Israel and the United Nations

by Karin Leukefeld, Bonn and Damascus

Israel has problems with the United Nations. When it comes to the country’s conflict with Palestine, Israeli diplomats quickly become furious as they defy the world organisation and its member states. The ongoing bombardment of the population in Gaza – of densely populated residential areas, refugee camps, schools, hospitals, civilian infrastructure, and journalists and their families – shows that Israel is violating international law.

UN membership subject to conditions

[…] that Israel is a peace-loving State and is able and willing to carry out the obligations contained in the Charter” (UNGA Resolution 273; see box).
  Even during war, it is considered a crime to target civilian populations, to cut off their water, electricity, fuel, medical supplies, food, and communication links. While more and more countries recall their ambassadors from Israel, or, like Bolivia, break off diplomatic relations altogether, the German government in Berlin remains unconditionally loyal to Israel.
  Foreign Minister Baerbock declared that Israel – like every state in the world – has a duty to protect its population and to defend itself against attacks. Baerbock described the people in the Jabaliya refugee camp – bombed by Israel twice within 24 hours – as “human shields” of the “terrorist organisation Hamas”. This not only reveals contempt for the victims of the bombings, it also shows that the German Foreign Minister doesn’t know the history of the state of Israel and of Palestine.

The UN dividing Palestine

Before the end of the British Mandate (1920–1948), Palestine was divided under the UN Partition Plan (UN Resolution 181 II). The newly founded UN thus complied with a promise made by the British colonial power in 1917, when the British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour committed the British Crown to supporting the Zionist national movement in establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The population living in Palestine rejected the idea. Protests and violence, which had already begun before the UN resolution, erupted as discussions of the partition plan proceeded.
  This partition plan, adopted in November 1947 (UN Resolution 181 II), divided Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. Although more than two thirds of the approximately 1,900,000 inhabitants at the time were Muslim, Christian, and Druze Palestinians, with only one third comprising immigrant Jews, the indigenous Palestinian population wasn’t given a vote. A referendum was rejected.
  The Jewish state was to comprise 56.47 per cent of Palestine, the Arab state 42.88 per cent. The city of Jerusalem, with 0.65 per cent, was to be placed under UN administration as a “corpus separatum”. All three parts were to be combined in an economic union. The port city of Jaffa belonged to the Arab state. At the time, the UN had 56 member states, of which 33 voted in favour, 13 against and ten abstained. All Arab states voted against.

The expulsion

Although the Zionists regarded the partition resolution as the founding document of their state, they launched military operations to expel the Palestinians immediately after the plan was passed in order to enlarge the territory granted to them. They attacked villages and either killed or expelled the population. 530 Palestinian villages were destroyed. At the turn of the year 1948/49, the Palestinians were left with only 22 per cent of the land that the UN partition plan had intended for them. East Jerusalem had been defended by the Jordanian Arab Legion against the Zionist militias. West Jerusalem, on the other hand, had been taken early on by the Zionist underground army Haganah and the Palestinian population had been expelled. Thus, the Zionists ignored the part of the UN partition plan according to which Jerusalem was to be placed under international administration as a “corpus separatum”.
  On 14 May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. The following day, on 15 May, Israel applied for membership to the United Nations. The application was not dealt with by the UN Security Council. On the very same day, 15 May, the Arab states declared war on Israel. On 20 May, the UN General Assembly appointed the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte as UN mediator for Palestine. Bernadotte succeeded in negotiating a ceasefire and he laid the foundations for the UN relief organisation for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. He criticised the “ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinians and the fact that “Israel claimed all of Jerusalem for itself”, which contradicted the UN partition plan. On 17 September 1948, UN special mediator Bernadotte was assassinated by the Stern Group, a Zionist militia. Yitzhak Shamir, who later became Israeli Prime Minister, was also a member of the Stern Group. The UN Security Council condemned Bernadotte’s assassination. On 11 December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which defined the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees (if feasible) as well as compensation for their losses. On 17 December that same year, a second Israeli application for membership to the United Nations was rejected by the UN Security Council.
  After parliamentary elections in 1949, Israel applied for membership to the United Nations for the third time. On 4 March 1949, the UN Security Council voted in favour of membership with Resolution 69. Great Britain had objections. It had abstained from the vote arguing that Israel wasn’t abiding by UN principles and didn’t accept the UN partition plan. The UN General Assembly approved Israel’s membership on 11 May 1949, however it formulated conditions. Thereafter, Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations on condition that Israel accept, and implement, Resolutions 181 II and 194, the UN Partition Plan and the right of return of the Palestinians (if feasible) as well as their reparations. Since then, Israel has ignored more than 200 resolutions of the UN General Assembly alone.
  In 1967, after the Six-Day War, another important United Nations resolution was passed, this time by the UN Security Council. This was Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, which stated that the “conquest of land by war is inadmissible” and that Israeli troops must withdraw from the occupied territories (1967). This involved East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel had occupied in the Six-Day War (June 1967). By that time, Israel had already begun to colonise the occupied territories, in particular through the illegal construction of settlements. Israel was thus violating international law and the 4th Geneva Convention.
  At the UN General Assembly on 22 September 2023, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up to the lectern with a map to demonstrate that Israel and Saudi Arabia – then in a political rapprochement supported by the USA – were on the verge of an agreement. On the map of the region that Netanyahu held up, Israel encompassed the entire territory of Palestine, without showing the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem, the intended capital of a state of Palestine. The Palestinian territories that were to have formed a Palestinian state had been erased.

The attack by the Qassam Brigades

Israel responded to the attack by the Qassam Brigades from the Gaza Strip on areas in southern Israel on 7 October 2023 with unprecedented violence against the Palestinians, initially in the Gaza Strip and now also in the occupied West Bank. Calls in the UN Security Council and the General Assembly for a ceasefire and aid for the civilian population have been met with threats and accusations by Israeli diplomats. UN Secretary-General António Guterres was insulted and asked to resign when he pointed out at a UN Security Council meeting (24 October 2023) that the 7 October attack had not emerged out of a vacuum. For more than 56 years, the Palestinians have been living under an oppressive Israeli occupation and have been denied their own state. No party in an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law, said Guterres, referring to the clear violations of humanitarian law that can be observed in Gaza.
  The USA has put a stop to several draft resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire on the grounds that they did not recognise Israel’s “right of defence” and the condemnation of Hamas as a “terrorist organisation”. During those political battles in the UN Security Council, more than 8,700 people were killed (as of 2 November) by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, including more than 3,600 children.
  On 27 October, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution of Arab states by 121:14:44 votes calling for an “immediate, permanent and sustainable humanitarian ceasefire” between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters in Gaza. In addition, “continuous, sufficient and unhindered” supplies to the civilian population trapped in Gaza must be ensured.

Israel and the United Nations

Israel refused to abide by the UN resolution. Instead, on the same day it was passed, Israel intensified its aerial, artillery, and naval bombardment of the Palestinian coastal strip. The supply of water, medicine and fuel has been interrupted. Communications in Gaza have been cut, neither telephones nor internet connections are working.
  On 30 October, Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan appeared with a yellow Star of David on his suit jacket. “Never again” was written on it. The symbolic gesture was meant to invoke German fascism and the extermination of Jews during WWII by religious, ethnic and societal groups as well as by political opponents. Erdan claimed to be wearing the star “as his grandparents and the grandparents of millions of Jews” once wore it. He intends to continue wearing it until the United Nations condemns the atrocities committed by Hamas and demands the immediate release of the Israeli hostages.
  The action was criticised by the chairman of the Yad Vashem memorial, Dani Dayan, who said that wearing the star was a “disgrace (shame) for the victims of the Holocaust and for Israel”. The yellow star symbolises the helplessness of the Jewish people, according to Dayan, whereas today, Israel has an independent state and a strong army. “We are the masters of our own destiny,” Dayan said. “Today we will pin a blue and white flag on our lapels, not a yellow star.”
  Numerous UN diplomats, UN organisations, and institutions have issued appeals calling for a to stop to Israel’s violation of international law. While it is not explicitly stated, the appeals are directed at those governments – such as the USA and Germany – that arm and support Israel, politically and in the media, and – like the USA – prevent the UN Security Council from unanimously and immediately calling for a ceasefire. On 14 October, Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Representative for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel since 1967, declared that “under the guise of war […] Israel is trying once again and in the name of self-defence to justify what would amount to ethnic cleansing”.
  As a reminder: On 11 May 1949, Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations on the condition that it accepts and implements Resolutions 181 II (the UN Partition Plan) and 194 (the UN Partition Plan and the right of return of the Palestinians (if feasible) and their reparations). To this day, Israel has never considered it “feasible” for the Palestinians to return. On the contrary, Israel has done everything in its power to appropriate the land of Palestine. The USA has always held a protective hand over Israel even as Palestinians are expelled, arrested, and killed. In October 2023, high-ranking Israeli politicians and personalities labelled the Palestinian people as “human animals”.  •

First published on on 4 November 2023;
Reprinted with kind permission of the author

(Translation Current Concerns)

Resolution 273 of the UN General Assembly of 11 May 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 honour 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 representative 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.

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