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Myths & Facts
The United Nations

By Mitchell Bard

Israel’s acquisition of territory during the 1967 war is “inadmissible.
Resolution 242 requires Israel to return to its pre-1967 boundaries.
Resolution 242 recognizes a Palestinian right to self-determination.
The United Nations plays a constructive role in Middle East affairs.
Israel enjoys the same rights as any other member of the United Nations.
The United States has always supported Israel at the UN.
America’s Arab allies routinely support U.S. positions at the UN.
Israel’s failure to implement UN resolutions is a violation of international law.
The Human Rights Council has no anti-Israel bias.
UNESCO recognizes and protects Israeli sites.

MYTH

Israel’s acquisition of territory during the 1967 war is “inadmissible.”

FACT

On November 22, 1967, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 242, establishing the principles to guide the negotiations for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement.

The first point addressed by the resolution is the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Some take this to mean that Israel must withdraw from all the territories it captured. On the contrary, the reference applies only to an offensive war. If not, the resolution would provide an incentive for aggression. If one country attacks another, and the defender repels the attack and acquires territory in the process, the former interpretation would require the defender to return all the land it won. Thus, aggressors would have little to lose because they would be ensured against the main consequence of defeat.

This is the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender.

—Abba Eban1

 

The ultimate goal of 242, as expressed in paragraph 3, is achieving a “peaceful and accepted settlement.” This means a negotiated agreement based on the resolution’s principles rather than one imposed upon the parties. This is also the implication of Resolution 338, according to Arthur Goldberg, the American ambassador who led the delegation to the UN in 1967.2 That resolution, adopted after the 1973 War, called for negotiations to start immediately and concurrently with the cease-fire.

MYTH

Resolution 242 requires Israel to return to its pre-1967 boundaries.

FACT

The most controversial clause in Resolution 242 is the call for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” This is linked to the second unambiguous clause calling for “termination of all claims or states of belligerency” and the recognition that “every State in the area” has the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

The resolution does not specify how much territory Israel is required to give up. The Security Council did not say Israel must withdraw from “all the” territories captured during the Six-Day War. This was quite deliberate. The Soviet delegate wanted the inclusion of those words and said that their exclusion meant “that part of these territories can remain in Israeli hands.” The Arab states pushed for the word “all” to be added; when the Council rejected their idea, they read the resolution as if it were included. The British ambassador who drafted the resolution, Lord Caradon, declared after the vote: “It is only the resolution that will bind us, and we regard its wording as clear.”3

The literal interpretation was repeatedly declared to be the correct one by those involved in drafting the resolution. On October 29, 1969, for example, the British foreign secretary told the House of Commons that the withdrawal envisaged by the resolution would not be from “all the territories.”4 When asked to explain the British position later, Lord Caradon said: “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”5

Similarly, U.S. ambassador Arthur Goldberg explained, “The notable omissions—which were not accidental—in regard to withdrawal are the words ‘the’ or ‘all’ and the ‘June 5, 1967 lines’. . . the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.”6

The resolutions call on the Arab states to make peace with Israel. The principal condition is that Israel withdraws from “territories occupied” in 1967. Since Israel withdrew from approximately 94 percent of the territories when it gave up the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, and portions of the West Bank, it can legitimately argue it has fulfilled its obligation under 242. The resolution rules out the idea that Israel must capitulate to Palestinian demands to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines.

The Arab states also objected to the call for “secure and recognized boundaries” because they feared this implied they would be expected to negotiate with Israel. The Arab League explicitly ruled this out at Khartoum in August 1967.

Ambassador Goldberg explained the phrase was included because the parties were expected to make “territorial adjustments in their peace settlement encompassing less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories, inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”7

The question, then, is whether Israel has to give up any additional territory. After signing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and withdrawing to the international border with Lebanon, the remaining territorial disputes are with the Palestinians (who are not mentioned in 242) and Syria.

The dispute with Syria is over the Golan Heights. Israel repeatedly expressed a willingness to negotiate a compromise in exchange for peace; however, Syria refused to consider even a limited peace treaty unless Israel first agreed to a complete withdrawal. Under 242, Israel has no obligation to withdraw from any part of the Golan without a peace accord with Syria.

Meanwhile, other Arab states—such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya, refused to grant Israel diplomatic recognition, even though they have no territorial disputes with Israel. These states have nevertheless conditioned their relations (at least rhetorically) on an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders.

There are some who have urged, as a single, simple solution, an immediate return to the situation as it was on June 4 . . . [T]his is not a prescription for peace but for renewed hostilities.

— President Lyndon Johnson, speech on June 19, 19678

MYTH

Resolution 242 recognizes a Palestinian right to self-determination.

FACT

The Palestinians are not mentioned anywhere in Resolution 242. They are only alluded to in the second clause of the second article of 242, which calls for “a just settlement of the refugee problem,” which may equally apply to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Nowhere does it require that Palestinians be given any political rights or territory.

MYTH

The United Nations plays a constructive role in Middle East affairs.

FACT

Starting in the mid-1970s, an Arab-Soviet bloc joined to form what amounted to a pro-Palestinian lobby at the United Nations. This was particularly true in the General Assembly, where these countries—nearly all dictatorships or autocracies—frequently voted together to pass resolutions condemning Israel.

In 1975, at the instigation of the Arab states and the Soviet Bloc, the Assembly approved Resolution 3379, which slandered Zionism by branding it a form of racism. U.S. ambassador Daniel Moynihan called the resolution an “obscene act.” Israeli ambassador Chaim Herzog told his fellow delegates the resolution was “based on hatred, falsehood, and arrogance.” Hitler, he declared, would have felt at home listening to the UN debate on the measure.9

On December 16, 1991, the General Assembly voted 111–25 (with thirteen abstentions and seventeen delegations absent or not voting) to repeal Resolution 3379. No Arab country voted for repeal.

In March 2005, the Security Council issued an unprecedented condemnation of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv by Islamic Jihad. Unlike Israeli actions that provoke resolutions, the Council issued only a “policy statement” urging the Palestinian Authority to “take immediate, credible steps to find those responsible for this terrorist attack” and bring them to justice. The statement required the consent of all fifteen members of the Security Council. The one Arab member, Algeria, signed on after a reference to Islamic Jihad was deleted.10 The Council has never adopted a resolution condemning a terrorist atrocity committed against Israel.

Israel is the object of more investigative committees, special representatives, and rapporteurs than any other UN member. In addition, the UN devotes millions of dollars to approximately 20 committees dedicated to the Palestinian issue, such as the “Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.”

History has proven the path to peace is through direct negotiations between the parties; however, the UN constantly undercuts this principle. The General Assembly routinely adopts resolutions that attempt to impose solutions disadvantageous to Israel on critical issues such as Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and settlements.

Israel’s peace treaties have been negotiated without help from the UN, which has impeded resolving conflicts in the region.

MYTH

Israel enjoys the same rights as any other member of the United Nations.

FACT

For 40 years, Israel was the only UN member excluded from a regional group. Geographically, it belongs in the Asian Group; however, the Arab states barred its membership. Without membership in a regional group, Israel cannot sit on the Security Council or other key UN bodies.

A breakthrough in Israel’s exclusion from UN bodies occurred in 2000 when Israel accepted temporary membership in the Western European and Others (WEOG) regional group. The WEOG is the only group that is geopolitical rather than purely geographical. Its 27 members—the West European states, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States—share a Western-Democratic common denominator.

The inclusion of Israel opened the door to representation on the Security Council; however, Israel has yet to be given a seat.

 

The treatment Israel receives at the United Nations is obsessive, ugly, bad for the United Nations and bad for peace.

— UN ambassador Susan Rice11

MYTH

The United States has always supported Israel at the UN.

FACT

Many people believe the United States can always be relied upon to support Israel with its veto in the UN Security Council. The historical record, however, shows that the U.S. has often opposed Israel in the Council.

From 1967 to 1972, the U.S. endorsed the Council’s criticism of Israel by its vote of support, or by abstaining on 24 resolutions. From 1973–2020, it did the same on roughly one-fifth of the 200 resolutions adopted during that period.

American officials sometimes convince sponsors to change the language of a resolution to allow them to either vote for or abstain from a resolution. These resolutions are still critical of Israel but may not be so one-sided that the United States feels obligated to cast a veto. In 2011, for example, the Palestinians called on the Security Council to label Israeli settlements illegal and to call for a construction freeze. The U.S. ambassador to the UN tried to convince the Palestinians to change the wording, but they refused. The U.S. vetoed the resolution, but Ambassador Susan Rice still criticized Israeli policy.12

The U.S. did not cast its first veto until 1972, objecting to a Syrian-Lebanese complaint against Israel. The U.S. has vetoed a total of 44 resolutions—none since 2018.13

Israel’s critics can circumvent the threat of an American veto by taking issues to the General Assembly, where nonbinding resolutions pass by majority vote, and support for almost any anti-Israel resolution is assured. From 2015 to April 2022, 125 such resolutions were adopted compared to 15 for Russia, 9 for Syria, 7 for North Korea, 6 for Iran, and zero for countries such as China, Cuba, and Libya.14

MYTH

America’s Arab allies routinely support U.S. positions at the UN.

FACT

*The United States provides a security umbrella for its allies in the Arab world. It also has provided them with billions of dollars in weapons and frequently supports their political ambitions. If those allies are grateful, it does not show at the UN, where, year after year, they vote against the United States—and not just on resolutions related to Israel.

In 2020, 100 resolutions passed with a vote in the General Assembly. Among the Arab states, Somalia voted with the United States most often, but still just 42 percent of the time. As a group, the Arab states voted against the United States on 77 percent of the resolutions. Syria was at the bottom of the list, opposing the United States 85 percent of the time.

By comparison, Israel has consistently been at or near the top of the list of America’s top UN allies. In 2020, Israel was far ahead of the pack, voting with the United States 91 percent of the time, followed by Micronesia with a coincidence rate of 69 percent. Major U.S. allies such as Canada (64 percent), Australia (63 percent), Great Britain (61 percent), and France (58 percent) lagged far behind.

A total of 16 Israel-related resolutions were introduced, 15 of which came to a vote and were adopted over U.S. objections. Several of these are one-sided condemnations that are introduced annually. The Arab states, including those that have established relations with Israel, voted for every anti-Israel resolution.15

MYTH

Israel’s failure to implement UN resolutions is a violation of international law.

FACT

UN resolutions are documents issued by political bodies and need to be interpreted in light of the constitution of those bodies. Votes at the UN are based on the self-interest of the member states, not legal principles; therefore, resolutions represent political rather than legal viewpoints.

The UN Charter (Articles 10 and 14) empowers the General Assembly to make only nonbinding “recommendations.” Assembly resolutions are only considered binding on budgetary and internal procedural matters.

The legality of Security Council resolutions is more ambiguous. There is no consensus on whether all Security Council resolutions are binding or only those adopted under Chapter 7 of the Charter.16 Under Article 25 of the Charter, member states are obligated to carry out “decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.” Still, it is unclear which kinds of resolutions are covered by the term “decisions.” These resolutions remain political statements by nation-states and not legal determinations.

Israel has not violated any Security Council resolutions, and the Council has never sanctioned Israel for noncompliance.

MYTH

The Human Rights Council has no anti-Israel bias.

FACT

Since 2006, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has condemned Israel in 95 individual resolutions compared to 38 for Syria, 14 for North Korea, 11 for Iran, and zero for countries such as China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia.17 While Israel is routinely criticized for its behavior, the only references by the HRC to terrorism are applied to “extremist Israelis.”18

The most egregious example of anti-Israel bias at the HRC is the yearly discussion of agenda item 7. In June 2007, Council members adopted a resolution that made the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” a permanent part of the Council’s agenda. Hence, Israel’s human rights record must be debated at each session. No other country has a yearly reoccurring agenda item dedicated to it. Over the years, the United States and other like-minded Council members have made unsuccessful efforts to reverse the Council’s decision.

Citing rampant anti-Israel bias and the Council’s ongoing admission of gross human rights violators to its ranks, the United States withdrew from the Council in 2018 and stopped providing funding. Dr. Dan Mou, a longtime member of the Nigerian government, agreed with the decision: “The Commission was becoming increasingly partial in dealing with the issue of Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab nations. When you are so partial, you lose your integrity, autonomy, and impartiality, so it becomes very difficult for people to trust your judgment.”19

In a reversal of President Trump’s position, the Biden administration announced its intent to rejoin the Council. Mark Cassayre, President Biden’s representative in Geneva, explained: “We know that this body has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world. By being present at the table, we seek to ensure it can live up to that potential.”20

Soon after, however, the Council appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate possible war crimes and other abuses committed by Israel. The New York Times noted this was the third time in seven years the HRC created a one-sided commission to investigate Israel, but this one is different because it is ongoing and will examine “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”21

The U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva said: “The United States deeply regrets today’s decision by the Human Rights Council to establish an open-ended Commission of Inquiry into the recent violence between Israel and the Palestinians....We all should be working to find real solutions to help the Palestinian people and ensuring that terrorist organizations, including Hamas, do not exploit the situation on the ground, including by indiscriminate firing of rockets, to further their own destructive aims. The actions of the Human Rights Council today do not contribute to peace…. We will continue to advocate for Israel to be treated fairly in the Human Rights Council.”22

MYTH

UNESCO recognizes and protects Israeli sites.

FACT

The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) has become politicized, and the Palestinians have tried to use the agency to gain recognition for a Palestinian state. That campaign involves delegitimizing Israel and erasing the Jewish connection to sites in Israel and the disputed territories.

In 2010, for example, UNESCO declared Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem— both Jewish holy sites—as Palestinian mosques. In 2016, UNESCO condemned Israeli actions at those sites and Jerusalem, calling for protecting the cultural heritage of “Palestine.” UNESCO erased the centuries-old linkage between Jews and these holy places and referred to the Western Wall plaza in Israel’s capital by the Arabic name “Al-Buraq Plaza.” The same year, UNESCO erased the Jewish history of Jerusalem by declaring the Temple Mount holy only to Muslims.23

These were all instances where the Palestinians and their supporters sought to delegitimize Israel and lay the groundwork for its destruction. How can Jews claim territory where the UN’s Orwellian historians say they never lived?

In October 2011, UNESCO granted the Palestinians full admission into the organization, the first UN body to do so. This triggered the U.S. to stop payments to the organization.

In December 2018, the United States and Israel left UNESCO. The U.S. State Department explained America left because of “mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing ‘anti-Israel bias.’”24

In 2022, the Biden administration was considering returning to UNESCO, reportedly with Israel’s blessing.25


1 Abba Eban, Abba Eban, (NY: Random House, 1977), p. 446.

2 “Middle East Peace Prospects,” Christian Science Monitor, (July 9, 1985).

3 Security Council Official Records, 1382nd Meeting (S/PV 1382), United Nations, (November 22, 1967).

4 Eban, p. 452.

5 Beirut Daily Star, (June 12, 1974).

6 “Goldberg: The Truth About Resolution 242,” speech to AIPAC Policy Conference, May 8, 1973, Near East Report, (June 6, 1973), p. 91.

7 Ibid.

8 “Address by President Johnson at National Foreign Policy Conference of Educators,” (June 19, 1967).

9 Chaim Herzog, Who Stands Accused? (NY: Random House, 1978), pp. 4–5.

10 “Policy Statement by Security Council on Terrorist Attack in Israel,” Press Release SC/8325, United Nations, (February 28, 2005).

11 Natasha Mozgovaya, “Israel’s Treatment at the UN ‘Obsessive’ and ‘Ugly,’ U.S. Diplomat Says,” Haaretz, (December 15, 2011).

12 Richard Grenell, “Susan Rice Fails to Convince the Palestinians, and Offers a Rebuke to Israel,” Huffington Post, (February 17, 2011); “United States vetoes Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements,” UN News Centre, (February 18, 2011).

14 “UN resolutions disproportionately condemn Israel,” UN Watch.

15 “Voting Practices at the United Nations - 2020,” U.S. State Department, (October 26, 2021).

16 Bruno Simma, ed., The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 237-241; 407-418.

17 “UN resolutions disproportionately condemn Israel,” UN Watch.

18 Lahav Harkov, “UNHRC’s game is rigged, so Israel isn’t playing – Analysis,” Jerusalem Post, (February 12, 2020).

19 “Racism: UN Human Rights Council must be forthright over Africa’s petition – Dr Mou,” The Sun [Nigeria], (August 31, 2020).

20 Michele Kelemen, “Biden Administration To Rejoin U.N. Human Rights Council,” NPR, (February 8, 2021).

21 Nick Cumming-Bruce, “U.N. Rights Council Orders Inquiry Into Israel After Gaza Strife,” New York Times, (May 27, 2021).

22 UN Human Rights Council Session on the Israeli-Palestinian Situation,” Press Statement, U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, (May 27, 2021).

23 “UNESCO Erases Jewish Connection to Temple Mount, Kotel” CAMERA, (April 19, 2016); “UNESCO Adopts Controversial Jerusalem Resolution,” Associated Press, (October 18, 2016).

24 Daniel Marwecki, “Why Did the U.S. and Israel Leave UNESCO?” E-International Relations, (February 14, 2019).

25 Barak Ravid, “Scoop: Israel wouldn’t oppose U.S. return to UNESCO,” AXIOS, (February 9, 2022).