UNSCR 242 Does Not Require Israel to Withdraw from Arab Territories Captured in 1967

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What the UN Security Council Resolution Really Says

1/   An endlessly repeated claim is that Israel is legally required to withdraw from territory it occupied in the 6-Day War of 1967.  This is based on the preamble to UNSCR 242 which referred to the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.

2/   The background is this:  at the end of the war Israel occupied parts of two states:  the Egyptian Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights.  These were clearly part of Egypt and Syria respectively.  By contrast, the legal status of the West Bank and Gaza was not similarly clear as they had been seized by Jordan and Egypt during the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948.  Therefore, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war could be considered to have applied to both territories in addition to the concern to prevent their use in further attacks against Israel.

3/   Since the UNSCR 242 of 1967, the Sinai has been returned to Egypt whereas the captured Golan is still in Israeli hands.  Why the difference?  The answer is simple and very instructive.

4/   The UNSCR 242 notably made no demand for a unilateral withdrawal by Israel.  But it could have done so.  Therefore, the key question is this: if the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war is indeed an overriding principle of international law, as some claim, why was Israel not required to withdraw unilaterally?  

5/   The answer is straightforward.  Recall that a prime raison d’etre for the creation of the UN was to prevent wars between states.  Therefore, because Israel had been attacked previously by Arab states, it made no sense to return territories without believable assurances and security arrangements that those territories would not be used for repeated attacks.  

6/   As a result, instead of a demand for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from captured territories, UNSCR 242 proposed a package of measures designed to secure future peace and security.  These measures included:

Termination of all claims or states of belligerency,

Respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area, 

Their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

7/   In other words, the package was based on the acceptance of the right to exist of all states in the region, with recognized and secure borders.  For Israel, this emphasized the right not to be attacked.  That is, any Israeli withdrawal from captured territories was linked to protective measures to keep Israel secure from future attack – and thus minimize risks of further wars.  

8/   Subsequently, in 1978, Egypt and Israel agreed a peace treaty, as envisaged by UNSCR 242, in which Egypt abandoned any claim to Gaza.  Consequently, the Sinai was returned to Egypt.  On the other hand, although Syria has supposedly accepted UNSCR 242, it has refused to agree a similar peace treaty and instead continues a formal state of war with Israel.  Further, it allies itself with those who openly call for the destruction of Israel.  Consequently, the Golan has not been returned to Syria.  Why would anyone expect anything else?


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