Is Israel in Violation of UN Resolution 242?

Fact & Fiction

Dr. Klinghoffer is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences (Macmillan-St. Martin’s 1999).

On Friday March 1, 2002 in an interview on Egyptian television National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice stated that"the definition of the borders of the Palestinian state must be decided during negotiations." With these words she reaffirmed the Bush administration's adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 242 and its rejection of the longstanding Arab demand reiterated by the"new" Saudi plan that Israel withdraw to the June 4, 1967 borders. For whether the Palestinians and their supporters like it or not, the fact is that Israel is not in violation of 242. The carefully crafted November 1967 resolution required Israel to withdraw from"territories," not"the territories." As then Under Secretary of State Eugene Rostow, who was intimately involved in the negotiations preceding the resolution affirms, the distinction between the two phrases was well understood at the time.

There were two reasons why Israel was called on to withdraw from"territories" not"the territories." First, there was an expectation that the peace borders would differ from the armistice borders. Those eight mile deep borders were inherently so indefensible that they led Israel's Dovish former foreign minister, Abba Eban, to call them"Auschwitz borders." Second, at least as importantly, withdrawal from"territories" necessitates negotiation between the two parties to determine the new borders. Withdrawal from"the territories" is not conditioned on such negotiations. Negotiations mean mutual recognition and, indeed, a peaceful settlement between all the regional states, including Israel. Indeed, the resolution included the appointment of a mediator to help the parties along.

This demand for negotiated borders was a direct rebuff to the Arab states which had convened in Khartoum and, on September 1, 1967 resolved to unite in achieving the withdrawal of Israel"from the Arab lands . . . within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab states abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people within their own country." Moreover, it was in Khartoum that the Saudis and the other Arab oil producers undertook to provide the"frontline" states and the PLO with financial help as long as they directed all their energies towards a future war with Israel rather than towards the overthrow of conservative Arab regimes (as they had done prior to June 1967).

Do note that 242 does not mention the Palestinians and envisions a negotiated settlement only between Egypt (which had ruled Gaza), Jordan (which had annexed the West Bank), Syria and Israel. That was the reason the Palestinians had always avoided any reference to 242. Israel, on the other hand, has always accepted 242 and has returned territories to both Egypt and Jordan within the context of peace treaties. It had envisioned doing the same with Syria and, following Oslo, with the Palestinians. Indeed, Oslo was predicated on the PLO's acceptance of 242. That was the reason that Barak offered to turn over 95% of the West Bank and Gaza to a Palestinian state within the context of a final peace agreement.

The trouble was that, prior to making his generous offer, Barak broke with the longstanding Israeli principle that negotiations must precede withdrawals by unilaterally withdrawing from Lebanon. He had wanted to snatch a strategic card from the hands of Syria and Iran but failed to appreciate the effect of the withdrawal on the Palestinian front. The Palestinians, including the Israeli Arab party leadership, celebrated the unilateral withdrawal as"Hizbullah victory." One of them, a lawyer named Riadh Anees stated:"Israel withdrew and the South was unconditionally liberated, without surrendering to any Israeli dictate, with no agreements and no concessions. This is the most important thing the Lebanese Resistance achieved…." He added:"This joy [over the Israeli withdrawal] was brought about by the Resistance [movement]. It should not be credited to Barak's [pre-electoral] promises nor to his commitments to fulfill UN Resolution 425. It was an Israeli flight from the Lebanese swamp." Another activist named Dr. Jamaal Zakhalqa wrote:"The most important feature of the [Lebanese] struggle's victory is the fact that it coincided with the negotiations towards the final solution of the Palestinian issue… . [Now, it seems that] Israel will not succeed in imposing her decisions and solutions regarding this problem…."

If ever Arafat believed that he would have to give up once and for all the dream of eliminating Israel in order to achieve an end to the conflict, by the time he reached Camp David II, he no longer believed so. Hence, his adamant refusal to sign a document"ending the conflict." The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon convinced Arafat that he, too, could achieve such a withdrawal if he used Hizbullah's terrorist tactics and made Israel bleed. Palestinian Authority Communications Minister 'Imad Al-Faluji visited Lebanon and announced:"Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. [Arafat] remained steadfast and challenged [Clinton]. He rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the US. . . . My visit here in South Lebanon is a clear message to the Zionist enemy. We say: Just as the national and Islamic Resistance in South Lebanon taught [Israel] a lesson and made it withdraw humiliated and battered, so shall [Israel] learn a lesson from the Palestinian Resistance in Palestine. The Palestinian Resistance will strike in Tel-Aviv, in Ashkelon, in Jerusalem, and in every inch of the land of natural Palestine. Israel will not have a single quiet night. There will be no security in the heart of Israel...."

In short, Arafat's mistaken belief that the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon proved that Israel cannot tolerate casualties led him to embark on a terror campaign which has destroyed thousands of Palestinian and Israeli lives in the past 17 months. Sharon's and President Katzav's offers to meet with Prince Abdullah to discuss the Saudi peace plan demonstrate that they, like Condoleezza Rice, understand the value of the principle of negotiated settlement governing SC Resolution 242.

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More Comments:

Mike Nargizian - 12/1/2002

Which book are you talking about?


Janusz Duzinkiewicz - 10/31/2002

Actions speak louder than words.

Pierre Troublion - 3/11/2002

Haven't read Dr. Klinghoffer's book, but I wonder if the "principle of negotiated settlement" (in the final sentence of this piece) includes negotiating about the future of the so-called "settlements" on the West Bank. Architecturally they may remind one of Auschwitz, but if their ultimate purpose is to be a bargaining chip to ensure against the re-establishment of "Auschwitz borders", why the apparent need of the Israeli government to defend them tooth and nail ? And in what way do these settlements serve any national interest of the United States ? Seems there's more going on here than blundering by Arafat.