Six Day War of 1967 - 3rd Arab Israeli War




"... a local expression of a wider conflict."

Professor G M Adler.

6. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 


The importance of Resolution 242 is at the centre of all attempts to resolve the conflict today and critically revolves around the words “all the” and the extent of the withdrawal. 

Notwithstanding the passage of a number of weak Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire (the first of which took some thirty two hours to pass because the Russian delegation tried to include within it a condemnation of Israel as the aggressor), the fighting continued until June 10, 1967. Even then violations of the cease fire continued to occur, the last being the sinking by Egypt of the Israeli destroyer Eilat on October 21, 1967. This brought an Israeli reprisal on October 24, 1967 with the destruction of the Egyptian oil refineries at Suez. The Security Council took more than five months to arrive at an agreed Resolution. [1]

After intense diplomatic activity, the text – drafted in English - was finally negotiated and carefully crafted by Lord Caradon, head of the British delegation and approved unanimously by the Security Council on November 22 1967. 

Resolution 242 declares that the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East should include the application of both the following principles:

  • Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

  • Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment 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 or acts of force.

The Resolution also affirms further the necessity for:

    (i) for guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;

    (ii) achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;     [2]

Since Resolution 242 is often misquoted, the following points should be carefully noted: 

    a. Israeli Withdrawal “from Territories”

    i. All or Partial? 

    The sponsors of the resolution, intentionally omitted from the text the significant words “all the” before the word “territories.” 

    • The General Assembly had had presented before it four earlier draft resolutions which were more demanding of Israel and which failed to obtain the necessary support. Two of them employ language which the Palestinians continue to declare as being the UN’s intention, notwithstanding their rejection. GA A/L 522 introduced by Yugoslavia called for Israel to withdraw behind the lines established in 1948 General Armistice Agreements; Resolution A/L 523 submitted by the Latin-American Nations required Israel to withdraw “from all the territories;”

    • The Security Council had had a number of meetings between November 9 through November 22, 1967, following a request by the United Arab Republic (Egypt). Two draft resolutions had been presented to the Council; the first by India, Mali and Nigeria; the second by the USA. During the meetings two further drafts were prepared: one by Britain and the other by the Soviets. This latter draft, which included a clause requiring Israel to withdraw to the pre war cease fire lines of June 5, 1967 was rejected. Only the British draft, being a compromise between the various drafts submitted, was ever voted upon and passed unanimously; 

    • Successive British Foreign Secretaries, Michael Stewart, in November 17, 1969, and George Brown, on January 19, 1970, both confirmed to Parliament that intentional omission of the words “all the” from the Resolution and implies that Israel is not required to retreat to the boundaries in effect before 1967, namely the Armistice lines determined in 1948 - and that territorial adjustments have to be made.

    • Lord Caradon himself admitted to the same position:

      “Withdrawal should take place to boundaries which are both secure and recognized….. It was not for us to lay down exactly where the border should be. I know the 1967 border very well. It is not a satisfactory border. It is where troops had to stop, just where they happened to be that night. That is not a permanent boundary.” (Lord Caradon Interview Kol Yisrael February 1973 [3]

      Since the negotiation of the resolution was conducted in English and the language of its draft and final texts were similarly expressed, it is the English version of the Resolution which should be utilized in matters of interpretation and application. The French translation, even though an official UN document, is inaccurate. It calls for "retrait des forces arrives Isreliennes des territoires occupés lores dur recent conflit " A more accurate translation of the English text would have been "de territories". This notwithstanding, Palestinian supporters continue to quote the French text as demanding that Israel withdraw from all the territories. [4]

    ii. Withdrawal to Secure and Recognised Boundaries 

    Paragraph ii of the Resolution demands the termination of belligerency and respect the right for every State in the area "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries." This creates a problem for implementation. The term "secure" would include geographic, political and military parameters. The setting of a "secure" geographic boundary, presumes that the then existing political and military components which influence the physical location of the boundary line on the ground, will remain unchanged over time. In the Middle East this may be an unrealistic assumption. Given the rapid technological, economic, and political changes in the region, it is impossible to rely on the continuation of the present political constellations and their policies over any long term. Consequently, from a military perspective, the physical boundaries have to be set such as will provide Israel with enough strategic depth to allow her to organize and repel an attack initiated by any neighbouring state in the event of adverse changes in the political environment. [5] [6]

    b. Resolution 242 Does Not Designate The Territories as Arab or Palestinian 

    Resolution 242 makes no reference whatsoever to “Palestine” or to any “Palestinian” jurisdiction. It merely requires Israeli withdrawal from territory. It is theoretically conceivable, therefore, that some Jewish populated settlements could remain in the territories under whatever jurisdiction is established (presumably Palestinian) and subject to that law, just as many Arab villages exist peaceably within Israel proper and are subject to Israeli law. Only negotiations will determine which portion of the West Bank territories will eventually become “Israeli territory” and that which will be retained by Israel’s Arab counterpart. 

    c. Refugees 

    In referring to a “just settlement” of the refugee problem, UNSC Resolution 242 makes no reference to the refugees’ place of origin and unlike UNGA Resolution 181, neither does Resolution 242 refer to any specific means by which the refugee problem may be resolved such as a “right of return.”  Since the outcome of the Six Day War directly affected them, it might be assumed (incorrectly), that the Resolution refers obviously to Palestinian refugees. However, it must be remembered that the refugee problem was originally created as a result of 1948-1949 conflict which affected both Arabs and Jews and the short duration of the 1967 war did not exacerbate the situation significantly. While Israel has resolved on its own account the plight of the Jewish refugees, Palestinian refugees have been left to the tender mercies of their host countries and continue to be reliant upon UN and other international aid.

    Palestinain Arab refugee camps have to a great extent been physically absorbed into the urban areas close to where they were originally located and have become almost indistinguishable from them. Their populations, however, have not been fully integrated into their host societies. Apart from Jordan, neither Lebanon nor Syria, have offered Palestinian refugees the right to become citizens. 

    Thus in searching for a “just” settlement of the refugees’ problems, the responsibility of the Arab states who invaded Palestine in 1948 must be taken into account – not only for the prolongation of the Arab refugees’ plight, but also for the loss of life and property of those Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries.



    [1] See UN Resolution 242: Building Block of Peacemaking,The Washington Institute, Washington, DC, 1993




    [4] Meir Rosenne Understanding UN Security Council Resolution 242, of November 22, 1967, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

    [5] Steinitz, Amidror, Rosenne and Gold, Defensible Borders for a Lasting Peace, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem 2005

    [6] Norman Bentwich, Israel Two Fateful Years 1967-1969, Elek, London, 1970