Israel Is Accepted as a Member of the United Nations

May 11, 1949

On May 15, 1948, the day after Israel proclaimed its Independence, the new state applies for membership in the United Nations. The admissions committee, however, cites Israel’s inability to prove its viability as a state, does not support the application. Eventually, the Security Council denies Israel membership.

On December 17, 1948, with the fledgling Jewish State in the midst of a multi-front war with all her neighboring countries, the Security Council denies Israel’s second application for membership in the UN. By early March 1949 the fighting of the 1948 War is over and Israel, under the auspices of the United Nations’ Chief Negotiator Ralph Bunche, is conducting Armistice talks separately with four Arab states.  By that point Israel has reached an Armistice agreement with Egypt  which is completed at the end of February, and is close to an agreement with Lebanon.  TAs a result of these developments, the Security Council votes 9-1 on March 4, 1949 to recommend Israel’s third application for membership.  Britain abstains, while the only vote against is from Egypt, whose representative Mahmoud Fawzi Bey calls Israel’s potential admission, “an affront to humanity and a sacrilege to the Organization which we are supposed to represent.”  Britain is concerned that the issue of Jerusalem remains unresolved while both Britain and Egypt are troubled about the Arab refugees and their status.

Despite the Security Council recommendation, there remains a great uncertainty about whether or not Israel will actually be admitted. Instrumental to rallying the necessary support for the passing the motion is Abba Eban, Israel’s first ambassador to the UN.

On May 5, 1949, in a marathon two and a half hour speech, Eban passionately argues Israel’s case in front of the Ad Hoc Political Committee of the UN.  Eban explains that while the Partition Plan calls for the internationalization of Jerusalem, that aspect is no longer valid as a result of Arab aggression and the results of the war.  He states that Israel will present a new plan for the Holy places in Jerusalem, but will not relinquish civilian control over its part of the city, maintaining, “It is possible to envisage an international regime which applies to the whole city of Jerusalem, but which is restricted functionally so as to be concerned only with the protection and control of Holy Places and not with any purely secular aspects of life and government. This is the approach which we favor at our present stage in the consideration of this problem.”

In addressing the situation of the Arab refugees, Eban states that Israel is willing to contribute to the solution, but that it would be dependent on, “the formal establishment of peace and relations of good neighborliness between Israel and the Arab States.”   The speech is widely seen as the final diplomatic push that fostered Israeli membership into the UN.

On May 11, 1949 the UN General Assembly votes 37 to 12, with 9 abstentions, to admit Israel as a member state, making her the 59th member of the United Nations.