Below are statements by the main drafters of Resolution 242 – Lord Caradon, Eugene Rostow, Arthur Goldberg and Baron George-Brown – as well as others, in which the meaning and history of Resolution 242 are explained.
Lord Caradon (Hugh M. Foot) was the permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, 1964-1970, and chief drafter of Resolution 242.
• Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, pg. 13, qtd. in Egypt’s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967-1977, Yoram Meital, pg. 49:
Much play has been made of the fact that we didn’t say “the” territories or “all the” territories. But that was deliberate. I myself knew very well the 1967 boundaries and if we had put in the “the” or “all the” that could only have meant that we wished to see the 1967 boundaries perpetuated in the form of a permanent frontier. This I was certainly not prepared to recommend.
• Journal of Palestine Studies, “An Interview with Lord Caradon,” Spring – Summer 1976, pgs 144-45:
Q. The basis for any settlement will be United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, of which you were the architect. Would you say there is a contradiction between the part of the resolution that stresses the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and that which calls for Israeli withdrawal from “occupied territories,” but not from “the occupied territories”?
A. I defend the resolution as it stands. What it states, as you know, is first the general principle of inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. That means that you can’t justify holding onto territory merely because you conquered it. We could have said: well, you go back to the 1967 line. But I know the 1967 line, and it’s a rotten line. You couldn’t have a worse line for a permanent international boundary. It’s where the troops happened to be on a certain night in 1948. It’s got no relation to the needs of the situation.
Had we said that you must go back to the 1967 line, which would have resulted if we had specified a retreat from all the occupied territories, we would have been wrong. In New York, what did we know about Tayyibe and Qalqilya? If we had attempted in New York to draw a new line, we would have been rather vague. So what we stated was the principle that you couldn’t hold territory because you conquered it, therefore there must be a withdrawal to – let’s read the words carefully – “secure and recognized boundaries.” They can only be secure if they are recognized. The boundaries have to be agreed; it’s only when you get agreement that you get security. I think that now people begin to realize what we had in mind – that security doesn’t come from arms, it doesn’t come from territory, it doesn’t come from geography, it doesn’t come from one side domination the other, it can only come from agreement and mutual respect and understanding.
Therefore, what we did, I think, was right; what the resolution said was right and I would stand by it. It needs to be added to now, of course. … We didn’t attempt to deal with [the questions of the Palestinians and of Jerusalem] then, but merely to state the general principles of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. We meant that the occupied territories could not be held merely because they were occupied, but we deliberately did not say that the old line, where the troops happened to be on that particular night many years ago, was an ideal demarcation line.
• MacNeil/Lehrer Report, March 30, 1978:
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.
• Daily Star (Beirut), June 12, 1974. Qtd. in Myths and Facts, Leonard J. Davis, pg. 48:
It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of 4 June 1967 because those positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places the soldiers of each side happened to be the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That’s why we didn’t demand that the Israelis return to them and I think we were right not to …
• Interview on Kol Israel radio, February 1973, qtd. on Web site of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Q. This matter of the (definite) article which is there in French and is missing in English, is that really significant?
A. The purposes are perfectly clear, the principle is stated in the preamble, the necessity for withdrawal is stated in the operative section. And then the essential phrase which is not sufficiently recognized is that withdrawal should take place to secure and recognized boundaries, and the se words were very carefully chosen: they have to be secure and they have to be recognized. They will not be secure unless they are recognized. And that is why one has to work for agreement. This is essential. I would defend absolutely what we did. It was not for us to lay down exactly where the border should be. I know the 1967 border very well. It is not a satisfactory border, it is where troops had to stop in 1947, just where they happened to be that night, that is not a permanent boundary…
Eugene Rostow, a legal scholar and former dean of Yale Law School, was US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, 1966-1969. He helped draft Resolution 242.
• Telegram from the Department of State to the U.S. Interests Section of the Spanish Embassy in the United Arab Republic summarizing Rostow’s conversation with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin:
Rostow said … resolution required agreement on “secure and recognized” boundaries, which, as practical matter, and as matter of interpreting resolution, had to precede withdrawals. Two principles were basic to Article I of resolution. Paragraph from which Dobrynin quoted was linked to others, and he did not see how anyone could seriously argue, in light of history of resolution in Security Council, withdrawal to borders of June 4th was contemplated. These words had been pressed on Council by Indians and others, and had not been accepted.
• Proceedings of the 64th annual meeting of the American Society of International Law, 1970, pgs 894-96:
… the question remained, “To what boundaries should Israel withdraw?” On this issue, the American position was sharply drawn, and rested on a critical provision of the Armistice Agreements of 1949. Those agreements provided in each case that the Armistice Demarcation Line “is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims or positions of either party to the Armistice as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.” … These paragraphs, which were put into the agreements at Arab insistence, were the legal foundation for the controversies over the wording of paragraphs 1 and 3 of Security Council Resolution 242, of November 22, 1967. …
The agreement required by paragraph 3 of the resolution, the Security Council said, should establish “secure and recognized boundaries” between Israel and its neighbors “free from threats or acts of force,” to replace the Armistice Demarcation Lines established in 1949, and the cease-fire lines of June, 1967. The Israeli armed forces should withdraw to such lines, as part of a comprehensive agreement, settling all the issues mentioned in the resolution, and in a condition of peace.
On this point, the American position has been the same under both the Johnson and the Nixon Administrations. The new and definitive political boundaries should not represent “the weight of conquest,” both Administrations have said; on the other hand, under the policy and language of the Armistice Agreements of 1949, and of the Security Council Resolution of November 22, 1967, they need not be the same as the Armistice Demarcation Lines. …
This is the legal significance of the omission of the word “the” from paragraph 1 (I) of the resolution, which calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces “from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” and not “from the territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Repeated attempts to amend this sentence by inserting the word “the” failed in the Security Council. It is therefore not legally possible to assert that the provision requires Israeli withdrawal from all the territories now occupied under the Cease-Fire Resolutions to the Armistice Demarcation Lines.
• Jerusalem Post, “The truth about 242,” Nov. 5, 1990:
Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 … rest on two principles, Israel may administer the territory until its Arab neighbors make peace; and when peace is made, Israel should withdraw to “secure and recognized borders,” which need not be the same as the Armistice Demarcation Lines of 1949. …
The omission of the word “the” from the territorial clause of the Resolution was one of its most hotly-debated and fundamental features. The U.S., Great Britain, the Netherlands, and many other countries worked hard for five and a half months in 1967 to keep the word “the” and the idea it represents out of the resolution. Motions to require the withdrawal of Israel from “the” territories or “all the territories” occupied in the course of the Six Day War were put forward many times with great linguistic ingenuity. They were all defeated both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council. …
Those who claim that Resolution 242 is ambiguous on the point are either ignorant of the history of its negotiation or simply taking a convenient tactical position.
• The New Republic, “Resolved: are the settlements legal? Israeli West Bank policies,” Oct. 21, 1991:
Five-and-a-half months of vehement public diplomacy in 1967 made it perfectly clear what the missing definite article in Resolution 242 means. Ingeniously drafted resolutions calling for withdrawals from “all” the territories were defeated in the Security Council and the General Assembly. Speaker after speaker made it explicit that Israel was not to be forced back to the “fragile” and “vulnerable” Armistice Demarcation Lines, but should retire once peace was made to what Resolution 242 called “secure and recognized” boundaries, agreed to by the parties. In negotiating such agreements, the parties should take into account, among other factors, security considerations, access to the international waterways of the region, and, of course, their respective legal claims.
• The New York Times, “Don’t strong-arm Israel,” Feb. 19, 1991:
Security Council Resolution 242, approved after the 1967 war, stipulates not only that Israel and its neighboring states should make peace with each other but should establish “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” Until that condition is met, Israel is entitled to administer the territories it captured – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip – and then withdraw from some but not necessarily all of the land to “secure and recognized boundaries free of threats or acts of force.”
• The Wall Street Journal, “Peace still depends on the two Palestines,& #148; April 27, 1988:
… Resolution 242 establishes three principles about the territorial aspect of the peace-making process:
1) Israel can occupy and administer the territories it occupied during the Six-Day War until the Arabs make peace.
2) When peace agreements are reached, they should delineate “secure and recognized” boundaries to which Israel would withdraw.
3) Those boundaries could differ from the Armistice Demarcation Lines of 1949.
• Institute for National Strategic Studies, “The Future of Palestine,” November 1993:
The second territorial provision of Resolution 242 is that while Israel should agree to withdraw from some of theterritories it occupied in 1967, it need not withdraw from all those territories. The Resolution states that there should be “withdrawal of Israeli’s armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Five and a half months of vigorous diplomacy, public and private, make it very clear why the wording of the sentence took the form it did. Motion after motion proposed to insert the words “the” or “all the” before the word “territories.” They were all defeated, until finally the Soviet Union and the Arab states accepted the language as the best they could get.
Arthur J. Goldberg was the United States representative to the United Nations, 1965-1968, and before that a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He helped draft Resolution 242.
• American Foreign Policy Interests, 1988:
The resolution does not explicitly require that Israel withdraw to the lines that it occupied on June 5, 1967, before the outbreak of the war. The Arab states urged such language; the Soviet Union proposed such a resolution to the Security Council in June 1967, and Yugoslavia and other nations made a similar proposal to the special session of the General Assembly that followed the adjournment of the Security Council. But those views were rejected. Instead, Resolution 242 endorses the principle of the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and juxtaposes the principle that every state in the area is entitled to live in peace within “secure and recognized boundaries.” …
The notable omissions in language used to refer to withdrawal are the words the, all, and the June 5, 1967, lines. I refer to the English text of the resolution. The French and Soviet texts differ from the English in this respect, but the English text was voted on by the Security Council, and thus it is determinative. In other words, there is lacking a declaration requiring Israel to withdraw from the (or all the) territories occupied by it on and after June 5, 1967. Instead, the resolution stipulates withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal. And it can be inferred from the incorporation of the words secure and recognized boundaries that the territorial adjustments to be made by the parties in their peace settlements could encompass less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories.
• Christian Science Monitor, “Middle East peace prospects,” July 9, 1985:
… all parties are apparently in agreement that the basis for negotiations would be Resolutions 242 and 338 adopted by the UN Security Council. These resolutions, although often referred to in the news media, are inadequately analyzed or explained. I shall attempt to provide a measure of enlightenment.
* Does Resolution 242 as unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council require the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from all of the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 war? The answer is no. In the resolution, the words the and all are omitted. Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict, without specifying the extent of the withdrawal. The resolution, therefore, neither commands nor prohibits total withdrawal.
* If the resolution is ambiguous, and purposely so, on this crucial issue, how is the withdrawal issue to be settled? By direct negotiations between the concerned parties. Resolution 242 calls for agreement between them to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement. Agreement and acceptance necessarily require negotiations.
* Any ambiguity in this regard has been resolved by Resolution 338, unanimously adopted by the Security Council on Oct. 22, 1973. Resolution 338 reaffirms Resolution 242 in all its parts and requires negotiations between the parties concerned aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.
* Is Resolution 242 self-executing? The answer is no. Negotiations are necessary to put flesh on the bones of the resolution, as Resolution 338 acknowledges.
* Is Israel’s withdrawal confined to “minor” border rectifications? No. Resolution 242 reaffirms the right of every area state ‘to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.’
* How are secure and recognized boundaries to be achieved to enable every state to live in peace free from threats or acts of force? By negotiation, agreement, and accepted settlement.
• U.S. Senate, The Arab-Israeli Dispute, 6, pgs 14-16, qtd. in Egypt’s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967-1977, Yoram Meital, pg. 50:
At no time in my meetings with Foreign Minister Riad did I give him such an assurance [of a complete Israeli withdrawal]. It would have been foolish to make such an assurance, when the whole object of Resolution 242 was to allow flexibility in negotiations of territorial boundaries.
• New York Times, “What Goldberg didn’t say,” letters, March 12, 1980:
Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate. I wanted to make clear that Jerusalem was a discrete matter, not linked to the West Bank.
In a number of speeches at the U.N. in 1967, I repeatedly stated that the armistice lines fixed after 1948 were intended to be temporary. This, of course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. At no time in these many speeches did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory.
Baron George-Brown (George A. Brown) was the British Foreign Secretary from 1966 to 1968. He helpe d draft Resolution 242.
• In My Way, pgs 226-27, qtd. in the American Journal of International Law, “The illegality of the Arab attack on Israel of October 6, 1973,” Eugene Rostow:
[Resolution 242] does not call for Israeli withdrawal from “the” territories recently occupied, nor does it use the word “all”. It would have been impossible to get the resolution through if either of these words had been included, but it does set out the lines on which negotiations for a settlement must take place. Each side must be prepared to give up something: the resolution doesn’t attempt to say precisely what, because that is what negotiations for a peace-treaty must be about.
• Jerusalem Post, Jan. 23, 1970, qtd. on Web site of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
I have been asked over and over again to clarify, modify or improve the wording, but I do not intend to do that. The phrasing of the Resolution was very carefully worked out, and it was a difficult and complicated exercise to get it accepted by the UN Security Council.
I formulated the Security Council Resolution. Before we submitted it to the Council, we showed it to Arab leaders. The proposal said “Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied,” and not from “the” territories, which means that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories.
J. L. Hargrove was Senior Adviser on International Law to the United States Mission to the United Nations, 1967-1970:
• Hearings on the Middle East before the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 92nd Congress, 1st Session 187 (1971), qtd. in the American Journal of International Law, “The illegality of the Arab attack on Israel of October 6, 1973,” Eugene Rostow:
The provision of Resolution 242 which bears most directly on the question which you raised, Congressman, is subparagraph (1) of paragraph 1 of the resolution, which envisages “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
The language “from territories” was regarded at the time of the adoption of the resolution as of high consequence because the proposal put forward by those espousing the Egyptian case was withdrawal from “the territories.” In the somewhat minute debate which frequently characterizes the period before the adoption of a United Nations resolution, the article “the” was regarded of considerable significance because its inclusion would seem to imply withdrawal from all territories which Israel had not occupied prior to the June war, but was at the present time occupying.
Consequently, the omission of “the” was intended on our part, as I understood it at the time and was understood on all sides, to leave open the possibility of modifications in the lines which were occupied as of June 4, 1967, in the final settlement.