Israel’s Admission to the UN

Israel’s admission as a member of the UN was approved by the General Assembly in May 1949.There are those who falsely claim (here and here) that Israel’s admission to the UN was conditioned on its compliance with General Assembly Resolutions 181(II) and 194(III) and that its failure to do so is a violation of international law. Although General Assembly Resolution 273(III), in granting membership to Israel, “recalled” those earlier resolutions and “noted” Israel’s “declarations and explanations … in respect of the implementation of said resolutions”, 273(III) contains no stipulation which would have made Israel’s admission conditional or contingent on compliance with 181(III) or 194(III). Moreover, the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion on the conditions of admission of a State to membership in the United Nations, plainly precluded imposing such a condition.The timeline below outlines the development by the UN of the procedures for entertaining new member applications, and the steps leading toward the acceptance of Israel as a member.

21 Nov 1947
General Assembly Adopts Procedure for New Member Applications

The General Assembly, by Resolution 116(II), adopted rules for insertion in the Assembly’s provisional rules, concerning the procedure for entertaining new member applications. These rules were in force at the time of Israel’s applications for membership, and though later renumbered, the procedure remains unchanged in the current rules of procedure.

9 Dec 1947
Security Council Adopts Rules for Admission of New Members

The Security Council, at its first session on 17 Jan 1946, adopted the recommendation of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations for rules of procedure for processing new member applications. These went through a process of development until reaching their present form through Security Council Resolution 37 (1947) adopted on 9 Dec 1947. Those were the rules in effect at the time of Israel’s membership applications in 1948 and 1949.

15 May 1948
Israel’s First Application for UN Membership

On the afternoon of 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion publicly read Israel’s Declaration of Independence at the Tel Aviv Museum. One of the clauses in the Declaration, anticipating Israel’s seeking membership in the United Nations, stated (translation): “WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.”The following day, 15 May 1948, Israel’s Foreign Secretary, Moshe Shertok, sent a cablegram to the UN Secretary-General informing of the establishment of the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. The last paragraph of the cablegram contained an application for UN membership. However, it was not accompanied by the formal declaration specified in the rules of the Security Council.An article on the Center for Israel Education website states that the Security Council denied the application, its admissions committee having cited “Israel’s inability to prove its viability as a state.” However, a search of UN records by this Project has not revealed that any action was taken on the application. Nor does Israel’s second application the following November make reference to the May 15 application.

28 May 1948
ICJ Advisory Opinion on Conditions for Admission to UN

On 17 Nov 1947, the UN General Assembly requested an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice regarding the conditions of admission of a state to membership in the United Nations. The Court issued its ruling on 28 May 1948, by a 9 to 6 vote.The Court analyzed Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Charter, identifying five conditions which a candidate for membership must meet: that it (1) be a State; (2) be peace-loving; (3) must accept the obligations of the Charter; (4) must be able to carry out these obligations; and (5) must be willing to do so. The Court ruled that these conditions are exhaustive and not merely stated by way of information or example; that they are not merely the necessary conditions but also the conditions that suffice. The Court further opined that the exhaustive nature of the Charter provision does not preclude consideration of such circumstances of fact as would enable the existence of the requisite conditions to be verified.

29 Nov 1948
Israel’s Second Application for UN Membership

On 29 Nov 1948, one year after adoption of Resolution 181(III) by the General Assembly, Israel submitted a second application for membership (S/1093) which included a declaration of acceptance of the obligations contained in Article 4 of the UN Charter:

“On behalf of the State of Israel, I, Moshe Shertok, Minister for Foreign Affairs, being duly authorized by the State Council of Israel, declare that the State of Israel hereby unreservedly accepts the obligations of the United Nations Charter and undertakes to honour them from the day when it becomes a Member of the United Nations.”

“Moshe Shertok
Minister for Foreign Affairs for the Provisional Government of Israel”

8 Dec 2948
ICJ Advisory Opinion Adopted by the General Assembly

The General Assembly, in Resolution 197 (III), accepted the 28 May 1948 advisory ruling of the International Court of Justice, recommending “that each member of the Security
Council and of the General Assembly, in exercising its vote on the admission of new Members, should act in accordance with the foregoing opinion of the International Court of Justice.”

2 to 17 Dec 1948
Security Council Declines Approval of Israel’s Application

The Security Council began deliberating Israel’s application at its 383rd Meeting on 2 Dec 1948. A number of opinions were expressed that the application was premature. In the end, the matter was referred to the Committee on the Admission of New Members. The Committee replied that it did not have enough information to come to a decision. The Security Council again took up consideration of Israel’s application at meetings on 15 and 17 Dec 1948. None of the draft resolutions put forward for a vote received sufficient votes. The vote on the Israeli application for membership was five votes in favor, one opposed (Syria), and five abstentions (Belgium, Canada, China, France, United Kingdom). This was insufficient to gain the recommendation of the Security Council.Summaries of the proceedings are in the Security Council Report to the General Assembly and the UN Yearbook.

24 Feb 1949
Israel Renews Its Application for Membership

On 24 Feb 1949, Israel renewed its application for membership in a letter from Abba Eban (S1267), Israel’s representative at the UN:

“I have the honour to refer to document S/1093 (November 29, 1938) in which the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Government of Israel presented the application of Israel for membership in the United Nations together with the undertaking required by the Charter.“The Security Council will recall that a discussion of these documents took place at the 383rd, 384th, 385th and 386th meetings on December 2, 15 and 17, 1948. No positive action was then taken; the representatives of France, Canada and China indicated their desire to give substantive consideration to this application only after a brief period, such as that which has since elapsed.“I am now instructed by my government to request that renewed consideration be given to this application by the Security Council, to the end that the General Assembly be enabled to take a decision at its resumed session in April.

“Aubrey S. [Abba] Eban
Representative at the United Nations”

3 to7 Mar 1949
Security Council Recommends Membership

The Security Council again took up consideration of Israel’s application for membership at its meetings on 3 and 4 Mar 1949. Various Security Council members stated their views in favor or in opposition to the application, as summarized in the Security Council Report to the General Assembly and the UN YearbookAt the end, the Security Council recommended the admission of Israel into the United Nations by 9 votes in favor, 1 opposed (Egypt), and 1 abstention (United Kingdom). The application was then referred to the General Assembly.

2 to 11 May 1949
General Assembly – Preliminary Consideration of Israel’s Application

After referral from the Security Council, Israel’s application for membership was at first the subject of back and forth procedural shifts.The General Committee of the General Assembly (which, under the rules, has a role in setting the agenda) met from 5 to 8 Apr 1949 regarding agenda items for the remainder of the Third Session. In its Report of 9 Apr 1949, the Committee recommended that the General Assembly consider Israel’s application for membership without referral to a committee. Nevertheless, the General Assembly, at its 191st Plenary Meeting on 13 Apr 1949 decided to refer the matter to the First Committee.In late April 1949, the allocation of committee tasks again came up for consideration by the General Committee and, in its 29 Apr 1949 Report, recommended reallocation of Israel’s application from the First Committee to the Ad Hoc Political Committee. The General Assembly reviewed that recommendation in its 204th  and 205th Plenary Meetings on 2 May 1949 and adopted it with 29 voting in favor, 18 opposed, and 5 abstaining. The Ad Hoc Political Committee then took up substantive consideration of Israel’s application.

2 to 11 May 1949
General Assembly Considers and Accepts Israel as a Member of the UN

The UN Yearbook for 1948-49 has a detailed summary of the substantive discussions, arguments, and proposed resolutions concerning Israel’s application for membership, before the Ad Hoc Committee and the General Assembly plenary. Ultimately the General Assembly voted to accept Israel as a member, 37 in favor, 12 against, and 9 abstaining.

  • 42nd through 51st Meetings of the Ad Hoc Political Committee (3 to 9 May 1949)
    • During the 46th, 47th, 48th, 50th, and 51st meetings of the Committee, Israel’s representative, Aubrey (Abba) Eban, replied to numerous questions, incisively addressing the issues raised about General Assembly Resolutions 181(II) and 194(III)
    • Texts and lists of draft resolutions (some listed without text)
    • Report of the Ad Hoc Committee – 10 May 1949 (A/855
  • 207th Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly (11 May 1949)
    • General Assembly Resolution 273 (III), granting admission to Israel (11 May 1949)
    • Speech by Moshe Sharrett (Shertok) before the General Assembly upon the admission of Israel to the UN
    • After the speech by Moshe Sharrett, Israel’s delegation took its place in the General Assembly at the invitation of the President
Additional material concerning Israel’s becoming a UN member: