Bernadotte Named Peace Mediator (L-R) Count Folke Bernadotte with Moshe Sharett at Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 1948. Photo: GPO Israel

May 20, 1948

Count Folke Bernadotte is appointed by the U.N. Security Council as the mediator for Middle East peace efforts five days into the Israeli War of Independence.

Bernadotte was born in Sweden in 1895 and studied at military school until he became a cavalry officer. As the vice chairman of the Swedish Red Cross during World War II, he supervised the exchange of British and German prisoners of war and negotiated the release of Danes and Norwegians from Nazi concentration camps.

Ten days after his appointment, Bernadotte initiates conferences with Arab and Jewish leaders. On June 11 he arranges a four-week truce, drawn up by his main assistant, American Ralph Bunche, who is the chief representative of U.N. Secretary-General Trygve Lie.

Members of Lehi (the Stern Gang) assassinate Bernadotte in Jerusalem on Sept. 17 in anger at the details that have leaked about his draft peace plan, which calls for an independent Israel, a union between Jordan and Palestine that includes Jerusalem, with autonomy for the city’s Jews, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes in Israel or receive compensation. Both sides reject the plan. Shortly after Bernadotte’s death, his final report on peace is published and wins acceptance by the United States and Britain.

Bunche succeeds Bernadotte and negotiates armistices between Israel and the Arab states attacking it between January and July 1949. That accomplishment wins Bunche the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.