UN Resolution 242: The Linchpin of Israel’s Security

The 1948 restoration of Jewish sovereignty to parts of the historic Jewish homeland, under the auspices of the United Nations, was not accepted by Israel’s Arab neighbors who launched the first of several wars against it. The 1948-49 war resulted in the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Jordan and Egypt, respectively. Jordan also illegally grabbed the eastern side of Jerusalem from UN control and

  • laid siege to Jewish residents, eventually driving them out,
  • destroyed or desecrated as much evidence of Jewish patrimony as possible, and
  • forbade Jews to come and pray at their holiest site and bury their dead.

Then, in a monstrously stupid decision, the King of Jordan shelled Israel from Jerusalem in 1967 on the fourth day of a Six-day War. Israel’s defense left it in control of the illegally occupied territories, including eastern Jerusalem. Recognizing that the root of the “Arab-Israel conflict” was not where Jews lived, but that they had sovereign rights to a Jewish homeland, and that Israel should not be forced to concede territory as it had in Sinai in 1956 without concrete security, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242.

Last week’s passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 erases the guarantees of UNSCR 242.

Rather than requiring Arab recognition of the legitimacy and permanence of the State of Israel, this newest resolution expresses “grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines.” The Arabs and Palestinians are off the hook for decades of rejecting Israel peace, but the problem has been reduced to Jews building houses where the Arabs don’t want them.

Fury at the Obama administration’s betrayal of America’s ally Israel is fully warranted as is disgust with politically impotent countries such as Senegal, Malaysia, Venezuela, and New Zealand looking for relevance. But more important than venting would be a review of text of UNSCR 242 – the resolution most closely tied to the time and actual events of 1947, 1948, and 1967.

The preamble states, "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." Note the use of the word “war,” not “force” as it is generally translated. Israel’s use of force in 1967 was defensive; “war” having been initiated by the Arabs. The inadmissibility of territorial acquisition applies to “by war,” which makes sense -- otherwise an offender, in this case, the Arab States, could simply say, “Okay, status quo ante,” and wait for the next opportunity. Use of the word “security” is key as well -- the UN insisted Israel should not have a nebulous “peace” but a concrete set of conditions to create “security.”

To ensure that, the Resolution has clauses (i) and (ii):

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

The resolution not only does not specify ALL the territory. In the French translation there is a “les” (“the”), but the US and UK Ambassadors to the UN at the time and since have firmly insisted on the English translation of “territories” not all-inclusive.

Clause (ii) affirms that Israel’s withdrawal would be accompanied by:

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

Those were to be given to Israel not by the Palestinians, who did not and do not meet the requirements of a State, but the belligerents of 1948 and 1967. Egypt and Jordan have done so. Israel is still awaiting acknowledgement of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the countries that supported the war -- Algeria, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tunisia – plus the PLO. Today, Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority -- successor to the PLO in the West Bank -- accept those terms as well. The PA has refused.

Concerned that Resolution 242 didn’t go far enough in providing security for Israel, the UNSC added the necessity for:

  • “Guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area,” the proximate cause of the 1967 war;
  • “Achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.” There is no mention of Palestinian statehood; nor is there mention of the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for refugees and their descendants to parts of Israel from which they claimed to have come; and
  • “Guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones.”

It should have been simple. In 1967, the Arab states should have acknowledged that their obstructionism in 1948 was illegitimate and the establishment of Israel was legal and just. Instead, nearly 50 years later, Israel’s security requirements are reduced in Resolution 2334 to:

  • Palestinian Authority Security Forces (must) maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,
  • Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction. (It isn’t clear that this one refers specifically to the PA, but it might.)

The goal is no longer an Israel with “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” but an “urgent” need by the UN to: (i) stabilize the situation and to reverse negative trends on the ground, which are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality, and (ii) to create the conditions for successful final status negotiations and for advancing the two-State solution through those negotiations and on the ground.”

The situation would best be “stabilized” and the “conditions for successful final status negotiations” would be best advanced by returning to the original premise and original wording of UN Resolution 242.

The UN had it right once.

The 1948 restoration of Jewish sovereignty to parts of the historic Jewish homeland, under the auspices of the United Nations, was not accepted by Israel’s Arab neighbors who launched the first of several wars against it. The 1948-49 war resulted in the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Jordan and Egypt, respectively. Jordan also illegally grabbed the eastern side of Jerusalem from UN control and

  • laid siege to Jewish residents, eventually driving them out,
  • destroyed or desecrated as much evidence of Jewish patrimony as possible, and
  • forbade Jews to come and pray at their holiest site and bury their dead.

Then, in a monstrously stupid decision, the King of Jordan shelled Israel from Jerusalem in 1967 on the fourth day of a Six-day War. Israel’s defense left it in control of the illegally occupied territories, including eastern Jerusalem. Recognizing that the root of the “Arab-Israel conflict” was not where Jews lived, but that they had sovereign rights to a Jewish homeland, and that Israel should not be forced to concede territory as it had in Sinai in 1956 without concrete security, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242.

Last week’s passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 erases the guarantees of UNSCR 242.

Rather than requiring Arab recognition of the legitimacy and permanence of the State of Israel, this newest resolution expresses “grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines.” The Arabs and Palestinians are off the hook for decades of rejecting Israel peace, but the problem has been reduced to Jews building houses where the Arabs don’t want them.

Fury at the Obama administration’s betrayal of America’s ally Israel is fully warranted as is disgust with politically impotent countries such as Senegal, Malaysia, Venezuela, and New Zealand looking for relevance. But more important than venting would be a review of text of UNSCR 242 – the resolution most closely tied to the time and actual events of 1947, 1948, and 1967.

The preamble states, "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." Note the use of the word “war,” not “force” as it is generally translated. Israel’s use of force in 1967 was defensive; “war” having been initiated by the Arabs. The inadmissibility of territorial acquisition applies to “by war,” which makes sense -- otherwise an offender, in this case, the Arab States, could simply say, “Okay, status quo ante,” and wait for the next opportunity. Use of the word “security” is key as well -- the UN insisted Israel should not have a nebulous “peace” but a concrete set of conditions to create “security.”

To ensure that, the Resolution has clauses (i) and (ii):

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

The resolution not only does not specify ALL the territory. In the French translation there is a “les” (“the”), but the US and UK Ambassadors to the UN at the time and since have firmly insisted on the English translation of “territories” not all-inclusive.

Clause (ii) affirms that Israel’s withdrawal would be accompanied by:

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

Those were to be given to Israel not by the Palestinians, who did not and do not meet the requirements of a State, but the belligerents of 1948 and 1967. Egypt and Jordan have done so. Israel is still awaiting acknowledgement of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the countries that supported the war -- Algeria, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tunisia – plus the PLO. Today, Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority -- successor to the PLO in the West Bank -- accept those terms as well. The PA has refused.

Concerned that Resolution 242 didn’t go far enough in providing security for Israel, the UNSC added the necessity for:

  • “Guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area,” the proximate cause of the 1967 war;
  • “Achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.” There is no mention of Palestinian statehood; nor is there mention of the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for refugees and their descendants to parts of Israel from which they claimed to have come; and
  • “Guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones.”

It should have been simple. In 1967, the Arab states should have acknowledged that their obstructionism in 1948 was illegitimate and the establishment of Israel was legal and just. Instead, nearly 50 years later, Israel’s security requirements are reduced in Resolution 2334 to:

  • Palestinian Authority Security Forces (must) maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,
  • Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction. (It isn’t clear that this one refers specifically to the PA, but it might.)

The goal is no longer an Israel with “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” but an “urgent” need by the UN to: (i) stabilize the situation and to reverse negative trends on the ground, which are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality, and (ii) to create the conditions for successful final status negotiations and for advancing the two-State solution through those negotiations and on the ground.”

The situation would best be “stabilized” and the “conditions for successful final status negotiations” would be best advanced by returning to the original premise and original wording of UN Resolution 242.

The UN had it right once.