As September approaches, many are waiting with bated breath to learn if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will deliver on his threat to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state and seek recognition of it through the U.N. But in putting the Palestinian demand for statehood to a vote, Abbas will end up subverting the international organization's longstanding solution to the Arab Israeli-conflict—U.N. Security Council Resolution 242—with unpredictable results.
Passed in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, resolution 242 established the principle of "land for peace" as the cornerstone of future peace agreements between Israel and the Arabs, to be reached in negotiations between the two sides. Israel was asked to withdraw "from territories occupied in the recent conflict"—the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
The absence of the definite article "the" before "territories" was no accident: Issued a mere six months after Israel's astounding triumph over the concerted Arab attempt to obliterate the Jewish state, the resolution reflected acceptance by the Security Council of the existential threat posed by the 1949 armistice line, memorably described by Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban as "Auschwitz borders." The Security Council expected negotiations between Israel and the Arabs to produce a more defensible frontier for Israel, one consistent with, in the words of the resolution's other key formulation, the right of every state in the region "to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries."
In the 44 years that have followed, Israel has persistently striven to make peace with its Arab neighbors. It withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, constituting more than 90% of the territories occupied in 1967, as part of its 1979 peace agreement with Egypt. Repeated efforts to persuade Syrian President Hafez Assad to follow in Egypt's footsteps came to naught, however.
As for the Palestinians, their rejection of resolution 242 was absolute. In 1967, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected the U.N. proposal as a plot "concocted in the corridors of the United Nations to accord [with] the Zionist racist colonial illegal occupation in Palestine," acceptance of which constituted "a treasonable act not only against the Palestinian people but against the whole Arab nation." When the Carter administration informed Arafat of its readiness to inaugurate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, should he accept resolution 242, the PLO chairman categorically turned the offer down. "This is a lousy deal," he told an intermediary. "We want Palestine. We don't want bits of Palestine."
It was not until 1988, more than two decades after the resolution's passage, that the Palestine National Congress grudgingly accepted resolution 242. While this marked a major shift in PLO public diplomacy, Arafat remained committed to the PLO's phased strategy of June 1974, which stipulated that any territory gained through diplomacy would merely be a springboard for the "complete liberation of Palestine." Shortly after the PLO accepted 242, Arafat's second in command, Salah Khalaf (better known by his nom de guerre of Abu Iyad), declared that "the establishment of a Palestinian state on any part of Palestine is but a step toward the whole of Palestine." Two years later, he reiterated this view at a public rally in Amman, pledging to liberate Palestine "inch by inch from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river."
Arafat remained committed to the PLO's phased strategy even after signing the 1993 Oslo Accords. Five days before the signing, he told an Israeli journalist that one day there would be a "united state in which Israelis and Palestinians will live together"—that is, Israel would cease to exist. Even as he shook Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's hand on the White House lawn, Arafat was assuring the Palestinians in a pre-recorded Arabic-language message that the agreement was merely an implementation of the PLO's phased strategy.
The public diplomacy of Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, also ran contrary to the letter and spirit of 242. The Palestinians have consistently misrepresented the resolution as calling for Israel's complete withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines, while claiming that its stipulation for "a just settlement of the refugee problem" meant endorsement of the Palestinian "right of return"—the standard Arab euphemism for Israel's destruction through demographic subversion. They also sought to undermine the resolution's insistence on the need for a negotiated settlement, seeking time and again to engineer an internationally imposed dictate despite their commitment to a negotiated settlement through the Oslo process.
When Israel offered at the American-convened July 2000 peace summit in Camp David to cede virtually the entire territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the nascent Palestinian state and made concessions with respect to Jerusalem, Arafat responded with a campaign of terror unmatched in the history of the Jewish state. Seven-and-a-half years later, at yet another U.S.-sponsored summit, Mr. Abbas rejected Israel's offer of a Palestinian Arab state in 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, and categorically dismissed the request to recognize Israel as a Jewish state alongside the would-be Palestinian state, insisting instead on full implementation of the "right of return."
Since the inauguration of the Obama administration, Mr. Abbas has dropped all remaining pretenses of seeking a negotiated settlement, striving instead to engineer international enforcement of a complete Israeli withdrawal without a peace agreement, or, indeed, any quid pro quo. Were the U.N. General Assembly to fall for the Palestinian ploy, it will not only reward decades of duplicity, intransigence, and violence and betray its own formula of "land for peace," but will be introducing a new and dangerous stage in the century-long feud between Arabs and Jews: that of "land for war."
Mr. Karsh is director of the Middle East Forum (Philadelphia) and professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London. Mr. Romirowsky is adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum and a doctoral student at King's College London.