Six Day War of 1967 - 3rd Arab Israeli War




"Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight."

Gamel Abdel Nasser,
May 3oth 1967.

The six-day war and resolution 242

- Maurice Ostroff

In discussing the implications of the six-day war, UN Security Council resolution 242 cannot be avoided. Much has been said and written about its intention and meaning, mostly centered on the sentence “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”. Does this sentence require withdrawal from all or only some of the territories?

Obviously the most reliable sources from whom to seek clarification are the persons who played key roles in drafting the resolution, British Ambassador to the UN, Lord Caradon, American Ambassador, Arthur Goldberg and US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Eugene Rostow.

In an article in The New Republic, “Resolved: are the settlements legal? Israeli West Bank policies,” (Oct. 21, 1991) Rostow wrote

“Five-and-a-half months of vehement public diplomacy in 1967 made it perfectly clear what the missing definite article in Resolution 242 means. Ingeniously drafted resolutions calling for withdrawals from “all” the territories were defeated in the Security Council and the General Assembly. Speaker after speaker made it explicit that Israel was not to be forced back to the “fragile” and “vulnerable” Armistice Demarcation Lines, but should retire once peace was made to what Resolution 242 called “secure and recognized” boundaries, agreed to by the parties. In negotiating such agreements, the parties should take into account, among other factors, security considerations, access to the international waterways of the region, and, of course, their respective legal claims”

Goldberg has clarified that although the French and Soviet texts differ from the English in this respect, the Security Council voted on the English text, which is thus determinative. He Caradon and Rostow have stated categorically that in drafting resolution 242, they deliberately omitted a demand for Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders.

In an interview in the Beirut Daily Star on June 12, 1974, Caradon stated:
"It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967 because these positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places where the soldiers on each side happened to be on the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That's why we didn't demand that the Israelis return to them, and I think we were right not to."

Professor Julius Stone, one of the twentieth century's leading authorities on the Law of Nations concurred with Rostow that the Jewish right of settlement in the territories is equivalent in every way to the right of the existing Palestinian population to live there.

In his work “Israel and Palestine - Assault on the Law of Nations" Stone wrote

“International law forbids acquisition by unlawful force, but not where, as in the case of Israel's self-defence in 1967, the entry on the territory was lawful. It does not so forbid it, in particular, when the force is used to stop an aggressor, for the effect of such prohibition would be to guarantee to all potential aggressors that, even if their aggression failed, all territory lost in the attempt would be automatically returned to them. Such a rule would be absurd to the point of lunacy. There is no such rule….”

According to Rostow , the Armistice Lines of 1949, which are part of the West Bank boundary, represent nothing but the position of the contending armies when the final cease-fire was achieved in the War of Independence. And the Armistice Agreements specifically provide, except in the case of Lebanon, that the demarcation lines can be changed only by agreement when the parties move from armistice to peace. Resolution 242 is based on that provision of the Armistice Agreements and states certain criteria that would justify changes in the demarcation lines when the parties make peace.

If suggestions for a settlement are to be meaningful, the misleading expression 'end the occupation' must be avoided and replaced by the concept of 'territorial compromise' as contemplated in the careful wording of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These resolutions require the Arab states and Israel to make peace, and that when "a just and lasting peace" is reached in the Middle East, Israel should withdraw from some but not all of the territory it occupied in the course of the 1967 war. The Resolutions leave it to the parties to agree on the peace borders.

Recommended Reading

Articles by the Late Eugene W. Rostow, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs between 1966 and 1969 who played a leading role in producing the famous Resolution 242.

Text of resolution 242