United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 242, responding to the Six-Day War of June, 1967. The resolution’s “land for peace” formula called for withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territories they had captured in the war. In return, Israel was to receive an end of belligerency by the Middle Eastern Arab states, full recognition by those states, and an acknowledgement of the right of the Israeli people to live in peace and security.

Summary of Event

On November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 242 in order to bring a stable peace to the Middle East in the wake of the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab states. Ironically, while the June, 1967, war had lasted only six days, it had taken six months to craft this acceptable formula for peace. United Nations;and Palestine[Palestine] Security Council Resolution 242, U.N. Israel;occupied Palestinian territories Six-Day War (1967)[Six Day War] [kw]United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242 (Nov. 22, 1967) [kw]Security Council Adopts Resolution 242, United Nations (Nov. 22, 1967) [kw]Resolution 242, United Nations Security Council Adopts (Nov. 22, 1967) United Nations;and Palestine[Palestine] Security Council Resolution 242, U.N. Israel;occupied Palestinian territories Six-Day War (1967)[Six Day War] [g]Middle East;Nov. 22, 1967: United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242[09500] [g]Israel;Nov. 22, 1967: United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242[09500] [g]Palestine;Nov. 22, 1967: United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242[09500] [g]United States;Nov. 22, 1967: United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242[09500] [c]United Nations;Nov. 22, 1967: United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242[09500] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Nov. 22, 1967: United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242[09500] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 22, 1967: United Nations Security Council Adopts Resolution 242[09500] Thant, U [p]Thant, U;and Palestine[Palestine] Eshkol, Levi Nasser, Gamal Abdel [p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;war with Israel Hussein I Eban, Abba Foot, Hugh Mackintosh Goldberg, Arthur J. Dobrynin, Anatoly Fyodorovich

When, on May 18, 1967, Egypt requested that U.N. peacekeeping troops leave positions along the Egyptian frontier and Israel refused their redeployment on Israeli soil, the stage was set for conflict. Five days later, Egypt closed the Strait of Tīrān to Israeli shipping, and both sides repositioned troops, escalating toward war. The conflict activated the Security Council in New York to defuse the situation and brought Secretary-General U Thant to the region. Diplomacy failed to stall the warring parties, however. On June 5, Israel bombed the Egyptian air force and occupied Sinai.

On June 7, after Israel had decisively defeated the Egyptian forces, the Security Council called for a cease-fire, and Israel, Egypt, and Syria concurred. Each side blamed the other. Normally, the United Nations would call for the withdrawal of occupying troops, in this case the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Egyptian and Jordanian territory. Some feared, however, that a return to the status quo would provide only a brief respite before the conflict resumed. Israel took advantage of its momentum to capture the entire West Bank West Bank and the Golan Heights Golan Heights . By June 10, the war ended, as Israel had decisively defeated all participating Arab armies.

Time was on Israel’s side. On June 12, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol announced to the Knesset (the Israeli legislature) that Israel would not return to its prewar positions. By June 27, Israel annexed East Jerusalem East Jerusalem , and within months there were four military settlements in the West Bank.

The Soviet Union requested an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly, where more specific proposals to deal with the Middle East situation emerged. On June 13, a group of nonaligned nations submitted a resolution that would call upon “Israel to withdraw immediately all its forces to the positions they held prior to June 5, 1967.” A proposal by Latin American nations, however, linked withdrawal from “all the territories occupied” to the requirement of Arab nations “to end the state of belligerency” and “to establish conditions of coexistence.” It also dealt with other issues, including free transit on waterways, the refugee problem, and the establishment of Jerusalem as an international city. This latter resolution failed to attain the two-thirds vote needed for passage.

At this point, U. S. president Lyndon B. Johnson Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;relations with Israel and Soviet premier Aleksey Kosygin Kosygin, Aleksey met for a summit Cold War;summit meetings at Glassboro, Glassboro summit meeting (1967) New Jersey. On June 19, Johnson announced his position, which included many of the same points as the Latin American proposal, but he qualified his statements concerning withdrawal. Over the next several weeks, Soviet ambassador Anatoly Fyodorovich Dobrynin and U.S. ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg began working with Latin American representatives to reach a compromise. At its heart was the principle that the conquest of territory by war was impermissible. Two issues were thus linked: Israeli withdrawal from conquered territories and the immediate acknowledgment of the right of neighboring states in the Middle East to live in peace and security. Neither Israel nor the Arab states accepted this compromise, so the revised resolution never reached the floor for a vote. The General Assembly adjourned for its August vacation without a solution.

In the meantime, Arab leaders met in Khartoum. By then, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and King Hussein I of Jordan acknowledged the need for negotiation along the principles already set forth in New York. However, the position of Syria and Saudi Arabia prevailed, leading to an announcement that included the memorable sound bite “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

In September, diplomacy shifted back to the Security Council. However, it was obvious that there were two conflicting positions: one that Israel must completely withdraw from conquered territories, the other that Israel could determine the extent of its withdrawal in accordance with its needs for security and peace. The five permanent Security Council members were paralyzed, each fearing a veto by another. In October, a proposal finally emerged from six of the ten temporary members, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali, Brazil, India, and Argentina, calling for total withdrawal. Canada and Denmark, also temporary members, countered with a resolution that merely spoke of the general principle that no nation should occupy another.

In early November, the United States offered its own proposal. Partly a revision of earlier proposals, the new American version made two significant changes: It relegated the withdrawal issue to one issue among many, and it introduced the phrase “secure and recognized boundaries,” suggesting that the final borders between Israel and its neighbors were to be determined later. Three alternative resolutions were also proposed, including one from India, Mali, and Nigeria and another from the Soviet Union that contained the language that withdrawal should be “from all the territories occupied.”

Finally, on November 12, Hugh Mackintosh Foot of Great Britain offered the resolution that would eventually be approved. The key component of this proposal was that withdrawal by Israel “from territories occupied in the recent conflict” was linked to an end of belligerency by the Arab states and full recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace within secure and recognized boundaries. Other issues, such as the plight and status of refugees and the freedom of navigation, were also listed as items of concern. Foot refused to allow any amendment of his resolution. On November 22, after extensive discussion and clarification of views, the resolution passed unanimously. Thant appointed Gunnar Jarring special representative to the region.

Significance

The key to understanding Resolution 242 is its framework under Article 6 of the U.N. Charter. This was not a legal document to be enforced, but a launching pad offering principles for negotiation. Ultimately, only the applicable parties could achieve a just and lasting peace.

Interpretation of the resolution in the ensuing decades has been divided. In particular, there is disagreement about whether the resolution called for total or partial withdrawal by Israel. Already in the deciding session, Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban announced that Israel would consider only the English version of the resolution, which spoke of withdrawal from “territories occupied,” not “the territories” or “all territories.” In contrast, the French version called for “retrait des forces armées israéliennes des territoires occupés lors du recent conflit” (withdrawal of armed Israeli forces from the territories occupied during the recent conflict).

Many have appealed to assurances given by Foot himself and statements made by diplomats at the time of their vote for guidance as to the meaning of the resolution. In spite or perhaps because of its ambiguity, Resolution 242 prevailed and became one of the most frequently cited U.N. resolutions. Its test came in 1979 with the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Later, the Madrid Conference in 1991 and subsequent Oslo accords were based on Resolution 242, confirming its place at the heart of all discussions of the Middle East peace process. United Nations;and Palestine[Palestine] Security Council Resolution 242, U.N. Israel;occupied Palestinian territories Six-Day War (1967)[Six Day War]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bailey, Sydney Dawson. The Making of Resolution 242. Boston: Kluwer Academic, 1985. Diplomatic history surrounding the Six-Day War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bowen, Jeremy. Six Days: How the 1967 War Shaped the Middle East. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005. A political history of the war that criticizes Israelis and Arabs alike.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Korn, David A. The Making of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242: Centerpiece of Arab-Israeli Negotiations. Washington, D. C.: Georgetown Institute of the Study of Diplomacy, 1992. Designed for classroom discussion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Odeh, Adnan Abu, et al. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: The Building Block of Peacemaking. Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1993. Collection of presentations by diplomats at symposium on twenty-fifth anniversary of resolution. Appendix includes original documents.

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