Towards a New 242 POLICY BRIEF | Jerome Segal | June 20th 2007

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, enacted almost forty years ago, has throughout that entire period remained the primary point of reference for Israeli-Palestinian peace making. 242, which received the unanimous support of the Security Council, was deliberately drafted with ambiguities and omissions. Today, it is just these limitations which need to be addressed by the Security Council in a new 242.

The Substance of 242

Following a Preamble which states “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and the need to work for a “just and lasting peace” that would allow “every State in the area to live in security,” UNSCR 242 articulates two central “principles” on which such a peace should be based:

  1. “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and
  2. “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and 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 and acts of force.”

Taken together, these two elements constituted an orientation referred to in short-hand as “land for peace.” In addition, the resolution went on to affirm the necessity of guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways (the trigger issue of the 1967 war); a just settlement of the refugee problem; and the use of demilitarized zones to promote territorial inviolability. Finally, the Resolution called on the Secretary General to designate a Special Representative to promote the effort to reach an agreement based on the above principles and provisions.

The Limitations and Ambiguities of 242

Many of the silences and ambiguities of 242 were noted at the time. These include:

Land: 242 (in its English version) speaks of withdrawal from “territories occupied” but did not speak of “all of the territory” or mention a return to the 1949 armistice line.

Jerusalem: The holy city is not mentioned at all, and it is unclear to what extent it is to be included in the term “territories.” Further, there is no mention of the holy sites within the city.
Refugees: The resolution speaks of a just settlement of the refugee problem, but is silent on content.

Palestinian State: The Resolution does not even mention the Palestinians, no less a Palestinian State, its borders and sovereign prerogatives.

Settlements: The resolution only speaks about the withdrawal of Israeli “armed forces,” not anticipating the creation of Israeli settlements.

The Current Need

In 1967, “land for peace” was far from uncontroversial. In Israel, acceptance of this framework was the central criterion for distinguishing left from right. And even after peace with Egypt was achieved, rejection of land for peace in the West Bank remained the essence of what was meant by “right-wing.” The PLO did not accept Resolution 242 until 1988; and despite lip service, 242 was rejected by many Arab nations.

Today, 242 does not offer Israel and the PLO sufficient guidance community on how concretely to resolve the remaining final status disagreements. This is unfortunate. On both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides we have weak leaders, and there is considerable doubt as to whether they have the strength to make the hard compromises that will be needed to reach a comprehensive agreement. As an outside force embodying the highest level of international legitimacy, the Security Council can lift some of the burden of compromising-for-peace off the shoulders of the parties. The need right now is for the Security Council to simply speak hard truths to both Israelis and the Palestinians – articulating clearly and forcefully the nature of the compromises that the international community expects of them.

Strong outside pressure is also needed to relieve both polities of the years of recriminations that will undoubtedly follow core compromises, in particular on the issues of refugees and Jerusalem. Such attacks can be anticipated as part of a process of de-legitimization, and to the extent that the Security Council can absorb such
animus, it will contribute to the staying power of any accord.

The Message of a New 242

To the Palestinians:

  • Israel was created as a Jewish State under international law, and will remain one if it so chooses.
  • There will be substantial compensation for refugees, but no significant return to Israel.
  • The future Palestinian State will not be allowed to develop a military capability that can endanger Israeli security.

To the Israelis:

  • Israel will have to evacuate almost all of the West Bank, with equivalent territorial exchanges for the remainder.
  • Israel must relinquish much of East Jerusalem, in line with the formula “What is Arab will be Palestinian, what is Jewish will be Israeli.”
  • Israel will have to accept some creative solution for the Temple Mount, which is not and will not be recognized under international law as under exclusive Israeli sovereignty.


The original 242 called on the Secretary General to appoint a Special Representative to promote an agreement in line with the principles of the Resolution. What is needed today, is not a Special Representative, but a determination of the Council to pursue the issue.

The stance that the Council should take is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too important to the interests of regional and global peace to be left to just the Israelis and Palestinians. Rather than merely seeking to facilitate negotiations between the primary parties, the Council should convey its determination to move the conflict towards resolution. Such a Resolution will be taken most seriously if it is understood that the Council is open to more vigorous action if the parties remain intransigent.

The Stance of the United States

The Security Council cannot pass a New 242 if it is opposed by the United States. Would the U.S. block a resolution of the sort discussed above?

The answer to this may depend in part on who is president at the time. Substantively, the proposed New 242 is quite similar to the Clinton parameters of December 2000. The one clear exception is that the Clinton parameters called for Israel, even after land swaps, to give up something less than the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank. Subsequently, President Bush’s April 14, 2004 letter to Prime Minister Sharon stated that “it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations to be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949” was initially seen as a move towards the Israeli stance on territory. But with the addition of his May 25, 2005 remarks welcoming President Abbas to the White House, in which he stated that “changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to,” President Bush cancelled any such interpretation. Taken together the two messages suggest adjustments to the armistice lines that will only be possible with territorial swaps.

The real issue for the Bush Administration is not likely to be the proposed substance of a new 242, but whether the Administration sees reason to forcefully present hard truths to both sides, and whether it wants to use the Security Council for that purpose. One attraction that this might have for the U.S. is that is provides an appropriate response to the Arab Peace Initiative (API). The API can be understood as offering Israel normalization of relations with the Arab world if it concludes peace treaties based on the Arab interpretation of the territorial provisions of 242 (withdrawal from all of the territories), plus a settlement of the refugee issue in accord with UNGA Resolution 194.

In this regard, the New 242 could be viewed as a major move towards the Arab position on territory. In exchange, it would invoke what may be termed “the impracticability loophole” in UNGAR 194. Resolution 194 said that the refugees should be allowed to return to their homes “at the earliest practicable date.” It can be argued that after sixty years of conflict and physical transformation, no significant return is practicable now or in the future. Conceived in this way, unlike the API, the New 242 would speak hard but necessary truths to both sides.

Jerome M. Segal is the Director of the Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies, and he is the President of the Jewish Peace Lobby.

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