Carter's Palestinian fantasy No. 242
by Asaf Romirowsky
Philadelphia Daily News
December 6, 2006
As ex-president Jimmy Carter's new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," hits the stores, it's worth looking into the infamous UN resolution 242 that he quotes so frequently.
Reading Carter's words gives no indication that Israel was the party that actually accepted 242 and the Arabs and Palestinians were the ones who rejected it.
In fact, after Resolution 242, the Arabs issued the equally infamous three "no's": No peace, no recognition, no negotiation.
None of this matters to Carter, who's built his post-presidency on practicing foreign affairs without an electoral mandate.
Palestinians and Arabs love to quote 242. It's become the foundation for the land-for-peace formula drafted after the Six Day War, and a superficial reading seemingly places Palestinian/Arab brokers of peace in a position of strength. For Arabs, this "legal" prerequisite emphasizes the give and take: If Israel valued peace, it would return land. If Arabs wanted land, they would give peace.
Arabs also love to quote 242 because it is a deceptively simple equation. On one hand, it talks about the exchange of land for peace with Israel, meaning there is room to negotiate. But although we naively believe it also calls for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, that's not the case.
The resolution calls for "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." It deliberately does not call for withdrawal from "all" or "any" because the authors knew that such demands were unreasonable.
As far as "peace" goes, the resolution lays on the bureaucratic boilerplate and calls for "Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement 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 resolution demands that Israel gives up some land in exchange for some, still unspecified, peace. Israel is still waiting.
As historian Michael Oren explains, "Israel accepted the resolution, albeit begrudgingly, as did Jordan. Nasser's response was more equivocal. While endorsing the UN's decision, he reiterated the three no's to his National Assembly... 'that which was taken by force will be regained by force,' and told his generals, 'you don't need to pay attention to anything I may say in public about a peaceful solution.' "
Decades later, in 2000, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shara illustrated the imaginary land-for-peace fantasy in a speech regarding peace with Israel. Al-Shara noted again the return of the Golan Heights as a prerequisites for negotiations with Israel:
"In no way did we agree to discuss any of the elements of peace before the issue of the full withdrawal is settled. In order for the withdrawal to be full, it must be... without leaving any Israelis - either civilian or military, nor any semi-military or semi-civilian; also, no ground station and no Israeli in any ground station. This is what full withdrawal means and we did not give it up."
Any time you raise the notion of "compromise" in the context of an Israel-Palestinians peace agreement it is relative to their fantasy interpretation of 242. To actually abide by the resolution would be anathema.
And, in fact, when it came to implementing 242, Israel did turn over land time and time again: Sinai, the Oslo accords, the withdrawal from Gaza - in exchange for a cold peace at best and open warfare at worst.
During the Oslo years and the al-Aqsa intifada and today under the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, "land-for-peace" really translates into "land-for-talk" because to too many Americans and Europeans, talk - not peace - is all that Israel should expect (and possibly deserve), in exchange for territorial concessions. This is the motivation which drove Hezbollah to attack Israel this summer and what continues to fuel Hamas as it rejects Israel's right to exist.
If the Palestinians really want to talk about Resolution 242 as the basis for anything, they should first get their own territories under control, stop firing rockets at Israeli towns, and start creating a decent civil society.
Until then, Israelis have learned a hard lesson that until the other side stops wanting to wipe Israel off the map, resolutions like 242 really aren't worth the paper they're written on.
Asaf Romirowsky is an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum and manager of Israel & Middle East affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.