After 69 Years, Some of Israel’s Original Supporters Are Now Key Economic Allies
JNS.org – Throughout the seven decades since Israel declared its independence, the Jewish state has waged an ongoing struggle for legitimacy, navigating the global arena to find its place among the nations.
While many factors played roles in Israel’s independence, the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 and subsequent Resolution 181 laid the foundation for the creation of the Jewish state. As with any contentious vote, there was significant lobbying and horse trading involved. But ultimately, 33 countries voted in favor, securing the necessary two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly for the establishment of a Jewish and Arab state in the former British Mandate of Palestine.
As we approach Israel’s 69th Independence Day, JNS.org looks at how four countries actively involved in the historic 1947 vote not only shaped Israeli history, but today have robust relationships with the Jewish state — and might play key roles in the country’s future.
This small and largely impoverished Central American country — with significant natural resources, a rich history and a vast biodiversity — represents an important partner for Israel, as Jerusalem seeks to build non-traditional alliances worldwide.
Late last year, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales made a historic visit to Israel, where Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein noted the key role that Guatemala played in the 1947 vote, by enlisting 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries — the most from any regional bloc — to vote in favor of the partition plan.
“It could be that without Guatemala, the resolution on that fateful day would not have passed, and history would be very different,” Edelstein said last year.
During his visit to Israel, Morales — a devout evangelical Christian — said that he looked forward to bolstering agriculture, science, technology and security ties with the Jewish state.
As one of the few independent African states in 1947, Liberia’s vote in favor of Israel’s creation was essential to Zionist supporters. Liberia — which was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century — came under intense lobbying from the US about the vote.
In recent years, relations between Israel and Liberia have become increasingly important, especially in areas of international aid, agriculture and technology. Furthermore, building relationships in sub-Saharan Africa is a key priority for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel was on the frontline of helping Liberia during the deadly Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015, which killed thousands. And last June, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited Israel, where she noted the Jewish state’s support.
“Throughout my visit with my delegation, we wanted to learn about the extraordinary developments which Israel has made, especially in agriculture, which we look at with wonder each time we see it,” Sirleaf said at the time. “You have done wonderful things in the field of water. There are a lot of similarities between Liberia and Israel.”
Liberia’s agriculture minister, along with a dozen high-level African officials, also participated in an agricultural conference in Jerusalem last December. And later this year, Netanyahu is scheduled to attend a major African summit in Togo, where Liberia is expected to participate.
Unlike the other countries listed here, India voted against the 1947 partition plan, despite the fact that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was famously lobbied by Albert Einstein to support the resolution.
India was in a similar situation to Israel at the time of the vote. Both countries were emerging from British colonial rule, and faced nationalist and religious conflict over proposed partitions. Nevertheless, Indian leaders were concerned with maintaining relations with the Muslim world, especially following their own messy partition with Muslim-majority Pakistan.
But the events of 1947 are in the past. In subsequent decades, India and Israel have formed a deep bilateral partnership centered on defense and technology. In July of this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first Indian head of state to visit Israel, as the two countries mark 25 years of diplomatic relations.
In recent months, India and Israel have signed new defense deals worth billions. And in February, Modi approved the $2.5 billion purchase of an advanced anti-aircraft system from Israel. Another $1.5 billion in defense deals are set to be completed ahead of Modi’s visit.
According to the Hindustan Times, “Though Israel is among the top four military hardware suppliers to India, with more than $1 billion in annual sales to New Delhi, the Modi government is keen to ensure that this visit is not focused on defense ties alone, but encompasses long-term economic and technological cooperation, resulting in a free-trade agreement.”
Australia was one of four British Commonwealth countries voting for the creation of Israel — the others being South Africa, New Zealand and Canada. At the time, Australian External Affairs Minister H.V. Evatt chaired the UN committee that recommended acceptance of the 1947 partition plan.
In May 1949, when Israel was accepted as a UN member, Evatt — who was serving as president of the UN General Assembly — welcomed the Israeli delegation, saying, “I look forward to the time when the wounds of the peoples of the Middle East will be healed, when we shall find friendships and, indeed, comradeship among these peoples.”
In February, Netanyahu embarked on a five-day visit to Australia, the first such trip for an Israeli prime minister, amid a growing focus on building Israel’s relations with the Asia-Pacific region.
“Australia and Israel have a strong relationship, which is evident in a number of ways — not least of which has been Australian support for Israel politically, with the economic ties growing dramatically in recent years,” Jeremy Jones, director of international affairs for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, told JNS.org during Netanyahu’s visit.
Jones added, “It is not unreasonable to think that the development of Israel’s ties with Asia has given Australia — with its geographic, economic and political ties with Asia — a higher significance in Israeli diplomatic thinking.”