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What is UN Resolution 242, unanimously adopted in 1967, which meant to bring lasting peace between Israel and Arab neighbors?

56 years later and lasting peace still not achieved

United Nations Security Council meeting voting on Resolution 242, on Nov. 22, 1967 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When initially adopted by the United Nations, Resolution 242 was drafted to bring about lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. For more than 56 years, the resolution has served as the legal justification for defining Israel’s territorial boundaries. Controversially, the conditions of the resolution today have still yet to be fully honored.  

On May 15, 1967, Israel celebrated its 19th anniversary of independence. Though a military parade was held in Jerusalem, it did not include heavy armaments to comply with the terms of the Israel-Jordanian Armistice Agreement.   

On that same day, a telegram sent from the American Embassy in Israel to the U.S. State Department outlined concerns over the increase in Egyptian troops building up in the Suez Canal region. Just days earlier then-Egyptian President Abdel Nasser dismissed the United Nations Peacekeeping troops stationed in the Sinai Desert.  

Further egregious actions were taken when Egypt remilitarized Sharm el-Sheik and subsequently closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli cargo and shipping. For 10 years, the Israeli government had made it abundantly clear that Israel would consider such an action as a declaration of war. Days later, Israel was defending itself against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. 

During the Six-Day War between June 5-10, 1967, Israel Defense Forces was able to secure a decisive victory. The territorial gains of the war provided the fledgling nation with an expansion of its defensive boundary, not unlike the victory enjoyed in the 1956 Sinai Campaign.  

However, the mistakes of negotiations after the 1956 conflict would not be repeated in 1967. In the last conflict, the peace terms of the agreement were ignored by its Arab enemies. This time the Israeli government did not willingly withdraw its boundaries in exchange for a promised peace.  

Instead, throughout the late summer and autumn of 1967, both Israel and the United Nations Security Council looked to capitalize on the opportunity to take steps toward securing a lasting peace treaty. The terms of this treaty would first require an official recognition of the State of Israel, codified in Resolution 242. The ceasefire debate and proposals proved to be unlike any other previous UN Security Council resolutions concerning Israeli-Arab wars.  

One of the most notable differences of Resolution 242 was excluding the withdrawal of troops to positions maintained before the war. This omission was deliberate. It reflected the majority sentiment among the members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) who had been angered by Egypt’s bellicose actions leading up to the war.  

The UNSC members all agreed on the goal of establishing a just and lasting peace for the near future. It needed to facilitate security for Israel and her neighboring Arab states. For that to occur, the actual peace agreement needed to be negotiated by the parties involved.  

The early drafts of Resolution 242 kicked off two months of debate and negotiations. An early Soviet Union proposal condemned Israel as the aggressor, but it was quickly defeated in a 15-6 vote, as the majority of the UNSC regarded Israel’s actions in the conflict as defensive in nature. This confirmed the stance that it was Israel’s right to seize and hold territory necessary for its self-defense. The language in the final proposed draft reflected this support for the withdrawal of forces only if the terms of Resolution 242 were fully upheld.

The Security Council concurred that the resolution required respect for and acknowledgment of, the sovereignty of every state in the area. This inclusion of such a basic stipulation was because, for nearly 20 years, Israel’s Arab neighbors had refused to recognize the Jewish nation's existence.  

The UNSC understood, as did Israeli leadership, that before there could be a genuine attempt to secure a lasting peace agreement, it was essential to require these countries to acknowledge both the sovereignty of Israel and its right to independence.  

On Nov. 22, 1967, the vote for UN Resolution 242 was unanimous in support of its adoption. The resolution has enabled Israel to maintain a wide defensive perimeter for more than five decades, essential for protecting its citizens until a lasting peace agreement can be achieved.

Though an educator for more than twenty years, following her return to school to earn a master’s degree in military history at Norwich University, Tara Simpson began working as a freelance writer for both the Stars and Stripes newspaper and ABC-CLIO reference publications. Inspired by her grandparents’ service in World War II and beyond, Tara has specialized in research and writing on early twentieth century military history for over a decade. She is now as a Doctoral student at Liberty University with her dissertation research focusing on Israel’s early and modern military history.

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