United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine
Following World War II and the establishment of the United Nations, the General Assembly resolved that a Special Committee be created “to prepare for consideration at the next regular session of the Assembly a report on the question of Palestine.” It would consist of the representatives of Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia. In the final report of September 3, 1947, seven members of the Committee in Chapter VI “expressed themselves, by recorded vote, in favour of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union” (reproduced in the Report). The Plan proposed “an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem”. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly recommended the adoption and implementation of a Plan of Partition with Economic Union, General Assembly Resolution 181, a slightly modified version of that proposed by the majority in the Report of September 3, 1947, 33 votes in favor, 13 against, and 10 abstentions. The vote itself, which required a two-third majority, was a dramatic affair. It led to celebrations in the streets of Jewish cities, but was rejected by the Arab Palestinians and the Arab League.
Within a few days, full scale Jewish–Arab fighting broke out in Palestine. It also led to anti-Jewish violence in Arab countries, and to a Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries.
“On May 14, 1948, on the day in which the British Mandate over Palestine expired, the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum, and approved” a “proclamation” which declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”, Nakba Day for Palestinians.
Resolution 181 also laid the foundation for the creation of an Arab state, but its neighbor states and the Arab League, which rejected all attempts at the creation of a Jewish state, rejected the plan. In the introduction to the cablegram from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the UN Secretary-General on 15 May 1948, the Arab League gave reasons for its “intervention”: “On the occasion of the intervention of Arab States in Palestine to restore law and order and to prevent disturbances prevailing in Palestine from spreading into their territories and to check further bloodshed”.
The same day, five Arab states invaded and rapidly occupied much of the Arab portion of the partition plan. This war changed the dynamic of the region, transforming a two-state plan into a war between Israel and the Arab world. During this war, resolution 194 reiterated the UN’s claim on Jerusalem and resolved in paragraph 11 “that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”. This resolution, accepted immediately by Israel, is the major legal foundation of the Palestinian right of return claim, a major point in peace negotiations. Resolution 194 also called for the creation of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine. The Arab states initially opposed this resolution, but within a few months, began to change their position, and became the strongest advocates of its refugee and territorial provisions.
Lehi assassinates U.N. mediator Folke Bernadotte
Folke Bernadotte was appointed the UN mediator in Palestine, the first official mediator in UN history. He succeeded in achieving a truce in May–June 1948 during which the British evacuated Palestine. He proposed two alternate partition plans, the second calling for a reduction in the size of the Jewish state and loss of sovereignty over the harbor city of Haifa. Both were rejected. The Zionist group Lehi assassinated him and his aide, UN observer Colonel André Serot on September 17, 1948. Bernadotte was succeeded by Ralph Bunche, who was successful in bringing about the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, for which he would later receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the aftermath of the 1948 war, and conditional on Israel’s acceptance and implementation of resolutions 181 and 194, the UN General Assembly voted, with the May 11, 1949 Resolution 273 (III), to admit Israel to UN membership as a “peace-loving country”. This resolution reiterated the demands for UN control over Jerusalem and for the return of Palestinian refugees. The vote for resolution 273 was held during the five-month long Lausanne conference, organized by the UN to reconcile the parties. This conference was largely a failure but was noteworthy as the first proposal by Israel to establish the 1949 armistice line between the Israeli and Arab armies, the so-called green line, as the border of the Jewish state. This line has acquired an after-the-fact international sanction.
Following the failure at Lausanne to settle the problem of the Arab refugees, UNRWA was created with the December 1949 resolution 302 (IV) to provide humanitarian aid to this group.
The Conciliation Commission for Palestine published its report in October 1950. It is noteworthy as the source of the official number of Palestinian Arab refugees (711,000). It again reiterated the demands for UN control over Jerusalem and for the return of Palestinian refugees.
After the failure of early attempts at resolution, and until 1967, discussion of Israel and Palestine was not as prominent at the UN. Exceptions included border incidents like the Qibya massacre, the passage of Security Council Resolution 95 supporting Israel’s position over Egypt’s on usage of the Suez Canal, and most prominently the 1956 Suez Crisis.
Following the closing of the Suez canal by Egypt, Israel, France and Great Britain attacked Egypt starting October 29, 1956. The First emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly was called on November 1 to address that crisis. On November 2, the General Assembly adopted the United States’ proposal for Resolution 997 (ES-I); it called for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of all forces behind the 1949 armistice lines and the reopening of the Suez Canal. The emergency special session consequently adopted a series of enabling resolutions which established the UNEF, the first UN peacekeeping force. On November 7, David Ben-Gurion declared victory against Egypt, renounced the 1949 armistice agreement with Egypt and added that Israel would never agree to the stationing of UN forces on its territory or in any area it occupied. Eventually, Israel withdrew from the Sinai but with conditions for sea access to Eilat and a UNEF presence on Egyptian soil. By April 24, 1957 the canal was fully reopened to shipping.
In 1961, the regional groups were created at the UN. From the onset, Arab countries blocked the entry of Israel to the Asia group (see Regional Groups below).
After months of debate in the Security Council and General Assembly before, during and after the 1967 Six-Day War, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted. It became a universally accepted basis for Arab-Israeli and later, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In it, the Land for peace principle was spelled out. This resolution is one of the most discussed, both within and outside of the UN.
In November 1967, Gunnar Jarring was appointed as the UN special envoy for the Middle East peace process. The Jarring Mission was unsuccessful.
The Six-Day War generated a new wave of Palestinian refugees who could not be included in the original UNRWA definition. From 1991, the UN General Assembly has adopted an annual resolution allowing the 1967 refugees within the UNRWA mandate.
In 1968, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People was created to investigate Jewish settlements on Palestinian territories. It generates yearly General Assembly resolutions and other documents.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict gained prominence following the emergence of Palestinian armed groups, especially the Palestine Liberation Organization and the increased political strength of the Arab group as the main suppliers of petroleum to the Western world. At the UN, the Arab group also gained the support of the Eastern Bloc against Israel allied to the US.
In rapid succession, several events brought the Palestinian struggle to the forefront: the 1972 Olympic Munich massacre, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the ensuing 1973 oil crisis and, in 1975, the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War.
The Geneva Conference of 1973 was an attempt to negotiate a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. No comprehensive agreement was reached, and attempts in later years to revive the Conference failed.
In 1973, a General Assembly resolution about Apartheid “Condemns in particular the unholy alliance between Portuguese colonialism, Apartheid and Zionism.” This statement was reused in the preamble to resolution 3379.
About the 1974 UNESCO decision to exclude Israel from its membership, Julian Huxley, the first Director of UNESCO, wrote to The Times to complain. UNESCO defended this decision with two statements in 1974 and 1975. Israel’s membership was renewed two years later.
On November 13, 1974, Yasser Arafat became the first representative of an entity other than a member state to address the General Assembly. In 1975, the PLO was granted permanent observer status at the General Assembly.
Starting in 1974, Palestinian territories were named “Occupied Arab Territories” in UN documents. In 1982, the phrase “Occupied Palestinian Territories” became the usual name. This phrase was not used at the UN prior to 1967, when the same territories were under military occupation by Jordan and Egypt.
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was created in 1975 and of the United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights in 1977. Also in 1977, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was first celebrated on November 29 the anniversary of resolution 181.
The 1975 UN Resolution 3379 stated “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. The resolution was preceded by resolutions adopted at the United Nations-sponsored World Conference of the International Women’s Year in 1975. Resolution 3379 was sponsored by 25 Arab states; 72 voted for, 35 voted against and 32 abstained.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly after the resolution’s passage, US Ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan, declared that the US “does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” Israeli Ambassador Chaim Herzog told his fellow delegates this resolution was “based on hatred, falsehood and arrogance. Hitler,” he declared, “would have felt at home listening to the UN debate on the measure.”
The 1979 Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was a landmark event. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat is credited for initiating the process, following the failure of the UN-mediated peace negotiations, notably the Geneva Conference. The secret negotiations at Camp David in 1978 between Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter, and the treaty itself essentially bypassed UN-approved channels. The Camp David Accords (but not the Treaty itself) touch on the issue of Palestinian statehood. Egypt, Israel, and Jordan were to agree a way to establish elected self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza. Egypt and Israel were to find means to resolve the refugee problem.
The General Assembly was critical of the accords. General Assembly Resolution 34/65 (1979) condemned “partial agreements and separate treaties”. It said that the Camp David accords had “no validity insofar as they purport to determine the future of the Palestinian people and of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967”. In protest, the General Assembly did not renew the peace-keeping force in the Sinai peninsula, the UNEF II, despite requests by the US, Egypt and Israel, as stipulated in the treaty. To honor the treaty despite the UN’s refusal, the Multinational Force and Observers was created, which has always operated independently of the UN. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League for a period of ten years.
Between 1980 and 1988, some states made attempts to expel Israel from the General Assembly. For example, the credentials committee received in 1985 a letter signed by 34 Muslim states and the USSR. These attempts were unsuccessful.
The Palestinian National Council adopted in Algiers in 1988 the declaration of independence of the State of Palestine. The UN has not officially recognized this state but, by renaming the PLO observer as the Palestine observer, can be seen as having done so unofficially. In July 1998, the General Assembly adopted resolution 52/250 conferring upon Palestine additional rights and privileges, including the right to participate in the general debate held at the start of each session of the General Assembly, the right of reply, the right to co-sponsor resolutions and the right to raise points of order on Palestinian and Middle East issues.
Following sixteen years of intense diplomatic pressure by the US, the UN “Zionism is racism” resolution of 1975 was revoked in 1991 by resolution 46/86 as a precondition for the participation of Israel to the Madrid Conference.
Following the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the PLO, followed in 1994 by the Israel–Jordan peace treaty, the language of yearly General Assembly resolutions was modified to reduce criticism of Israeli actions. Moreover, between 1993 and 1995 the Security Council never directly condemned Israel. During this period, the Security Council also denounced terrorism against Israel for the first time. The most central resolution adopted during this warming trend toward Israel came on December 14, 1993 when 155 member states endorsed the Israel-Palestinian and the Israel-Jordan agreements and granted “full support for the achievements of the peace process so far”. This resolution was the first UN call for Middle East peace that did not criticize Israel. In October 1993, for the first time since 1981, the Arab members of the UN did not challenge Israel’s seat at the General Assembly.
The year 2000 saw the failure of the Camp David peace negotiations and the beginning of the Second Intifada.
In 2003, the Israeli West Bank barrier became another subject of criticism. It was declared illegal by both the General Assembly and the International Court of Justice. The Court found that the portions of the wall beyond the Green Line and the associated regime that had been imposed on the Palestinian inhabitants is illegal. The Court cited illegal interference by the government of Israel with the Palestinian’s national right to self-determination; and land confiscations, house demolitions, the creation of enclaves, and restrictions on movement and access to water, food, education, health care, work, and an adequate standard of living in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law. The UN Fact Finding Mission and several UN Rapporteurs subsequently noted that in the movement and access policy there has been a violation of the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race or national origin.
A series of terrorist attacks in March 2002 prompted Israel to conduct Operation Defensive Shield. The fiercest episode was the battle of Jenin in the UNRWA administered refugee camp of Jenin, where 75 died (23 IDF soldiers, 38 armed and 14 unarmed Palestinians) and 10% of the camp’s buildings destroyed. The UN send a first visiting mission. A separate fact-finding mission was mandated by the Security Council but blocked by Israel, a move condemned in General Assembly resolution 10/10 (May 2002). This mission was replaced by a report which was widely commented in the media. Many observers noted that the UN dropped the accusations of massacre made by Palestinians during and soon after the battle, and reproduced in the annex 1 of the report.
The Road map for peace is, since 2002, the latest and current effort by the UN to negotiate peace in the region. This document was initially proposed by US president George W. Bush and sponsored by a quartet of the USA, Russia, the European Union and the UN. The official text is in the form of a letter to the Security Council, not a General Assembly or Security Council resolution. It generated a series of changes: the sidelining of Yasser Arafat and the unilateral withdrawal of Jewish settlers and the Israeli forces from occupied territories, notably the Gaza strip. Progress is now stalled.
In 2003, Israel sought to gain support for a resolution of its own, the first it had introduced since 1976. The resolution called for the protection of Israeli children from terrorism. The resolution was worded to be very similar to General Assembly resolution 58/155 (December 22, 2003) titled ” Situation of and assistance to Palestinian children”. Israel withdrew the draft after a group of nations belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement, led by Egypt, insisted on including amendments that would have transformed the document into an anti-Israel resolution. The changes demanded were the altering of all references to “Israeli children” to read “Middle Eastern children,” and the insertion of harsh condemnation of Israeli “military assaults,” “occupation” and “excessive use of force” before any mention of Arab terrorism. The draft was withdrawn and never came to vote.
Security Council Resolution 1544 (2004) reiterated the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and called on Israel to address its security needs within the boundaries of international law.
In 2005, the UN approached Israel with a request that it contribute IDF troops, especially military medical units, to UN peacekeeping missions such as those in Haiti, Kosovo, Congo, and Liberia. The UN also expressed interest in purchasing Israeli-made military equipment for UN peacekeepers, especially night-vision goggles and telecommunications equipment.
The Israeli representative was elected in 2005 to the symbolic position of vice-president of the 60th UN General Assembly.
On December 11, 2007, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on agricultural technology for development sponsored by Israel.The Arab group proposed a series of amendments referring to the Palestinian occupied territories, but these amendments were rejected. The Tunisian representative said: “The Arab Group was convinced that Israel was neither interested in agriculture nor the peace process.” This group demanded a vote on the resolution, an unusual demand for this kind of country-neutral resolution. “The representative of the United States (…) expressed disappointment with the request for a recorded vote because that could send a signal that there was no consensus on the issues at stake, which was not the case. The United States was saddened by the inappropriate injection into the agenda item of irrelevant political considerations, characterized by inflammatory remarks that devalued the importance of the United Nations agenda”. The resolution was approved by a recorded vote of 118 in favor to none against, with 29 abstentions. The abstentions were mainly from the Arab Group, with the notable exception of Pakistan which voted in favor.
Further information: Palestine 194 and United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19
In February 2011, the United States vetoed a draft resolution to condemn all Jewish settlements established in the occupied Palestinian territory since 1967 as illegal. The resolution, which was supported by all other Security Council members and co-sponsored by over 120 nations, would have demanded that “Israel, as the occupying power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and that it fully respect its legal obligations in this regard.” The U.S. representative said that while it agreed that the settlements were illegal, the resolution would harm chances for negotiations. Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister, Daniel Ayalon, said that the “UN serves as a rubber stamp for the Arab countries and, as such, the General Assembly has an automatic majority,” and that the vote “proved that the United States is the only country capable of advancing the peace process and the only righteous one speaking the truth: that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians are required.” Palestinian negotiators, however, have refused to resume direct talks until Israel ceases all settlement activity.
On January 31, 2012 the United Nations independent “International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” filed a report stating that Israeli settlements led to a multitude of violations of Palestinian human rights and that if Israel did not stop all settlement activity immediately and begin withdrawing all settlers from the West Bank, it potentially might face a case at the International Criminal Court. It said that Israel was in violation of article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention forbidding transferring civilians of the occupying nation into occupied territory. It held that the settlements are “leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” After Palestines admission to the United Nations as a non-member state in September 2012, it potentially may have its complaint heard by the International Court. Israel refused to co-operate with UNHRC investigators and its foreign ministry replied to the report saying that “Counterproductive measures – such as the report before us – will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The human rights council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel.”
Further information: International recognition of the State of Palestine, PLO and State of Palestine
By September 2012, with their application for full membership stalled due to the inability of Security Council members to ‘make a unanimous recommendation’, the Palestine Authority had decided to pursue an upgrade in status from “observer entity” to “non-member observer state”. On November 27 it was announced that the appeal had been officially made, and would be put to a vote in the General Assembly on 29 November, where their status upgrade was expected to be supported by a majority of states. In addition to granting Palestine “non-member observer state status”, the draft resolution “expresses the hope that the Security Council will consider favourably the application submitted on 23 September 2011 by the State of Palestine for admission to full membership in the United Nations, endorses the two state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, and stresses the need for an immediate resumption of negotiations between the two parties.”
On Thursday, 29 November 2012, In a 138-9 vote (with 41 abstaining) General Assembly resolution 67/19 adopted, upgrading Palestine to “non-member observer state” status in the United Nations. The new status equates Palestine’s with that of the Holy See. The change in status was described by The Independent as “de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine”.
The vote was an important move for the State of Palestine, whilst it was a diplomatic setback for Israel and the United States. Status as an observer state in the UN will allow the State of Palestine to join treaties and specialized UN agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the Law of the Seas Treaty and the International Criminal Court. It shall permit Palestine to claim legal rights over its territorial waters and air space as a sovereign state recognized by the UN. It shall also provide Palestine with the right to sue for control of disputed territory in the International Court of Justice and bring war-crimes charges, mainly those relating to Israel’s occupation of the State of Palestine, against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
The UN has permitted Palestine to title its representative office to the UN as ‘The Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations’, and Palestine has started to re-title its name accordingly on postal stamps, official documents and passports, whilst it has instructed its diplomats to officially represent ‘The State of Palestine’, as opposed to the ‘Palestine National Authority’. Additionally, on 17 December 2012, UN Chief of Protocol Yeocheol Yoon decided that “the designation of ‘State of Palestine’ shall be used by the Secretariat in all official United Nations documents”, thus recognizing the PLO-proclaimed State of Palestine as being sovereign over the territories of Palestine and its citizens under international law.
As of 30 October 2014, 135 (69.9%) of the 193 member states of the United Nations, in addition to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, have recognised the State of Palestine as sovereign over both West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Many of the countries that do not recognize the State of Palestine nevertheless recognise the PLO as the ‘representative of the Palestinian people’