Middle East History: It Happened in November; the Passage of U.N. Resolution 242

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MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN NOVEMBER; The Passage of U.N. Resolution 242

It was 26 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1967, that landmark Resolution 242 was unanimously passed by the United Nations Security Council. The resolution was deceptively simple and brief, a mere 292 words. Since then it has been repeatedly cited by all parties to the Middle East conflict as the basic building block for peace.

The text of the resolution is worth recounting in full:

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 an 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.(1)

The failure to call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from "the" or "all" territories occupied in the June 1967 war was considered at the time as an exercise in creative ambiguity. As later events proved, it was a failure of U.S. statesmanship and a triumph of Israeli strategy. The failure to call for total withdrawal, which came at Israel's urgings, has since become the focal point of endless bickering over just what the council meant about the expected extent of withdrawal by Israeli forces. It has also become a classic example of how Israel successfully manipulates U.S. policy to its own ends.

The failure to call for total withdrawal came at Israel's urgings.

Originally, the justification behind the construction "withdrawal ... from territories" was to leave room for Israel and its Arab neighbors to adjust the impractical 1949 armistice lines left over from the 1948 war. Although most council members wanted to demand Israel's total withdrawal, it did seem an eminently practical idea to allow for changes, since there were zigs and zags in the 1948 lines that were potential friction points. Ideally, the post-war period was a time when they could be straightened out to both sides' advantage under a U.S. formula of "minor" and "reciprocal" changes.

One such minor frontier rectification envisioned was the Latrun Salient, a small protrusion of land held by Jordan in the Latrun Plain that blocked direct motoring between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Top U.S. officials mentioned the Latrun Salient to Arab officials as an example of the type of minor change in the frontier they envisioned under 242--and of the reciprocity they expected for this concession. …