By Danielle R. Sassoon
Danielle R. Sassoon ’08 attends Harvard College and is a History and Literature concentrator living in Dunster House.
Five years ago, sixty-one Harvard professors and fifty-two MIT professors signed a petition calling for universities and American companies to divest from Israel, partly due to Israel’s failure to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from occupied territories.” The professors failed to mention, or perhaps to understand, that Resolution 242 predicates withdrawal on the establishment of safe and secure boundaries for Israel.
Since its passage on November 22, 1967, U.N. Resolution 242 has served as a framework and foundation for Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. A basis for the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, and employed and referenced in peace talks ever since, Resolution 242 seems to be one of the few areas of common ground between Israel and its neighbors. Unfortunately, many––including former President Jimmy Carter in his new controversial book––have misinterpreted the meaning of Resolution 242 and invoked it incorrectly to justify a biased political agenda. Resolution 242 has become synonymous with demands for Israel to withdraw unilaterally from the occupied territories and allow all Palestinian refugees to return to pre-1967 Israel. Yet a reexamination of the making of Resolution 242 reveals that the recent interpretation of 242 has diverged significantly from its framers’ intent.
An examination of various drafts of the resolution, as well as statements made by the document’s framers, demonstrate that Resolution 242 endorses Israeli territorial withdrawal with minor border adjustments only if predicated on mutual respect for national sovereignty and security. The fate of 242 was sealed in its making; designed to be intentionally ambiguous and to mean different things to the different parties involved, 242 was destined to fail. Though its ambiguity has allowed for 242’s longevity, it has also been the cause of its inadequacy as a foundation for peace between Israel and its neighbors.
The U.N. ceasefire that officially ended the Six-Day War on June 10, 1967 did not bring the conflict between Israel and its neighbors to a close. Despite conquering 42,000 square miles of land––more than tripling its size––Israel immediately announced its willingness to return the captured Golan Heights to Syria, the Sinai to Egypt, and a majority of the West Bank to Jordan in return for peace and free navigation. However, the defeated nations rejected the offer at the Khartoum Conference on August 29th, issuing the famous “Three Nos”: no negotiation, no peace, and no recognition of Israel. The eight Arab states demanded Israeli withdrawal from the captured territory, but refused to recognize her existence. Despite the ceasefire, Palestinian and Egyptian attacks on Israel continued. The increasingly precarious situation pressed the U.N. into action. Starting in early June, U.N. members began drafting what would become Resolution 242 in the hopes of establishing a basis for a permanent solution to the Middle East conflict.
Resolution 242 aimed to outline the principles that would direct future negotiations and lead to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement. The major players involved in the creation of the final draft, however, had competing visions of what those initial principles should be. It was clear to all involved that any settlement would be predicated on Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory. Yet, this appeared to be the only element all parties could agree upon. While Israel maintained that withdrawal should be attached to a permanent peace agreement, the Arab states initially insisted that territorial withdrawal precede any termination of belligerency.
A debate ensued in the Security Council. Arthur Goldberg, the United States permanent representative to the U.N., presented the new US “land-for-peace” doctrine, insisting that Israel should not be required to return territories without a “quid pro quo from the Arab parties involving peace, security, and recognition.” In contrast, the Soviet Union, Egypt’s and Syria’s principal arms supplier, initially supported the Arab refusal to accept Israel’s sovereignty. Alexei Kosygin, the Soviet Premier, requested an emergency General Assembly session to “bring about the liquidation of the consequences of aggression and immediate evacuation of Israeli forces behind the armistice lines.”
The General Assembly, however, did not endorse the Soviet-backed Arab accusation that Israeli aggression was responsible for the war. Instead, the Assembly suggested U.N. mediation between the parties involved. The outright Arab rejection of these motions led the Soviet Union to express frustration with “extremist Arab circles” and drove it toward a more cooperative position. As Lord Caradon, the United Kingdom Ambassador to the U.N., noted, “The Russians seem to have made every mistake that they could. Having led the Arabs into battle and having them sustain a resounding defeat, they then showed that they were ready to abandon them.” Ultimately, Lord Caradon drafted the final version of 242.
Withdrawal and territorial integrity were the most contentious and important issues facing the Security Council. Having conquered 42,000 square miles, Israel hoped to leverage its newly acquired land to its advantage. Levi Eshkol, the Israeli Prime Minister, did not want a repeat of the 1956 Suez War aftermath: Israel agreed to full withdrawal from the Sinai in exchange for Egyptian respect of Israeli territorial sovereignty and freedom of the seas, only to have Egypt repeatedly violate both conditions. The Arab rejection of the June 19th Israeli offer of land for peace and the outcome of the Khartoum Conference reaffirmed Eshkol’s security and sovereignty concerns. Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban proclaimed, “The World and the Arab world must know that there’s no turning back the clock to 1957 or 1948.” Having emerged victorious from the Six-Day War, Israel would not return to the insecure borders that had facilitated war in both 1948 and 1967. Instead, Israel insisted that future negotiations condition territorial withdrawal on the establishment of a lasting peace. While the Arab countries were unprepared to accept the “land-for-peace” doctrine, the U.N. was aware that any resolution must not only satisfy Arab demands for withdrawal, but also Israeli security concerns.
Resolution 242 addresses these security concerns in two ways. First, it conditions withdrawal on a negotiated agreement. “The Security Council… 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.” Second, the Resolution endorses withdrawal without specifying the exact borders to which Israel must withdraw, leaving room for minor border adjustments. The many drafts of the resolution clearly favor this oft-disputed interpretation. While the Non-Aligned Draft Resolution and the Soviet draft call for Israel to withdraw to “positions they held prior to June 5,” and the Latin American draft and the Indian, Malian, and Nigerian drafts refer to withdrawal from “all the territories occupied,” the American draft and final version refer to withdrawal “from occupied territory” and from “territories occupied.”
While Israel, supported by the United States, was vehemently opposed to returning to the insecure armistice lines of 1949, the Soviet Union and many Arab states argued that occupation was illegal and a full return of all conquered land was required. In the U.N. debate on Nov. 15, Mr. Jouejati, Syrian delegate to the U.N., argued, “Israel is very similar to the Nazis because it has blood on its hands and it cannot escape its guilt.” Opposing the language of the American Resolution, Mahmoud Riad, the Egyptian foreign minister, claimed, “This is merely an Israeli resolution camouflaged as an American one . . . it does not even give us the minimum of erasing the traces of the June aggression.” While the UN refrained from condemning Israel for instigating the Six-Day War, many delegates believed that Israeli occupation could not be condoned.
Different opinions concerning withdrawal played out in the conflicting language of the various drafts. The fact that both the date “June 5” (in the Non-Aligned and the Soviet drafts) and the definite article “the” (in the Latin American and Indian, Malian, and Nigerian drafts) were introduced and discarded, demonstrates their deliberate omission and the authority of the American position. The legal principle “expression unis et exclusion alterus” affirms that excluded terms must be understood as deliberately excluded and the document’s interpretation must be tailored correspondingly. As Eban argued, “Every word, long or short, which is not in the text, is not there because it was deliberately concluded that it should not be there.”
Not only is the intention discernible in the omission, but also in Goldberg’s statement to the U.N. Security Council after issuing the American draft Resolution on Nov. 7, 1967:
To seek withdrawal without secure and recognized boundaries, for example, would be just as fruitless as to seek secure and recognized boundaries without withdrawal. Historically there have never been any secure or recognized boundaries in the area. Neither the armistice lines of 1949 nor the cease-fire lines of 1967 have answered this description… secure boundaries must be mutually worked out and recognized by the parties themselves, as part of the peacemaking process.
The language endorses the Israeli view that the pre-1967 borders were neither permanent nor secure. In addition to establishing a causal link between the withdrawal clause and the Resolution’s insistence on “secure and recognized” boundaries, Goldberg emphasized that the overall aim of the Resolution was to provide a framework for future negotiations, not the define the final terms of the settlement.
Although Resolution 242 has become the foundation for Palestinian and Israeli negotiations, the document makes no reference to Palestinian statehood or to the concept of the Palestinians as a national entity. The U.N. believed that Israel would return the occupied territories to Egypt and Jordan, not to the Palestinian people. As Caradon reflected years later, “We all took it for granted that the occupied territory would be restored to Jordan.” Syria alone called attention to the Palestinian question, criticizing the British text for ignoring “the uprooted, dispossessed [Palestinian] people in exile, crying for justice for over twenty years.” As Adnan Abu Odeh, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the U.N. from 1992-95 explained on the Resolution’s 25th anniversary, “Until the June War of 1967, the parties to the conflict were identified as Arab states on one side and Israel on the other side. The Palestinian independent actor was invisible because it was merged in the Arab bloc. UNSC 242 reflected this reality.”
Despite the ample historical evidence sustaining a particular understanding of the text, other interpretations, exemplified by Carter’s book, are given voice and legitimacy today. In 1993, Nabil Elaraby, the Egyptian Permanent Representative to the U.N. from 1991-99, wrote that Resolution 242 “does not mean ‘new’ secure and recognized borders, but secure and recognized ‘existing’ borders.” While Elaraby’s claims are false and ungrounded, his misconstrued interpretation of the meaning and intent of the Resolution has become internationally accepted. Yet, those who misread Resolution 242 today are not entirely to blame. The creators of 242 intentionally cultivated an ambiguous understanding of the text, planting the seeds for 242’s divergence from its intended meaning and application in its conception.
The unanimous passage of Resolution 242 came at the expense of clarity and unanimity of intention. While Goldberg elucidated the intention of the draft language, those who voted on the text and those affected by the Resolution were not compelled to accept his interpretation. The United States successfully eliminated definitive language about full withdrawal, but each U.N. delegate adhered to a different reading of the intent of this omission. As diplomats at the time observed, the opposing parties immediately and publicly pursued their own interpretations of Resolution 242 after its passage. On the day of the Resolution’s passage, the Jordanian delegate to the U.N., Abdul Monem Rifa’i asserted, “The discussions and prevailing opinion in the Council and in the General Assembly have made it clear that the United Nations does not accept in full or in part the illegal Israeli occupation.” Though Mr. Rifa’i did not hold a Security Council vote, many of his colleagues in the Security Council espoused similar views.
Immediately following the vote, Soviet representative Vasily Kuznetsov articulated the Soviet interpretation of 242: “We understand the decision taken to mean the withdrawal of Israel forces from all, and we repeat, all territories belonging to Arab States and seized by Israel following its attack on those States on 5 June 1967.” Moments after collaborating with Goldberg to pass the resolution, Kuznetsov dismissed Goldberg’s border-adjustment logic, arguing that the clause concerning the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition trumped any consideration for secure boundaries. He argued that the security needs of Israel, “cannot serve as a pretext for the maintenance of Israel forces on any part of the Arab territories seized by them as a result of war.” The alleged “pretext” of living within secure and recognized boundaries which Kuznetsov dismisses, is provided directly in the operative language of the text. While withdrawal is conditioned on acknowledgement of sovereignty and guarantees of security, the condemnation of territorial acquisition is confined to and separated in the preamble, detached from the actual outline of principles for a negotiation.
Multiple versions of the final Resolution compounded the disagreement. While the official document was in English, the French version retained the omitted article. As the official document, the English text holds the authority, but the French and Soviets maintained otherwise. As Armand Berard, the French representative to the U.N., argued in the final discussions, “If we refer to the French text which is equally authentic with the English, [it] leaves no room for any ambiguity, since it speaks of withdrawal ‘des territoires occupés,’ which indisputably corresponds to the expression ‘occupied territories.’” By asserting that the French text was equally authentic, Berard provided further ammunition for those defending the full withdrawal position.
Armed with a different interpretation of the same text, both Israel and Arab states use the Resolution as supporting evidence for their own positions. While Arab interpretations stray from the original Anglo-American intent, they correspond to the understanding of the Soviet Union, who was deeply involved in the composition of the resolution. Israel references the statement of “secure and recognized boundaries” to justify the retention of small amounts of territory, while Arabs minimize this clause and emphasize the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition in their interpretation of complete withdrawal.
Unfortunately, the United States not only tolerated this confusion, but also encouraged it. In order to garner the Soviet support necessary to pass the draft, a fluid meaning of the document had to be cultivated. Goldberg understood that a successful Resolution required language that insinuated both Israel’s demand for limited withdrawal conditioned on peace and the Arab insistence on total withdrawal in return for a cessation of violence. Satisfying the Soviet Union meant appeasing Egypt and Jordan in their expected support for withdrawal. Seeking compromise, Goldberg eliminated all definitive language from the text. This gave the Soviet Union and France the leeway to misread their own objectives into the text, winning the necessary Security Council votes. While Goldberg informed Jordanian King Hussein that the U.S. would help Jordan regain its territory with only minor modifications, Caradon personally assured Riad that the text endorsed a return of all the territory. When Riad asked Caradon if the text meant withdrawal from only some of the territory, Caradon answered, “Of course not. The text means all and not some of the territories.” Years later, Caradon mused that the ensuing misreading of the document resulted “from wishful thinking or from natural prejudice—often from both.” Yet it is clear that he helped cultivate the various understandings of the document and relied on them for the passage of the Resolution.
Following the passage of Resolution 242, various senior American and British officials reiterated the importance of withdrawal based on secure boundaries. On Sept. 10, 1968, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson affirmed, “It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967, will not bring peace. There must be secure and there must be recognized boundaries.” Moreover, a decade later, Caradon, the primary author of the text, emphasized:
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.
Caradon was mistaken to assume that everyone knew that the boundaries of 1967 were unfit to be permanent borders. In fact, the opposite was true; many others, including those who approved his text, sought to ensure that the 1967 borders would be maintained forever. While the intent of the drafters should hold the highest authority, the Resolution was passed on too unsteady a foundation to sustain its meaning through its application.
Strong and lucid speeches given after the passage of Resolution 242 could not erase the damage that the retreat to ambiguity had already done to its legacy. Those seeking common ground with the document today do not realize that each side speaks a different Resolution 242 language, buttressing their opposing ideas with the same words but entirely different meanings. It remains unclear whether anything more definitive could have been produced at that time. It was the peak of the Cold War, American resources were devoted to Vietnam, and the Resolution addressed the problems in the Middle East at a time when the Arabs and Israelis had never engaged in direct negotiation. While 242 may have been an achievement in its own time, the region has come a long way since then—peace accords have been signed and the two-state solution has become an accepted long-term goal. Resolution 242 can continue as a false common ground and empty reference point, but it is time to lay a new foundation for peace in the Middle East.
 This paper will primarily focus on the text’s treatment of withdrawal from occupied territories, as it is of utmost relevance to current usage of 242 and to negotiations today.
 Michael Oren. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 315, 321.
 William Quandt. Peace Process. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. 46.
 Quandt 5.
 Oren 324.
 Ibid. 325.
 Qtd. in Oren 325.
 Qtd. in Oren 314.
 Rostow, Eugene. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: The Building Block of Peacemaking. A Washington Institute Monograph. Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1993. 15-16.
 United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (22 Nov. 1967). Reprinted in: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: The Building Block of Peacemaking. A Washington Institute Monograph (Washington D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1993), 81-82. <http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/240/94/IMG/NR024094.pdf?OpenElement>
 Non-Aligned Draft Resolution, 13 Jun. 1967 and Soviet Draft Resolution, 20 Nov. 1967. Reprinted in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: 71, 79.
 Latin American Draft Resolution, 13 Jun. 1967 and India, Mali, and Nigeria Draft Resolution, 7 Nov. 1967. Reprinted in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: 73, 77.
 American Draft Resolution, 7 Nov. 1967. Reprinted in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: 75.
 Resolution 242, Reprinted in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: 82.
S/PV.1377 Nov. 15 1967, Security Council Official Records. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/faa6138b684a6e8605256724004d8394?OpenDocument>
 Oren 326.
 Rostow 17.
 Qtd. in Sydney Bailey, The Making of Resolution 242. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1985. 155.
 S/PV.1377 Nov. 15 1967, Security Council Official Records. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/faa6138b684a6e8605256724004d8394?OpenDocument>
 Bailey 151.
 Qtd. in Bailey 152.
 Qtd. in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, 52.
 Qtd. in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, 42.
 Bailey 156.
 S/PV 1382 Nov. 22, 1967, Security Council Official Records. 27 Aprl 2007 <http://domino.un.org/unispal.NSF/db942872b9eae454852560f6005a76fb/9f5f09a80bb6878b0525672300565063!OpenDocument>
 S/PV 1382 Nov. 22, 1967, Security Council Official Records. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://domino.un.org/unispal.NSF/db942872b9eae454852560f6005a76fb/9f5f09a80bb6878b0525672300565063!OpenDocument>
 S/PV 1382 Nov. 22, 1967, Security Council Official Records. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://domino.un.org/unispal.NSF/db942872b9eae454852560f6005a76fb/9f5f09a80bb6878b0525672300565063!OpenDocument>
 Oren 325.
 Bailey 154.
 Qtd. in Bailey 154.
 President Lyndon B. Johnson, 10 Sep. 1968. Reprinted in U.N. Resolution 242, 147.
 The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. 30 Mar. 1978.