United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 is the only document to date adopted by the international community that outlines a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Palestinian-Israeli element of it. That document is 52 years old today and does not reflect the enormous changes that the Middle East has witnessed, nor does it reflect the political process in which Israel and the Palestinians have been engaged since the 1991 Madrid conference. The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Israel who courageously negotiated and signed peace treaties were fulfilling the main tenet of Security Council Resolution 242, which was Land for Peace.
But the 52-year old resolution has not facilitated a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Indeed, the text does not mention the Palestinians, not even in the context of refugees. From 1948 to 1967 Palestinians were living in Jordan and the land lost by Jordan in the Six Day War was supposed to ultimately return to the Hashemite Kingdom. Surprisingly, the Palestinians continue to adhere to Sec. Res 242 mostly because it stipulates the principle of the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by force and the declaration of the late King Husain in July 1988 ending his country’s claim to the territory it lost in 1967.
But the Palestinians’ clinging to 242 and Israel’s willingness to accept it as a reference document have not prevented the repeated failures of negotiations between them since the Oslo Accords of 1993. Do these failures make 242 obsolete? At the very least, they suggest 242 should be adjusted to the current realities of the Middle East and amended to incorporate the lessons of those failures. Doing so would create a new paradigm the conflict sorely needs.
The guiding paradigm in all previous rounds of negotiations was that nothing could be agreed upon until and unless all issues related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict were resolved. In practice that means that even if the two sides can reach, say, a comprehensive water agreement, they cannot conclude and implement it since they are unable to resolve the matters of Jerusalem’s status, borders and refugees. Unwilling to separate those issues that can be resolved from the evidently intractable ones prevents water from reaching every Palestinian, precludes improvements in their living conditions and probably limits additional land where Palestinians can expand their economic activity.
The settlements, meanwhile, were always high on both sides’ agenda. For the Palestinians, halting their construction has been a minimum demand, while for Israel meeting the needs of the existing population is essential. This week’s statement by the U.S. Secretary of State enraged the Palestinians, who, even if they are willing to consider a new paradigm, will insist that no new settlement construction is permissible. In the past, Likud-led governments accepted periodic settlement freezes, and a center-right Israeli government is likely to agree to an interim approach which would pursue steps toward an ultimate settlement in a partial and incremental way, even if a settlement freeze is part of this approach.
While a more centrist Israeli government can be expected to adopt such an interim approach, the Palestinians will likely reject it, fearing that Israel would initially grant the Palestinians more water or territory in Area A (where they have both civil and internal security authority) but thereafter stall, removing the prospect of a comprehensive solution on the core issues.
This is where an updated version of Security Council Resolution 242 would be useful, to the extent it provided assurances and a guarantee to the Palestinians that partial steps on Israel’s part don’t become final ones. A revised 242 would endorse a partial, incremental agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but would also include a timetable and concrete mechanisms to guarantee that the temporary does not become permanent.