The United Nations was established on October 24, 1945.

Palestine was then administered under the internationally sanctioned League of Nations British Mandate.  In February 1947, Britain decided to terminate its presence in the Mandate. It turned the issue of Palestine over to the United Nations. Then, in April 1947, the UN set up UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) to recommend proposals for Palestine’s future. In a failed effort to block UNSCOP’s work before it started, five Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria) called for an immediate UN vote for “the termination of the Mandate over Palestine and the declaration of its independence.”  The effort was aimed at preventing the possibility that UNSCOP might call for the establishment of a Jewish state.

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Instead, on November 29, 1947, an UNSCOP proposal “to create Arab and Jewish states no later than October 1948 with an economic union and a special regime for Jerusalem to be administered by the United Nations Trusteeship Council” was passed by a majority of UN members.  Arab and Muslim states voted to reject the proposal; the US and the USSR voted in favor while Britain abstained.

In May 1948, Israel declared its independence, the first Arab-Israeli war took place in 1948-1949, and, during its course, the UN mediated its conclusion with armistice agreements between Israel and four states (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria). The UN then passed Resolution 194 in December 1948.  It said “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so, and compensation be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.”  The resolution also set up a Conciliation Commission for Palestine aimed at helping the parties achieve a final settlement between them.  Refugees did not return and establishing an international regime for Jerusalem as suggested in the 1947 Partition Resolution did not occur.  The status and well-being of some 700,000 Palestinian refugees was managed by a newly created organization, UNWRA (United Nations Works Relief Agency). In May 1949, Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations.

For the next two decades, efforts to moderate, mediate, and monitor the conflict with peacekeepers played out mostly at the United Nations and with UN appointed personnel. After the 1956 Suez War, the United Nations placed troops, UNEF (United Nations Emergency Force), in the Sinai to act as a buffer against a future Arab-Israeli war. However, in May 1967, after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the removal of the UNEF troops, UN Secretary General U Thant failed to prevent this from happening, allowing the forces that were placed there to separate Egyptian and Israeli armies to be removed.

After the 1967 War and after prolonged debate about the wording that should be used in a resolution that might be the framework for ending the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the UN Security Council unanimously passed UN Resolution 242. The Resolution called for an unspecified Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the war in exchange for “the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of all the states in the region.”  When UN-sponsored mediation of the conflict that was based on this Resolution failed to gain traction at the end of the 1960s, the United States took over the reins of the conflict’s mediation, eventually to the exclusion of other Great Powers and the UN. When US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Nixon Administration and Carter Administration officials pushed for agreements between Israel and its neighbors in the 1970s, UNSC Resolution 242 was the foundational centerpiece around which progress unfolded.  When the Oslo Accords (1993) and the Jordanian-Israeli Treaty (1994) were signed, the contents of UNSC Resolution 242 remained the centerpiece for achieving a negotiated settlement.

Over seven decades of the conflict, the UN has convened conferences, passed resolutions, dispatched peace-keepers, and provided the Palestinians and Arab states a frequent podium for vilifying Israel and condemning its policies.  In 2015, Palestinian representatives can regularly count on the support of 22 Arab League members and 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. During the Cold War, the Palestinians also counted on support from the Soviet Union, its allies, and many Third World countries. Each September when the UN opens its new sessions, speeches given on behalf of the Palestinians have historically become the perennial location of choice to criticize Israel politicians and policies. Likewise, the 47 member UN Human Rights Council regularly launches verbal attacks on Israel that support boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli policies.

In 1975, the UN easily passed a General Assembly resolution categorizing Zionism as racism. After the end of the Cold War, that resolution was revoked.  In addition, the UN called for the establishment of a Palestinian state and for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories. Middle East stationed representatives of UN organizations such as those that work for UNWRA, have historically taken anti-Israeli positions on all matters relating to Israel’s presence in the territories and the management of the borders between the territories and Israel. Since Palestinians have regularly used the UN as a political tool to berate Israel and its main Western supporters, primarily the United States, Israel has avoided the UN as a venue for the conduct of substantive Arab-Israeli negotiations. When Arab-Israeli wars have occurred (1956, 1967, 1973), the first Lebanese War (1982), the three short wars with Hamas (2009, 2012-2013, and 2014), and the Israel-Hizbollah War (2006), the UN obtained cease-fire resolutions each time. Subsequent to these wars, Israel often found itself on the defensive as the UN pushed for Israeli withdrawals, sought to impose solutions, and often established commissions of inquiry aimed at condemning or criticizing Israeli actions.

Multiple reasons exist why the Palestinian Authority created out of the 1993 Oslo Accords use the diplomatic weight it can muster  at the UN to diminish Israel’s stature internationally. The absence of Arab unity and Arab uniformity in support of Palestinian objectives necessitates the use of UN forums that can support Palestinian aspirations; second, in the absence of a physical or military option to use against Israel, the UN is the most useful venue for sharp exchange with Israel; and third, with the Palestinian political community fragmented and dysfunctional a great amount of the time, the UN apparatus provides a common location for internal Palestinian disagreements to be shelved even if temporarily, while Israel is the common focus of antagonism.

Documents

1947 – UN General Assembly Resolution 181, Partition Plan
1947 – Remarks by Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko
1948 – UN General Assembly Resolution 194, Concerning Palestinian Refugees
1967 – Israel Ambassador to the UN Gideon Rafael to the UN Security Council
1967 – UN Security Council Resolution 242, an Outline for Peace
1973 – UN Security Council Resolution 338, on a Cease-Fire and Direct Negotiations
1975 – UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, Zionism is a form of Racism
2002 – UN Security Council Resolution 1397, Affirming a Two-State Solution
2003 – A Roadmap for a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Presented by the Quartet, European Union, United Nations, Russia and the United States
2009 – UN Security Council Resolution 1860, on Ending the Gaza War
2014 – Israel Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor’s Speech to the UN General Assembly
2016 – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech to the UN General Assembly
2016 – 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on Israeli Settlements and East Jerusalem
2017 – President Trump Speech Recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel