The following article was originally published at Foreign Policy Journal and has been adapted from an excerpt of chapter three of the author’s book Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which chapter focuses on how the “peace process” has served to block implementation of the two-state solution.
For many decades, the international community has focused on what’s termed “the two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but unfortunately, there exists a great deal of confusion about what this actually is.
Regrettably, the two-state solution is mistakenly conflated even by supporters of Palestinians’ rights with the US-led so-called “peace process”.
The confusion stems from the fact that the US characterizes the “peace process” as intended to bring about the two-state solution. In reality, however, the “peace process” is the means by which Israel and its superpower benefactor have long blocked implementation of the two-state solution.
The principle means by which the US and Israel have perpetrated this fraud against the world is by mischaracterizing the meaning of UN Security Council Resolution 242.
To illuminate the path forward to a just peace, it is critical to understand Resolution 242’s true significance, what the two-state solution really is, and how Israel and the US have prevented it by means of the “peace process”.
What UN Resolution 242 Says
UN Security Council Resolution 242 is one of the key documents comprising the legal foundation for the two-state solution. It was passed unanimously on November 22, 1967, following the June “Six Day War”, during which Israel invaded and occupied the Syrian Golan Heights, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (the latter of which had until then been under the administration of Jordan and Egypt, respectively).
Prior to the 1967 war, Israel held positions up to armistice lines that were drawn in 1949, at the conclusion of the 1948 war, during which more than 700,000 Arabs were ethnically cleansed from their homes in Palestine in order for the “Jewish state” to be established.
The 1949 armistice lines are also referred to as the pre-June 1967 lines, or the “Green Line” for the color with which it was drawn on the map.
According to Israel’s own interpretation, Resolution 242 permits Israel to retain some of the land it conquered and requires no withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory until a final agreement is reached that settles all outstanding claims, including determination of borders.
To assess the veracity of this interpretation, it is necessary to examine the actual wording of the relevant portions of the resolution. The preamble and first operative clause state:
The Security Council,
Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,
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,
Affirms that the fulfillment 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 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 . . . .
The Zionist Interpretation of Resolution 242
The Israeli interpretation of Resolution 242 rests primarily on two arguments.
First, there is the claim that the absence of the definite article “the” before “territories occupied” in sub-paragraph (i.) of the first operative clause means that the Security Council did not intend for Israel to withdraw from all of the territory occupied.
Second, there is the claim that sub-paragraph (i.) is conditional upon sub-paragraph (ii.), meaning that there is to be no withdrawal until “secure and recognized boundaries” are established through negotiations.
Thus, the Israeli position is that the Palestinians must negotiate a final settlement on borders while remaining under foreign military occupation and while Israel continues to prejudice the final outcome of those negotiations with its ongoing colonization of the West Bank.
This interpretation is not sustainable.
The Absurd Logic of the Zionist Interpretation
The call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces must be understood within the context of the emphasized principle of international law that it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war.
As a basic point of fact with regard to English grammar, the absence of the article “the” before the noun “territories” has no effect on the meaning of the sentence insofar as the extent of withdrawal is concerned.
The Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula are all “territories”, plural, that were occupied during the war, and therefore “territories”, plural, from which Israel must withdraw, according to the plain and unambiguous language of Resolution 242.
The Israeli argument absurdly maintains that the text cannot be understood to mean “all of the territories” and so must be understood to read “some of the territories”—patently fallacious and self-defeating logic.
To further illustrate the prima facie absurdity of the Israeli interpretation, the second operative clause of Resolution 242 affirms the necessity “For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area”, which is a clear reference to Egypt’s closing of the Straits of Tiran and Suez Canal to Israeli vessels prior to the war. According to the logic of the Israeli argument, since this clause doesn’t include the definite article “the” before “international waterways”, it must be understood to mean that Egypt could continue to blockade Israeli shipping in some waters, just not all international waterways through which Israeli shipping occurred.
Israel would surely reject such preposterous reasoning in this regard, yet employs the same fallacy in an effort to justify its ongoing occupation and theft of Palestinian land.
Israel had made its interpretation of the draft resolution known before the vote, prompting French Ambassador to the UN Armand Berard to point out another reason why Israel’s argument was moot: the equally authentic French version of the text does contain the definite article.
Berard observed that, “on the point which the French delegation has always stressed as being essential—the question of withdrawal of the occupation forces—the resolution which has been adopted, if we refer to the French text which is equally authentic with the English, leaves no room for any ambiguity, since it speaks of withdrawal ‘des territoires occupés’, which indisputably corresponds to the expression ‘occupied territories’.”
As for the claim that the first sub-clause is conditional upon the second, as a simple point of fact, the extent of the withdrawal called for in sub-clause (i.) is not determined by sub-clause (ii.), but is rather determined independently from it by the words “from territories occupied”, which means the territories beyond the 1949 armistice lines that Israel occupied during the June war.
The resolution states that “both” withdrawal and secure and recognized boundaries are a requirement for peace, conditioning neither one upon the other.
Britain’s View: Israel Must Fully Withdraw
To support the Israeli interpretation of Resolution 242, its proponents also often quote statements by American or British officials made years after the resolution was passed. Most specifically, Zionists cite statements made by Arthur Goldberg, the US Ambassador to the UN at the time, and Lord Caradon, the British representative who was credited with principle draftsmanship of the resolution.
However, it is not for member states—much less individual government officials acting in their own private capacity—to individually interpret the meaning of UN resolutions. Unilateral interpretations have no legitimacy under international law. Rather, resolutions must be understood and interpreted according to the will of the Security Council as a whole.
The relevant documentary record for understanding the will of the Council is not private statements made years afterward by participants, but the UN meeting records prior to and up until the time of the resolution’s passage.
Before the vote on the resolution, British Foreign Secretary George Brown stated:
The attitude of the British Government is clear. . . . I should like, if I may, to set out certain principles which I believe should guide us in striving collectively for a lasting settlement. Clearly, such principles must derive from the United Nations Charter. Article 2 of the Charter provides that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State . . . .” Here the words “territorial integrity” have a direct bearing on the question of withdrawal, on which much has been said in previous speeches. I see no two ways about this; and I can state our position very clearly. In my view, it follows from the words in the Charter that war should not lead to territorial aggrandizement.
Brown reiterated this point prior to the adoption of the resolution by stating, “I should like to repeat what I said when I was here before: Britain does not accept war as a means of settling disputes, nor that a State should be allowed to extend its frontiers as a result of war. This means that Israel must withdraw.”
Lord Caradon also reiterated his government’s position during deliberations on the text by saying, “As to the first operative paragraph, and with due respect for fulfillment of Charter principles, we consider it essential that there should be applied the principles of both withdrawal and security, and we have no doubt that the words set out throughout that paragraph are perfectly clear.”
Two days before the vote, Lord Caradon reiterated, “If I had to sum up the policy which has been repeatedly stated by my Government, I would go back to the words used by my Foreign Secretary in the General Assembly less than a month ago.”
After quoting George Brown’s words, he emphasized, “In our resolution we stated the principle of the ‘withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’ and in the preamble we emphasized ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’. In our view, the wording of those provisions is clear.”
The view that Israel was required under international law to fully withdraw from occupied Palestinian territory was shared at the time by every other member of the Security Council, including the United States.
The US’s View: Israel Must Fully Withdraw
In the emergency special session of the General Assembly that was called following the June 1967 war, the US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) jointly drafted two resolutions, the second of which affirmed “the principle that conquest of territory by war is inadmissible under the UN Charter, and consequently that the withdrawal by the parties to the conflict to the positions they occupied before June 5, 1967 is expected.”
When Ambassador Arthur Goldberg transmitted this text to the State Department, he expressed no concern about the fact that the wording “positions . . . before June 5, 1967” was included. Instead, his primary concern was that the US-USSR proposals “will be unacceptable to [the] Arabs”.
A later communication from Goldberg noted that the Soviets had transmitted the text of the first version to the Arabs, but that they had changed it by introducing “reference to [the] June 5 date”, which Goldberg said “was not acceptable” because “it had not been included in that version as given”. That is to say, Goldberg’s only objection was that the reference was added without prior consultation with the US.
Goldberg further noted noted that, after expressing his disapproval of the Soviets changing the draft without prior consultation, he “agreed to [the] text with one understanding”. This concerned the inclusion of a clause calling for a reconvening of the General Assembly and had nothing whatsoever to do with the extent of withdrawal sought by the US, thus further demonstrating US’s acceptance on principle that Israel must fully withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines.
Underscoring this point, Soviet Foreign Minister Anatoliy Dobrynin praised the bilateral discussions with the US by expressing his great pleasure at having reached “common ground” with regard to “the withdrawal of Israeli troops”.
Stating the US position before the General Assembly on July 14, Arthur Goldberg stressed that “One immediate, obvious and imperative step is the disengagement of all forces and the withdrawal of Israeli forces to their own territory.”
The matter did not remain in the General Assembly, but was escalated to the Security Council. In August, during deliberations over a resolution in response to the situation that existed as a result of the 1967 war, the US sought to “stick with the formula that Arthur worked out and discussed with the Russians”.
That formula, as already seen, included the principle that Israel must fully withdraw.
Indeed, Arthur Goldberg himself drafted a resolution calling “Without delay” for “withdrawal by the parties to the conflict of their forces from territories occupied by them in keeping with the inadmissibility of the conquest of territory by war”.
The Will of the Security Council: Israel Must Fully Withdraw
The United Kingdom, as already indicated, had its own draft resolution. Prior to the vote on the British draft that became Resolution 242, the representative of the Soviet Union said, “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.”
The Indian representative noted that “there was universal agreement among the membership of the United Nations” that “the principle of non-acquisition of territory by military conquest” meant “the withdrawal of Israel armed forces to the positions they held prior to the outbreak of the recent conflict on 5 June 1967.”
On that basis, the Indian delegate continued,
It is our understanding that the draft resolution, if approved by the Council, will commit it to the application of the principle of total withdrawal of Israel forces from all the territories—I repeat, all the territories occupied by Israel as a result of the conflict which began on 5 June 1967. In other words, the draft commits the Council to the withdrawal of Israel forces from the whole of Sinai, Gaza, the Old City of Jerusalem, Jordanian territory west of the Jordan River [the West Bank] and the Syrian territory [the Golan Heights]. This being so, Israel cannot use the words “secure and recognized boundaries”, contained in sub-paragraph (ii) of operative paragraph 1 of the United Kingdom draft resolution, to retain any territory occupied in the recent conflict. Of course, mutual territorial adjustments are not ruled out, as indeed they are not in the three-Power draft resolution co-sponsored by India. This is our clear understanding of the United Kingdom draft resolution.
The US had known that India was going to make this statement and was also aware that if it was challenged, the resolution might be vetoed by the Soviet Union. The US did not challenge it.
That interpretation is the only legitimate and legally valid reading of UN Security Council Resolution 242.
The “Peace Process” vs. the Two-State Solution
UN Security Council Resolution 242 has been reaffirmed by numerous subsequent resolutions, including Resolution 338 of October 22, 1973.
In a 2004 advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reiterated that all of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, “remain occupied territories”.
The ICJ affirmed “the illegality of territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force”.
It also affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention “is applicable in the Palestinian territories”.
Accordingly, the ICJ determined that “the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.”
It further determined that the “tragic situation can be brought to an end only through implementation in good faith of all relevant Security Council resolutions, in particular Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).”
Resolution 242 was framed in the aftermath of a war in which Israel took over control of the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. It was initially assumed that these territories would return to Jordan’s and Egypt’s administration, respectively. The US had assured King Hussein of Jordan, for example, that it was “prepared to support a return of the West Bank to Jordan with minor boundary rectifications”.
However, since the mid-1970s, there has been an international consensus on a two-state solution that comprises recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, envisioning the creation of an independent state of Palestine based on the pre-June 1967 lines, with minor and mutually agreed changes to the border.
That is emphatically not the aim of the so-called “peace process”. While US and Israeli officials might speak of a “two-state solution”, it is not the two-state solution grounded in international law.
On the contrary, a fundamental premise of the “peace process” is that international law must not be applied. Instead, the occupied must “negotiate” with their occupier over how much of their own territory they will be allowed to exercise some limited measure of autonomy within.
What the real two-state solution essentially means is an end to the Israeli occupation. While supporters of Palestinians’ rights are certainly right to oppose the rejectionist framework of the “peace process”, it should be kept in mind that the purpose of the Oslo Accords was not to realize the two-state solution, but to prevent that outcome.
The Path Forward
Many supporters of Palestinians’ rights today favor a single, democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens. This is indeed a worthy goal. However, the question is how to get there. Many of these same supporters also reject the two-state solution on the mistaken grounds that this is the outcome the “peace process” was aimed at.
With a proper understanding of the legal basis for the two-state solution, it should rather be clear that if a single-state solution is ever to be achieved, the first step toward that end must be the implementation of the two-state solution—that is to say, the withdraw of Israeli armed forces to the positions they held prior to June 5, 1967, in accordance with international law and the unanimous will of the UN Security Council as expressed in Resolution 242.
It’s important in this context to note the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA). This body was established under the Oslo Accords essentially to serve as Israel’s collaborator in enforcing its occupation regime.
To free themselves from Israel, in other words, the Palestinian people must first liberate themselves from the Palestinian Authority, which to date has stopped short of pursuing legal remedy through the legal mechanisms now available to it since the UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member state in November 2012.
Specifically, the Palestinian leadership now has recourse to both the ICJ and the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the acting Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose legal term in office expired years ago, has proven more willing to assure his own status by placating Israel and the US rather than standing up for his people.
At this time, US President Donald Trump has completely discredited the “peace process” by declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital—in contravention to numerous UN Security Council Resolutions observing that Israel’s measures to annex the city are “illegal, null and void” under international law.
In response, Abbas appropriately declared the “peace process” to be dead—and yet despite the opportunity presented in light of this development, he still refuses to take any meaningful steps in pursuit of legal remedy for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians under its occupation regime.
If the present Palestinian leadership cannot find the will or the courage to do what is necessary, then the Palestinian people must rid themselves of that leadership. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the PA’s parent body, has the authority to withdrawal from the Oslo Accords and dissolve the PA, which would seem to be a prerequisite for meaningful progress to be made.
However, achieving the political will to do so would require a united front, which would mean reconciliation between the factions Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Fatah, the party of Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the West Bank. This, too, seems unlikely under Abbas’s leadership, given his propensity to serve the occupation regime at the expense of his own people, and particularly at the expense of the civilian population of Gaza suffering under Israel’s illegal blockade.
The task of liberating themselves from their own leadership will not be an easy one for the Palestinians, but it does seem a prerequisite if an end to the occupation is to be realized. Only once this is accomplished will the Palestinian people gain the political leverage necessary to take the next step: to seek legal remedy and a just solution for the Palestinian refugees whom Israel has refused to allow to return to their homeland since the “Jewish state” was established 70 years ago by ethnically cleansing most of the Arab population from their homes in Palestine.
For more insight, read Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which shatters mainstream narratives about the conflict, revealing the true reasons for its persistence and illuminating the path to peace.
 For further reading, see: Jeremy R. Hammond, “Who Started the Six Day War of June 1967?”, Foreign Policy Journal, June 5, 2017, https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2017/06/05/who-started-the-six-day-war-of-june-1967/.
 For further reading, see: Jeremy R. Hammond, “Benny Morris’s Untenable Denial of the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, Foreign Policy Journal, November 14, 2016, https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2016/11/14/benny-morriss-untenable-denial-of-the-ethnic-cleansing-of-palestine/.
 Yehuda Blum, “The Territorial Clauses of Security Council Resolution 242,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, June 4, 2007, http://jcpa.org/article/the-territorial-clauses-of-security-council-resolution-242/. Blum is a former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and Professor Emeritus of International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
 See, for example, “Security Council Resolution 242 According to its Drafters”, Committee for Accuracy in Midddle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), January 15, 2007, http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1267.
 Ibid. Emphasis added.
 United Nations Security Council, 1379th Meeting, The situation in the Middle East, S/PV.1379 (November 16, 1967), https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/13E49B0F4C7AE1DC0525672B0069DEF4.
 United Nations Security Council, 1381st Meeting, The situation in the Middle East, S/PV.1381 (November 20, 1967), https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/96842546E13A993905256723004E8175.
 US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), Vol. XIX, “Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967,” Document 380, “Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State,” July 21, 1967, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d380. Emphasis added. The full text of two draft resolutions prepared jointly by the US and USSR was included in the telegram. The discussions between the Americans and Soviets also reveal that, although it did not appear in the final draft, the US was not opposed to a resolution calling Israel to withdraw “without delay”, so long as the section also calling for an end of states of belligerency also contained that wording. See Document 377, “Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State,” July 20, 1967, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d377.
 FRUS, Document 380, op. cit.
 FRUS, Vol. XIX, Document 384, “Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State,” July 22, 1967, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d384.
 FRUS, Vol. XIX, Document 392, “Memorandum of Conversation,” July 27, 1967, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d392.
 FRUS, Vol. XIX, Document 415, “Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Bundy) to President Johnson,” August 11, 1967, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d415.
 As the ICJ has also observed, “it is an established principle that the right of giving an authoritative interpretation of a legal rule (le droit d’interpréter authentiqument) belongs solely to the person or body who has power to modify or suppress it.” See: Michael C. Wood, “The Interpretation of Security Council Resolutions,” Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law Volume 2, 1998, http://www.mpil.de/files/pdf2/mpunyb_wood_2.pdf.
 For further reading, see, “Why the US Moving Its Israel Embassy to Jerusalem Would Be Illegal”, Foreign Policy Journal, June 23, 2017, https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2017/06/23/why-the-us-moving-its-israel-embassy-to-jerusalem-would-be-illegal/.
 International Court of Justice, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, July 9, 2004, http://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/131/131-20040709-ADV-01-00-EN.pdf.
 US Department of State, FRUS, Vol. XIX, Document 506, “Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel,” November 30, 1968, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d506.
 Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians (Cambridge: South End Press, 1999), 40-41.