How U.N. schemers damaged Mideast peace prospects

Stuart Littlewood
Stuart Littlewood
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Why, after 65 years, is the Palestinian homeland still under foreign military occupation and total blockade when international law and the United Nations say it shouldn't be?

And why have the Palestinians been pressured – yet again - to submit to "direct negotiations," lamb versus voracious wolf, to haggle and plead for their freedom?

The answer appears to lie in the deliberate hash made of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967. Here is what it said:

The U.N. Security Council:

Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,

Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,

1. Affirms that the fulfilment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories [i..e. Gaza, West Bank including Jerusalem, and Golan Heights belonging to Syria] occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) 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;

2. Affirms further the necessity

(a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;

(b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;

(c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;

3. Requests the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;

4. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representative as soon as possible.

It was adopted unanimously.

Article 2 of the U.N. Charter referred to states, among other things, that all Members "shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered" and "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations".

Nothing too difficult there for men of integrity and goodwill, one would have thought. But after 45 years nothing has happened to give effect to these fine words or to deliver the tiniest semblance of peace, or allow the Palestinians to live in security and free from threats or acts of force. As for law and justice, these words seem to have been dropped from the U.N. dictionary.

This dereliction of duty began with careless use of language - or more exactly the non-use of a particular word, the "the" word which should have been inserted in front of "territories" but was deliberately omitted by the schemers who drafted the resolution.

Arthur J. Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in 1967 and a key draftee of Resolution 242, stated: "There is lacking a declaration requiring Israel to withdraw from the (or all the) territories occupied by it on and after June 5, 1967. Instead, the resolution stipulates withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal. And it can be inferred from the incorporation of the words ‘secure and recognized boundaries’ that the territorial adjustments to be made by the parties in their peace settlements could encompass less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories.”

Why have the Palestinians been pressured – yet again - to submit to ‘direct negotiations’, lamb versus voracious wolf, to haggle and plead for their freedom?

Stuart Littlewood

According to Lord Caradon, then the U.K. Ambassador to the U.N. and another key drafter, “The essential phrase which is not sufficiently recognised is that withdrawal should take place to secure and recognised boundaries, and these words were very carefully chosen: they have to be secure and they have to be recognised. They will not be secure unless they are recognised. And that is why one has to work for agreement. This is essential. I would defend absolutely what we did. 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 in 1947, just where they happened to be that night, that is not a permanent boundary ... "

In a 1974 statement he said: “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of 4 June 1967... That's why we didn't demand that the Israelis return to them and I think we were right not to.”

Professor Eugene Rostow, then U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and also helping to draft the resolution, went on record in 1991 explaining that Resolution 242 ”calls on the parties to make peace and allows Israel to administer the territories it occupied in 1967 until ‘a just and lasting peace in the Middle East’ is achieved.

When such a peace is made, Israel is required to withdraw its armed forces ‘from territories’ it occupied during the Six-Day War - not from ‘the’ territories nor from ‘all’ the territories, but from some of the territories, which included the Sinai Desert, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.” Israel was not to be forced back to the fragile and vulnerable Armistice Demarcation Lines (the ‘Green Line’).

So according to Rostow Israel would get to keep some unspecified territory it seized in war. Goldberg and Rostow were both Jewish by the way, and Zionists. Extraordinary how the U.S. always wheels in such people to ‘resolve’ an Israeli-provoked Middle East crisis when there’s no shortage of non-Jews for the task. Like Kerry has recruited Martin Indyk to supervise the bogus peace talks in Washington…

In the meantime Arab leaders had picked up on the fact that the precious "the" word in relation to territories was included in other language versions of the draft resolution (e.g. the French document) and it was therefore widely understood to mean that Israel must withdraw from all territories captured in 1967. Unfortunately, under international law, English is the official language and the English version was the conclusive reference point.

For Israel Mr Eban said: "The establishment for the first time of agreed and secure boundaries as part of a peace settlement is the only key which can unlock the present situation and set on foot a momentum of constructive and peaceful progress. As the representative of the United Kingdom indicated in his address on 16 November, the action to be taken must be within the framework of a permanent peace and of secure and recognized boundaries. It has been pointed out in the Security Council, and it is stated in the 1949 Agreements, that the armistice demarcation lines have never been regarded as boundaries so that, as the representative of the United States has said, the boundaries between Israel and her neighbors: "must be mutually worked out and recognized by the parties themselves as part of the peace-making process" [1377th meeting, para. 65].

"We continue to believe that the States of the region, in direct negotiation with each other, have the sovereign responsibility for shaping their common future. It is the duty of international agencies at the behest of the parties to act in the measure that agreement can be promoted and a mutually accepted settlement can be advanced. We do not believe that Member States have the right to refuse direct negotiation with those to whom they address their claims. It is only when they come together that the Arab States and Israel will reveal the full potentialities of a peaceful settlement."

‘Acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible’, right?

So here was Israel, cued by the devious drafters, pressing for direct negotiations as far back as 1967 sensing that defenceless and impoverished Palestine, conveniently under their military jackboot, would be 'easy meat'.

But the Russian, Kuznetsov, wasn't fooled.

"In the resolution adopted by the Security Council, the ‘withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’ becomes the first necessary principle for the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Near East. We understand the decision taken to mean the withdrawal of Israel forces from all, and we repeat, all territories belonging to Arab States and seized by Israel following its attack on those States on 5 June 1967. This is borne out by the preamble to the United Kingdom draft resolution [S/8247] which stresses the ‘inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’. It follows that the provision contained in that draft relating to the right of all States in the Near East ‘to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries’ cannot serve as a pretext for the maintenance of Israel forces on any part of the Arab territories seized by them as a result of war."

He insisted that this was the basic content of the resolution and how it had been interpreted by all the members of the Security Council. "In the resolution presented by Latin American countries [A/L.523/Rev.1] and in that submitted by non-aligned States [A/L.522/Rev.3], the provision relating to the withdrawal of forces was stated so clearly that it could not possibly have been misinterpreted."

He added that the most important task was secure the withdrawal of Israel forces from all territory occupied by them as a result of aggression.

Your average native English speaker would not have been fooled by a missing word either. To the man on the Clapham omnibus “withdrawal from territories occupied in the recent conflict” plainly means “get the hell out of there”.

U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk writing in 1990 remarked: “We wanted [it] to be left a little vague and subject to future negotiation because we thought the Israeli border along the West Bank could be "rationalized"; certain anomalies could easily be straightened out with some exchanges of territory, making a more sensible border for all parties….But we never contemplated any significant grant of territory to Israel as a result of the June 1967 war. On that point we and the Israelis to this day remain sharply divided. This situation could lead to real trouble in the future. Although every President since Harry Truman has committed the United States to the security and independence of Israel, I'm not aware of any commitment the United States has made to assist Israel in retaining territories seized in the Six-Day War.”

1967 borders not good enough? Back to the ’47 lines, then

Resolution 242 in any event should have specified a line to which Israel’s forces had to withdraw, even if it didn’t represent the fullest extent. How else was a genuine ‘peace process’ supposed to get off the ground? Was one party supposed to bargain from a position of intolerable weakness, still under brutal military occupation, half starved, isolated and imprisoned within the disconnected remnants of his homeland?

As to those much-bandied words "agreed and secure boundaries", had U.N. members so easily forgotten about the Palestinian lands seized and ethnically cleansed before 1967? You know, those important towns and cities and hundreds of villages that had been allocated to a future Palestinian state but were seized by Jewish terrorist groups and Israel militia while the ink was still drying on the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan?

Actually, recognised borders do exist. They were set down in the Partition and incorporated into U.N. Resolution 181. They are “recognised” because they were duly voted on and accepted by the Zionists and their allies, were they not?

As everyone knows, Israel has never declared its borders nor respected the U.N.-specified borders. It is still hell-bent on thieving lands and resources, so no border is ever secure enough or final. Nor is the Israeli regime likely to agree to secure borders for a Palestinian state, should one ever emerge.

So going down the talks path again and again to seek sensible agreement is fruitless. Borders should be imposed by the proper international bodies and enforced. That has to be the start-point. Adjustments can then be made with mutual consent.

Incidentally, Article 33 of the U.N. Charter says that parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger international peace and security, shall first of all seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.

A judicial settlement? That would be something to see.

Article 37 then says: "Should the parties to a dispute of the nature referred to in Article 33 fail to settle it by the means indicated in that Article, they shall refer it to the Security Council. If the Security Council deems that the continuance of the dispute is in fact likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, it shall decide whether to take action under Article 36 or to recommend such terms of settlement as it may consider appropriate.”

Article 36 declares that "in making recommendations under this Article the Security Council should also take into consideration that legal disputes should as a general rule be referred by the parties to the International Court of Justice in accordance with the provisions of the Statute of the Court.”

What is this if not a legal dispute? The U.N., having twiddled its thumbs, now has much to do to get to grips with the problem it created nearly 66 years ago.

With all these options apparently open to the Palestinians, why have they again allowed themselves to become locked in discredited 'negotiations' with a disreputable enemy that keeps them under brutal occupation and holds a gun to their heads? Indeed, why does that mighty guardian of world peace, the U.N., permit it?

The U.N., for its part, has proved itself time and again not fit for purpose. On the Middle East it remains especially dysfunctional. We all know it, and we’re all in despair.


Stuart Littlewood is a marketing specialist turned writer-photographer in the UK. He is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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