‘Finishing the Enterprise’: Israel's Admission to the United Nations

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Heian-Engdal, Marte; Jørgen Jensehaugen & Hilde Henriksen Waage (2013) ‘Finishing the Enterprise’: Israel's Admission to the United Nations, International History Review 35(3): 465–485.

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​​​During 1948–9, Israeli leaders placed considerable importance on the country's efforts to secure membership in the United Nations (UN). Israel's foreign relations at the time, however, were complicated not only by the country's lack of UN membership. Israel was also at war with its Arab neighbours, and the newly created state was thus without clear borders and faced with several unresolved political problems with clear international ramifications: the future status of Jerusalem and the growing Palestinian refugee problem. Despite this, and despite the international pressure these unresolved issues triggered, Israel succeeded in securing UN membership in May 1949, which entailed a de facto international recognition of the new state. How might a political achievement of such magnitude be explained? Looking in greater detail at how Israel argued for its admission to the UN, and how it successfully countered the arguments voiced internationally against its application for membership, this article shows how Israel was able to achieve its goal of UN membership without making any concessions on its positions on territory, Jerusalem, or the question of the Palestinian refugees. In essence, it was able to do this by holding the Arab–Israeli peace process hostage to its UN admission.

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