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Abba Eban, Israel’s first permanent representative to the UN, once called the UN, “the world center for anti-Semitism.” Attacks against Israel were so strident during his tenure [1949-1959], he said that “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.” [1] Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, added “Why must the UN constantly serve as a house of lies?" [2]

On November 30, 2022, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to commemorate the Nakba (the so-called Palestinian Catastrophe), aka the establishment of the Jewish State, at “a high-level event at the General Assembly Hall” on May 15, 2023.

During the debate about the resolution, the Permanent UN Observer for the State of Palestine declared the resolution as having righted a wrong against the Arabs: “Today the Assembly will finally acknowledge the historical injustice that befell the Palestinian people, adopting a resolution that decides to commemorate in the Assembly Hall the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nakba.” [3]

Abba Eban:“If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
Ambassador Erdan responded that the “sole purpose” of this and other resolutions aimed at Israel “is to blame everything in the Middle East solely on Israel while absolving the Palestinian Arabs of their responsibility for their situation.

Year after year, all such distorted resolutions pass, ensuring that the conflict never ends. This does not help the Palestinian Arabs, but it does turn the United Nations and Member States into accomplices in a Palestinian Arab jihad war that destroys any chances for reconciliation.” [4]

Israel’s Call for Peace

It is important to recall that when Israel proclaimed its independence on May 15, 1948 in accordance with the UN decision, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon attacked Israel with the goal to destroy the nascent state.

Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion asserted “The State of Israel emphasized its sincere desire for peace and cooperation with the Arabs. In two important paragraphs,” the proclamation declared: “Even amidst the violent attacks launched against us for months past, we call upon the sons of the Arab people dwelling in Israel to keep the peace and to play their part in building the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions, provisional and permanent."

"We extend the hand of peace and good neighbourliness to all the states around us and to their peoples, and we call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.” [5]

Arab Response

The fear that the Arabs would invade Israel once the Jews announced their state prompted the American consul in Cairo to send his secretary to Damascus to ascertain Arab views on a new American proposal: an unofficial truce accord and a ten-day cease-fire. When he asked Azzam Bey, the head of the Arab League, if the Arabs had “considered the grave responsibilities which they were assuming before the world in invading Palestine when the matter was before the UN,” Bey responded the Arabs had very earnestly taken into account all of the consequences and concluded they had no option but to dispatch armed forces to Palestine on May 15, 1948 after Israel was declared a state.

If they abandoned the idea to attack, he said it would result in “dissatisfaction and mutual recriminations” among the Arabs themselves, which would lead to comparatively moderate individuals in the Arab League, including Azzam Bey himself being ousted and threaten the unity of the Arab League. He also feared that some Arab governments might be toppled because of “rising passions among the Arab population.” [6]

The UN in Perspective

Israel’s formal acceptance as the 59th UN Member State on May 11, 1949 was consistent with the UN’s original core beliefs. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris on December 10, 1948 by the UN General Assembly, was issued in response to the “disregard and contempt for human rights” that resulted in the “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind” called the Holocaust—the attempt to annihilate the Jews of Europe by the Nazis. [7] Thus the Jewish state and the human rights revolution “were as one in 1948… . There is a clear symbolic—if not symbiotic—relationship between Israel and human rights… and Israel was born of that commitment.” [8]

“On May 14, 1948, Israel’s founders wanted to emphasize to the world that while the Jewish people had been born in Eretz-Israel [ארץ ישראל, the land of Israel], its state was the adopted child of the United Nations” noted historian Martin Kramer. “Israel had a ‘natural and historic’ right to exist,” he said, “and that right had been recognized by the world. Nothing made this point more clearly than the crucial passage of the declaration: “By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” [9]

“Does this suggest that the United Nations ‘created’ the state of Israel?” asked Kramer. “Hardly; if it were within the power of the UN to create states, an Arab state would have arisen in 1948 alongside Israel. After all, the Arabs of Palestine possessed exactly the same recognition of their rights and the same license to act as did the Jews (although not the historiical connection to the land, ed). The difference, to revert to the term invoked by the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), was that the Arabs didn’t constitute a “state within a state….absent a Jewish army, Israel wouldn’t have arisen in any borders, and certainly not in the expanded borders of 1949.”[10]

A Final Note

From their initial UN deliberations, the permanent representatives of the UN understood the gravity of the problems they confronted and how their decisions would affect the future of the world. In hindsight, their remarks were prescient.

Moe Finn, a Norwegian politician, who was a member of the UN Security Council from 1948 to 1949, viewed the UN’s attempt to find a solution as being “very well a test case,” since it “may be decisive for the future of the United Nations.” [11]

Addressing the Special Session of the General Assembly held between April 28 and May 5, 1947, Mr. Quo Tai-chi, Chinese representative to the Security Council, prophetically warned that unless Arabs and Jews “learn to love their neighbors as themselves.” there will be no peace in the Holy Land, or indeed, in any land.” Historical and legal procedures, political and economic considerations will never provide a solution for peace. Until Jews and Christians “return to the teachings of the prophets and the saints of the Holy Land … no parliament of man, no statement, no legal formula, no historical equation, no political and economic programme can singly or together themselves solve the problem.” [12]

For Asaf Ali, Indian ambassador to the United States in 1947, Palestine had “become the acid test of human conscience. The United Nations will find that upon their decision will depend [on] the future of humanity, whether humanity is going to proceed by peaceful means or whether humanity is going to be torn to pieces. If a wrong decision flows from this august Assembly…the world shall be cut in twain and there shall be no peace on earth.” [13]

Footnotes

[1] Silvan Shalom, “A fence built for peace,” The Guardian (February 2, 2004).

[2] Elad Benari, “UN General Assembly approves event honoring 'Nakba Day' parallel to Independence Day Israel,” Israel National News (December1, 2022).

[3] UN Meetings Coverage and Press Releases (November 30, 2022) GA/12475).

[4] Ibid.

[5] David Ben-Gurion, My Talks With Arab Leaders (Jerusalem, Keter Books, 1972); 266-267; Martin Kramer, “The May 1948 Vote that Made the State of Israel,” Mosaic (April 2, 2018).

[6] Ronald Radosh, Allis Radosh, A Safe Haven Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel (New York: HarperCollins, 2009),317-318); Maurice Hirsch, “What happened to the 1947 UN Partition Plan?” Palestinian Media Watch (November 29, 2022).

[7] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 1948).

[8] Irwin Cotler, “Human Rights at 50,” The Jerusalem Post (December 29, 1998).

[9]Martin Kramer, “Did the UN Create Israel?” Mosaic (August 10, 2010).

[10] Ibid; Martin Kramer, “How Israel’s Declaration of Independence Became Its Constitution,” Mosaic (November 1, 2021); UNSCOP was established on May 15, 1947 UNSCOP’s mission was to investigate the cause of the conflict in Palestine, and, if possible, formulate a solution.

[11] Jacob Robinson, Palestine and the United Nations: Prelude to Solution (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1947), 200.

[12] Ibid. 199.

[13] Ibid.201.

Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and on the advisory board of The National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.