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Linguistic controversy surrounds UN Resolution 242

A further layer of complexity is added to the infamous puzzle of Israeli-Arab relations by the UN’s famous Resolution 242, which generates considerable linguistic doubt.

This resolution, which was adopted on 22 November 1967 in the wake of the Six-Day War, stipulates:
• according to its official French version: “le retrait des forces armées israéliennes des territoires occupés lors du récent conflit”;
• according to its official English version: “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”;

Although the UN has six official languages, English and French have special pre-eminence at the UN Security Council.

However, the application of the French version would entail an Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied in 1967, whereas the English version specifies “from territories”, which can be taken to mean “from some territories”.

A number of Anglo-Saxon diplomats involved in drawing up the resolution have stated that the omission of the definite article was deliberate, despite reaffirming the inadmissibility of acquiring territories through war.

Since then, the Security Council has adopted no resolutions concerning interpretation which would have dispelled the ambiguity generated by the existence of these two different versions. Instead, this ambiguity has been preserved in later UNSC resolutions.


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