The withdrawal clause of UNSC Resolution #242


For decades, the government of Israel and its propagandists in the West (including CAMERA and Jerold Auerbach) have been falsely claiming that UNSC Resolution #242 obligates Israel to withdraw only from some of the territories it conquered during the Six Day War, not all, because the words “all” and “the” are omitted from the text. Some extremists, such as Auerbach, even interpret it as allowing the Israel to retain all of these lands until a comprehensive peace agreement is reached and then obliging Israel to withdraw only to “secure and recognizable borders”.

But is that true? The answer is no.

Firstly, the claim of extremists like Auerbach is not just false, it also has the text and logic of the Resolution upside down. The Resolution says that Israel must first withdraw from territories it had conquered during the Six Day War, and then, a comprehensive peace agreement must be brokered and all countries in the region (not just Israel) must get secure, recognizable borders (Lord Caradon, the author of the Resolution, said that they would not be secure unless they would be recognized by others).

Secondly, and pertaining to the most famous question related to the Resolution, does the text of the Resolution oblige Israel to withdraw from all territories acquired during the Six Day War or only from some?

The full text of the Resolution is as follows:

[text of the resolution]

Both Lord Caradon, the UK Ambassador to the UN at the time, and Arthur Goldberg, the US Ambassador at the time, said that the omission of the words “all” and “the” was deliberate. This was certainly true, and it was certainly done to satisfy Israel and its lobby in the US.

But the truth is that even despite the absence of these two words, the resolution still requires Israel to withdraw from all territories. This is due to several reasons: the meaning of the Withdrawal Clause itself in the English language; other provisions of the Resolution; the more clear text of the French version of the resolution; statements made by the Resolution’s author after it was adopted; and the statements made by the representatives of at least 10 UNSC member states at the time that this resolution requires total withdrawal.

The meaning of the withdrawal clause

The withdrawal clause of the Resolution speaks of “withdrawal of Israeli troops from territories occupied during the recent conflict”. Notice the lack of the words “all” and “the”. Does it mean that Israel is obliged to withdraw only from some territories? In other words, what does it mean in the English language?

To answer that question, let’s check what such requirements without definite articles mean. Suppose you go to Central Park and you see this sign:

“DOGS MUST BE KEPT ON LEASHES NEAR PONDS”

Does this mean that only some dogs must be kept on the leash, or that this rule applies only near some ponds? Of course not. Let’s suppose you read a newspaper and you see this clause in a job opening:

“Applicants must supply their CV and a cover letter.”

Does this mean that only some applicants are required to supply their CV and a cover letter? Of course not. For the same reason, despite the lack of a definite article in the English version of the resolution, it still requires Israel to withdraw from ALL territories it acquired during the 1967 conflict, not just some.

Moreover, the “some” interpretation of this clause is dangerous for Israel and for the entire civilized word, because it would mean that another clause of this resolution – the one which requires “freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area” – could be interpreted by Arab states as requiring them to guarantee “freedom of navigation” only through SOME international waterways in the area (there is no “all” or “the” before the word “international”). This would be not only ludicrous, but also dangerous for Israel and for the entire civilized word, because Arab states would then be allowed to choose which waterways will remain open and which will be closed.

Other parts of the Resolution

UNSC Resolution #242 consists of only one, albeit very long, sentence. Because of this, it constitutes one, integral whole, not a collection of lofty statements. Therefore, it cannot be credibly interpreted or applied as anything other than an integral whole, and one cannot credibly hide behind, interpret, or apply one clause of the Resolution while disregarding the others.

The Resolution not only commands Israel to withdraw from territories it acquired during the Six Day War, it also “emphasizes” the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war (a legal principle dating back to at least the times of the League of Nations and embodied in the UN Charter), requires that “freedom of navigation through international waterways through international waterways” be guaranteed, requires that there must be a peace agreement, requires that all states in the region must have “secure, recognizable borders”, requires a solution to the problem of Arab refugees, and calls on the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy to the Middle East.

Taken together, these clauses cannot be credibly interpreted as calling for anything other than total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Israel acquired several territories during the Six Day War: the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The principle of the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war, by itself, obligates total withdrawal, and taken together with all other parts of the Resolution, including the withdrawal clause, it means nothing short of total withdrawal.

The principle of inadmissibility of territorial conquest, like all other principles of “inadmissibility”, is absolute, not partial. Claiming that you can retain some territories conquered during the Six Day War and still comply with the resolution is like claiming that you can have sex only from time to time and still be a virgin, or that a country can give up certain attributes of sovereignty and still remain sovereign. Either something is inadmissible (i.e. prohibited), or it is not.

The Israeli Foreign Minister at the time, Abba Eban, understood this, which is why he fought hard to have the principle of inadmissibility and any phrase like “during the recent conflict” removed from the text of the resolution. He failed. Therefore, the Resolution was hardly a triumph for Israeli diplomacy. Eban wrote privately:

“The words “in the recent conflict” convert the principle of eliminating occupation into a mathematically precise formula for restoring the June 4 map.”

This was an admission by the Israeli Foreign Minister himself that the resolution does command total withdrawal to the pre-war armistice lines.

Moreover, the usage of the phrase “territories occupied in the recent conflict” means that these territories are to be treated, for the purposes of the resolution, as one, integral whole, so withdrawal from only some territories would mean only partial compliance with the resolution.

Eban fought hard to have both phrases removed from the Resolution; the Ambassadors of the US, Canada, and Denmark joined him; but he failed. The fact that he fought so hard proves that he understood what these phrases meant and that they were unfavorable to Israel.

The French version

Although the language version which the UNSC adopted was the English version, it is not true, as CAMERA and other Israeli lobbyist organizations have claimed, that it is the only authentic and legally binding one.

Under the UN’s own rules, whenever a resolution is adopted, both the English and French versions of UNSC resolutions are equally authentic and legally binding. There is no way any UN member state can claim that only the English version or the French version is legally binding. Both of them are legally binding. We know this from the UN’s rules, from its history, and from the Vienna Convention. If French versions  were not to be equally authentic and legally binding on par with all English ones, France would’ve never joined the UN. That is a fact. Ask any French, British, or American diplomat and he’ll confirm this for you.

Moreover, the Vienna Conventions provide that, regarding pieces of international law, unless in a specific case the parties to an agreement agree that one designated language version shall prevail over the others, all language versions are equally authentic and legally binding.

The Israelis themselves have never denied this; instead, they claim that the French version is an exact idiomatic rendering of the English one and does not define the extent of the withdrawal. (In other words, they claim that the French version is identical to the English version.)

This still commands total withdrawal, however, because the English version requires it, as proven above. The French version, however, is even CLEARER on the subject of the required extent of withdrawal than the English one. It speaks of “retrait des forces israeliennes des territoires occuppees lors du conflict recent”.

What does the phrase “des territoires occuppees” mean? The French article “des” is a plural article in both definite and indefinite cases. In definite cases, it’s a combination of de+les, the plural counterpart of “le” and “la”. In indefinite cases, it’s the plural counterpart of “un” and “une”.

Well, the French Ambassador to the UN at the time, Mr Berard, allowed no doubt as to which case the French text of the Resolution uses: the definite one. He said that the French text of the Resolution makes it clear that Israel is required to withdraw from ALL territories occupied during the Six Day War. Therefore, it’s no wonder why CAMERA and some other groups try to instead claim that the French text is irrelevant and not legally binding.

But that doesn’t help their case, because the English text, although a little less clear than the French one, still doesn’t allow for any interpretation – it requires total withdrawal, not partial withdrawal.

Other countries’ representatives’ statements

During the discussion before the Resolution was finally adopted, the representatives of at least 10 countries, including Britain, the Soviet Union, India, Mali, Nigeria, France, Ethiopia, Argentina, and Brazil, stated that the Resolution clearly requires total Israeli withdrawal. The US Ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, was sitting quietly and didn’t respond to any of these statements, thus neither agreeing nor disagreeing with them.

Lord Caradon’s statements

The author of the text that was finally adopted as Resolution #242, Hugh M. Foot, commonly known as Lord Caradon, has, since 1967, made statements which make it clear that – at least in his opinion, and he was the author of the resolution, so he knew best what it means. Contrary to the myths that have been spread by the Israeli lobby, Eugene Rostow and Arthur Goldberg were not co-authors of the resolution; Lord Caradon was the sole author. He started with the bland text written by Goldberg and then modified it significantly to make it acceptable for all veto-wielding members of the UNSC.

In 1981, after he retired as UK Ambassador to the UN, Lord Caradon made two statements which confirm beyond reasonable doubt that his resolution requires Israeli withdrawal from ALL occupied territories, not just some. The first was this:

 

The second one was his condemnation of what he called “Israeli colonialism in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.”

 

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