July 2011, Page 24
Third Time's a Charm: Israel Admitted as U.N. Member in 1949
By Donald Neff
Israel first applied for admittance to the United Nations on May 15, 1948—the day after it declared its independence. However, the admissions committee concluded it did not have "the requisite information" proving Israel was a viable state, and its application was ignored by the Security Council instead of being forwarded to the General Assembly for action.
According to the U.N.'s Rules of Procedure, if the Security Council recommends an applicant state for membership, two-thirds of the General Assembly members must then approve the application.
On Dec. 17, 1948, Israel's second application for U.N. membership was denied by the Security Council by a vote of 5-1, with 5 abstentions. Syria cast the lone vote against Israel's admittance, while the U.S., Argentina, Colombia, the Soviet Union and Ukraine voted in favor. Belgium, Britain, Canada, China and France abstained, on grounds that the fighting continued in Palestine and that Israel had failed to establish a demilitarized zone in the Negev.
Following the Security Council's March 4, 1949 vote of 9-1, with 1 abstention, to recommend Israel's third application for U.N. membership, the General Assembly on May 11, 1949 voted 37 to 12, with 9 abstentions, to admit Israel to the United Nations. The United States and the Soviet Union were in favor, while Britain abstained.
In joining the U.N., Israel vowed that it would pursue "no policies on any question which were inconsistent with...the resolutions of the Assembly and the Security Council." There had been five major points of concern about Israel's admission: its position toward internationalization of Jerusalem, its position on refugees, its stand on borders, its willingness to observe U.N. resolutions, and its failure to apprehend the assassins of Count Folke Bernadotte. Scandinavian countries complained that Israel's report to the United Nations on Bernadotte's assassination had been unresponsive and failed to show a serious effort to apprehend the culprits. Israel's U.N. delegate Abba Eban addressed each issue before the General Assembly.
On Jerusalem, he said Israel's actions in the city had not been taken in order to create new political facts but to help Jerusalem recover from the ravages of war. He said Israel accepted the principle that Jerusalem should be accorded separate treatment under U.N. control, but he noted the U.N. had not yet pronounced on the precise juridical status of Jerusalem and he hoped that when it did it would take into account changes since November 1947, when the partition plan had been adopted. Eban suggested internationalization might be applied to the whole city but restricted functionally, which Israel preferred, or confine internationalization to that part of the city containing most of the religious shrines.
On refugees, Eban said their problem was a direct result of the Arab states' war to try to defeat the U.N. partition plan. He said Israel had done its best to stem the exodus of the Palestinians and now resettlement would have to take account of the changes that had since occurred. He added Israel would make compensation for abandoned lands, and did not reject the return of those refugees willing to live in peace. But he also said resettlement of the refugees outside of Palestine should be explored. Eban concluded by saying Israel was ready to help solve the problem but at this stage it was reluctant to make a commitment for or against any particular formula.
On borders, Eban said there might be some changes but he promised they would not be imposed and would be made through agreements freely negotiated.
On U.N. obligations, Eban said Israel held no views and pursued no policies at variance with the U.N. Charter or the resolutions of the General Assembly or Security Council. He said Israel favored increasing the compelling moral force of General Assembly resolutions and, after admission, would attribute to them wide validity. He said it was the Arabs who had defied the General Assembly's decisions on Palestine.
On Bernadotte, Eban said Jewish terrorism had emerged as a reaction to British policy during the Mandate, and unfortunately some terrorists operated in wanton defiance of the authority of the government of Israel. These groups were small and operated secretly, and as a result no exact identification of Bernadotte's assassins had been possible and therefore those responsible had not been able to be arrested.
Surely, 62 years later, the Palestinians deserve to make their own case for recognition.
Donald Neff is author of the Warriors trilogy about Israel's 1956, '67 and '73 wars, and 50 Years of Israel, all available from the AET Book Club; and of Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy towards Palestine and Israel since 1945, currently out of print.
General Assembly Resolution 273, May 11, 1949
Having received the report of the Security Council on the application of Israel for membership in the United Nations,
Noting that, in the judgment of the Security Council, Israel is a peace-loving State and is able and willing to carry out the obligations contained in the Charter,
Noting that the Security Council has recommended to the General Assembly that it admit Israel to membership in the United Nations,
Noting furthermore the declaration by the State of Israel that it "unreservedly accepts the obligations of the United Nations Charter and undertakes to honor them from the day when it becomes a Member of the United Nations,"
Recalling its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948 and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representatives of the Government of Israel before the Ad Hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions,
The General Assembly
Acting in discharge of its functions under Article 4 of the Charter and rule 125 of its rules of procedure,
1. Decides that Israel is a peace-loving State which accepts the obligations contained in the Charter and is able and willing to carry out those obligations;
2. Decides to admit Israel to membership in the United Nations.