UN in the News
EYE ON THE MEDIA: Stumbling on Resolution 242
By Andrea Levin
(August 3) The July Camp David summit aimed at reaching epic decisions about the future of Israel and the Palestinians drew intense media review of the remaining issues under negotiation: borders, Jerusalem, refugees.
Although the Oslo Process has been under way for seven years, blunders about the basics, including United Nations Resolution 242, were commonplace.
That Resolution, the bedrock legal reference contained in the 1993 Declaration of Principles, is said by the Palestinians to require Israel to leave the entire West Bank. Palestinian commentator Gassan Khatib, for example, said in a July 11 segment of ABC's Nightline "for the Palestinians, we're talking about implementing Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for ending the illegal occupation of Israel over the Palestinian occupied territories."
Is Israel legally compelled to exit from all the land it has controlled since the conclusion of a war that was launched to destroy it? The language of 242 was hammered out with great precision to take account of Israel's vulnerable pre-1967 borders and to avert future aggression. Britain's UN ambassador in 1967, Lord Caradon, an author of the Resolution, argued that: "It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial."
The American UN ambassador at the time, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, said 242 omitted reference to Israel's withdrawing from "the" or "all" territories in order to enable "less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territory, inasmuch as Israel's prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure."
Nevertheless, The New York Times reported on July 11: "The Palestinians want a settlement based on United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for an end to Israeli occupation of the entire West Bank and Gaza, seized in the 1967 war."
Three days later the paper issued a correction stating that 242 "calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces "from territories occupied in the recent conflict; it is the Palestinians who associate that language with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
The Boston Globe also referred erroneously to 242 , reporting (July 13) that the resolution "calls for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank." To the newspaper's credit, an admirably straightforward clarification was issued one day later. It said: "A story in yesterday's edition on the Mideast summit at Camp David should have made it clear that UN Resolution 242 does not refer to the West Bank by name but calls for Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in the 1967 war. The resolution, which formalizes the principles of land-for-peace in the Israeli-Arab conflict, is ambiguous on the amount of occupied territory from which Israel should withdraw."
CNN's Jerrold Kessel got it nearly right. He reported on July 15 that "Israel accepts that 242 means it must withdraw from those areas, but not necessarily all that territory. The Palestinians say it means all the West Bank and East Jerusalem, right up to what's called the 1967 lines."
It's true the Palestinians "say" they want all the territory, but Kessel fails to make clear that's not what 242 says.
Among the most egregious characterizations was that by veteran Israel-antagonist Holger Jensen, International Editor at Denver's Rocky Mountain News. He wrote on July 11: "The Palestinians want Israel to honor UN Security Council Resolution 242 calling for a return to the 1967 borders. But Israel wants to annex parts of the West Bank and Gaza, offering Arafat only 80% of the occupied lands for an independent state."
The UPI's Mark Kukis and Paul Singer were little better, declaring (July 13): "With a mandate from UN Resolution 242, the Palestinians are pushing for a state in the West Bank, a swath of land bordering Jordan, and Gaza Strip, a sliver of territory on the Mediterranean, with borders drawn along lines before the 1967 war, when Israel seized and later settled land in Palestinian areas."
The persistent distortions are not innocuous. That such leading outlets as The New York Times and UPI are unable after 33 years to get UN Resolution 242 right represents - like the consistent mangling of the Oslo Accords - a dangerous dereliction of professional responsibility.
The writer is Executive Director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.