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The Complex History of UN Resolution 242 and Jerusalem

The Complex History of UN Resolution 242 and Jerusalem

The status of Jerusalem has been fiercely disputed since Israel gained control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed in November 1967, has been interpreted and argued over by Israelis and Palestinians when it comes to determining Jerusalem’s rightful status. Here’s a comprehensive look at this convoluted history and the murky legal standing of UN resolutions regarding Jerusalem.

After the Shocking 1967 War, Israel Controlled a United Jerusalem

The 1967 Six Day War was brief but profoundly impacted the region. Israel inflicted a crushing defeat on surrounding Arab nations who had vowed to destroy the fledgling Jewish state. By the end of the fighting, Israel had gained control of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Overnight, Israel found itself in control of three times more territory than before the war. This included the entire city of Jerusalem, as Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Old City from Jordanian forces. At the time, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were not under Palestinian control or part of any Palestinian state. The West Bank had been annexed by Jordan in 1948 after the first Arab-Israeli war.

After the war, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol stated Israel would be willing to withdraw from much of the newly gained land. However, this was conditional on finally achieving recognition, direct negotiations and peace treaties with neighbouring Arab states who had long vowed to destroy Israel.

Unfortunately, Arab leaders rebuffed these peace overtures. At the Khartoum Resolution of 1967, just months after their defeat, Arab leaders stubbornly refused to negotiate with, recognize or make peace with Israel.

Vaguely Worded Resolution 242 Called for Withdrawal from Some Territories

Two months after the Arab League’s refusal to engage in peace talks at Khartoum, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242 in November 1967. This called for:

– Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from unspecified “territories occupied” in the recent conflict
– Termination of all claims or states of belligerency
– Acknowledgement of sovereignty for every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries

The resolution was intentionally vague about which territories Israel should withdraw from and how much. It refers only to withdrawal from “territories” rather than “all the territories” or “the territories.” This wording was insisted upon by the British drafters of the resolution.

The resolution did not even mention Palestinians, as they were not considered a distinct third party in the conflict at the time. Instead it focused on protocols and principles for achieving peace treaties between Israel and neighbouring Arab states who had attempted to destroy Israel in 1967 despite its pre-war appeals for neutrality.

Israel Utilized 242 in Land-for-Peace Deals with Egypt and Jordan

In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a daring and unprecedented visit to Jerusalem to speak in the Israeli Knesset. This historic gesture by an Arab leader led to the Camp David Accords in 1978, mediated by US President Jimmy Carter. Israel agreed to withdraw troops and settlements from the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for a full peace treaty with Egypt.

Similarly, in 1994 Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan under the framework of Resolution 242. As part of this, Jordan gave up claims to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in favor of Palestinian control. However, its annexation of the West Bank after 1948 had been illegal, so Jordan’s relinquishing of these territories was on shaky legal grounds too.

To date, Israel has withdrawn from over 95% of the land it gained control of in 1967, including the vast Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, parts of the Golan Heights and portions of the West Bank. However, it has not received the reciprocal peace, recognition and secure borders that 242 envisioned from Arab states.

Israel Claims Pre-Existing Historical Rights to a United Jerusalem

Today, many dispute Israel’s continued control over East Jerusalem and argue for withdrawal. However, Israel maintains it is simply reconstituting the geographically united and Jewish-controlled Jerusalem that existed prior to 1948. Israel argues it has not relinquished these pre-existing historical rights.

In 1980, the Israeli Knesset passed a Basic Law re-stating that united Jerusalem was Israel’s eternal, undivided capital. At the time, this outraged much of the international community who saw it as an alteration of Jerusalem’s recent status.

However, Israel contended it was not creating any new claim or rights over Jerusalem, but merely re-affirming long-held historical rights that pre-dated the 1948 war which had forcibly divided the city.

Non-Binding UN Resolution 478 Condemned Israel’s Assertion of Rights

In direct response to Israel’s Basic Law asserting long-held rights in Jerusalem, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 478 in 1980. Among other measures, the resolution:

– Strongly censured and condemned the Basic Law as a violation of international law
– Stated the Knesset was attempting to unlawfully alter the character and status of Jerusalem
– Called upon nations with embassies in Jerusalem to withdraw them from the city

The resolution passed with 14 Security Council members in favor and only the United States abstaining. However, the US still maintained the resolution was flawed and disagreed with its conclusions.

In response to the resolution, the last 13 countries reluctantly withdrew their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv so as not to incur backlash from Arab nations. However, other countries like the UK maintained consulates in the city.

UN Resolutions Have No Binding Legal Authority

This raises the critical point that UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions are political statements and stances, but generally carry no legally binding authority under international law, despite frequent public misconceptions.

Resolution 478 was passed under Chapter 6 rather than Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. This means it is only a non-binding recommendation. Chapter 7 enables legally binding resolutions, but requires unanimous agreement of the Security Council, which was not achieved here.

Therefore, Israel maintains that Resolution 478 has no legal power to alter the status of Jerusalem or negate Israel’s pre-existing historical rights and claims to the city under international law – regardless of the resolution’s political condemnation.

What Does This Complex History Mean for Jerusalem’s Status?

In summary, while Resolution 478 politically disputed Israel’s stance on Jerusalem, Israel argues it does not supersede Israel’s historical legal rights to an undivided Jerusalem that pre-date both the 1948 and 1967 wars.

This complex interplay between disputed but non-binding UN resolutions, controversial Israeli Basic Laws and Israel’s insistence on pre-existing rights make determining Jerusalem’s true legal status no simple task. The debate rages on, but the history provides essential context.

– After the 1967 war, Israel controlled a united Jerusalem for the first time since 1948

– UN Resolution 242 called for Israeli withdrawal from some occupied territories, but was intentionally vague

– Israel utilized 242 in land-for-peace deals with Egypt and Jordan, withdrawing from Sinai and the West Bank

– Israel claims pre-existing historical rights to Jerusalem based on Jewish control before 1948

– Israel’s 1980 Basic Law declared united Jerusalem as the eternal capital

– UN Resolution 478 condemned this as altering Jerusalem’s status, but was non-binding

– UN resolutions are political statements, not legally binding sources of international law

– Israel maintains 242 and 478 do not negate its historical legal rights in Jerusalem

– The complex history fuels ongoing debate about Jerusalem’s disputed status

– There are reasonable historical and legal arguments on both sides

– Final status negotiations would be required to resolve the complex issues

– For now, the dispute continues, with Israel in de facto control of West and East Jerusalem

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