Israel’s location in the Middle East, and its very existence, have been a source of controversy and conflict for many years. The country declared its independence more than 70 years ago and is recognized by the United Nations, but there are nearly 30 countries that do not formally recognize Israel.
The history of Israel and the surrounding region is complicated and often tragic, two qualities that can still be used to describe the current state of affairs. In this post, we’ll look at the state of international recognition of Israel — which countries formally recognize the nation and which don’t — as well as a brief overview of the state’s history and relations with foreign countries.
Establishment of Israel
Israel’s origins as a state can be traced back to the late 19th century when the Zionist movement emerged. The movement sought to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the biblical homeland of the Jews.
Theodor Herzl, often considered the father of modern political Zionism, organized the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, which aimed to promote Jewish migration to Palestine and the formation of a Jewish national home.
During World War I, the British government expressed support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Britain was granted a mandate over Palestine after the war by the League of Nations in 1922, and Jewish immigration to Palestine increased, leading to tensions between Jewish immigrants and the Arab majority.
The end of World War II brought the horrors of the Holocaust to light, garnering significant international sympathy for the Jews. In response to the growing conflicts between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and post-war pressures, Britain referred the issue of Palestine to the United Nations in 1947.
The UN proposed a partition plan, which recommended dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states with Jerusalem as an international city.
Despite Arab opposition to the partition plan, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel in a declaration of independence.
This declaration was made on the eve of the expiration of the British Mandate.
The first two countries to recognize Israel as a state were the United States, which did so just minutes after its declaration of independence, and the Soviet Union.
The next countries to recognize the new nation in the days and weeks that followed included Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. As of 2020, 165 countries officially recognized Israel.
After the Declaration
What started as small conflicts between Jewish and Arab communities in the region eventually escalated into full-scale war. After the declaration of independence in May 1948, the armies of five neighboring Arab countries invaded the newly formed state.
Israeli forces managed to hold off invading forces until armistice agreements were reached with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The agreements led to the establishment of the Green Line, which served as the de facto border of Israel until 1967.
The war resulted in Israel increasing its territory beyond what was allocated in the UN Partition Plan as well as hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian refugees. A state of war also persisted between Israel and its neighbors for decades.
Although its initial application for UN membership was denied, a subsequent request made in 1949 after signing armistice agreements led to Israel’s admission into the UN. This gave Israel greater international recognition and the opportunity to voice its positions and concerns on the international stage.
Countries That Do Not Formally Recognize Israel
The above map describes the international recognition of Israel by highlighting countries that do not formally recognize the nation. Many of the nations that do not recognize Israel have a Muslim majority and are located in Africa and Asia.
Cuba and Venezuela are the only countries in the Americas that do not recognize Israel.
In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at specific regions of the world in order to learn more about countries that recognize Israel and those that don’t.
Although Morocco and Sudan do not formally recognize Israel, they have normalized diplomatic relations in the Abraham Accords of 2020
The Arabic Peninsula and Middle East are mostly populated by Arabic countries. Saudi Arabia does not formally recognize Israel as a nation, but there are indications that the two are cooperating, given their mutual concerns regarding Iran.
The regime in Iran said that Tehran would never “leave the Palestinian cause”. Some of the Iraqi people do not want to recognize Israel because of the Palestinian problem, and some want close relations with Israel because of Israel’s support for the establishment of Kurdistan.
Syria had never recognized the State of Israel and did not accept Israeli passports to enter Syria. Israel has also seen Syria as an enemy state and has forbidden its citizens to be there. Since the establishment of both countries, diplomatic relations have not been established between the two countries.
Pakistan and Israel had no problem with each other; but when Israel expanded, Pakistan had to stand with Arab Muslim states, not Israel.
Afghan-Israeli relations are not officially present today, as there is no change in diplomatic relations between the two countries. In the 1980s, Israel became the first country to condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Qatar has commercial ties with Israel.
The United Arab Emirates normalized relations with Israel in 2020 under the umbrella of the Abraham Accords.
Yemen does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and relations between the two countries are very tense. People with an Israeli passport or any passport and an Israeli stamp cannot enter Yemen.
More about the peninsula…
Oman; Israel and Oman do not have official diplomatic ties, but they remain minimal as tourists from Israel are allowed to visit Oman.
Kuwait; Israel and Kuwaiti countries do not have diplomatic relations. Kuwait is not letting anybody with an Israeli passport enter the country while Israel does not have formal entry or trade restrictions. During the wars between the Arab nations and the State of Israel, Kuwaiti forces joined the State of Israel.
Lebanon; Israeli-Lebanese relations never existed under normal economic or diplomatic conditions; however, Lebanon was the first Arab League country to announce the desire for a ceasefire agreement with Israel in 1949. In the wars between Israel and the Arab League, the border between Lebanon and Israel was the quietest border.
In Asia, the Muslim nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh do not recognize Israel. Bhutan officially recognized Israel in 2020.
Bangladesh; Bangladesh and Israel do not maintain any diplomatic relations, but Bangladesh has a semi-commercial relationship with Israel through the embassies of the US and the European Union.
North Korea; Relations between North Korea and Israel are very unfriendly. North Korea recognizes the sovereignty of Palestinians in all of Israel. Israel sees North Korea and its nuclear missile program as a major threat to global security.
Related Content: International recognition of Kosovo
Trump declares Jerusalem Israeli capital
On December 6, 2017, former US President Donald Trump announced US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The decision was criticized by the majority of international leaders, including the European Union’s foreign policy chief. A motion condemning the move was proposed in the United Nations Security Council but was vetoed by the United States after a 14-1 vote.
More than 120 countries later condemned the decision at the UN General Assembly.
More Recent Developments
Israel’s relationship with neighboring Palestine and other Arab countries is constantly changing. In this section, we’ll look at some recent developments in the region.
In 2020, four different countries decided to normalize their relations with Israel: the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. These moves, known collectively as the Abraham Accords, marked a historic move towards regional security, peace, and economic opportunities.
Not without criticism, some Palestinian factions saw these agreements as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. It had previously been the policy of many Arab countries to withhold normalization until the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in 2023
In early 2023, the US State Department urged Israel not to legalize an illegal settler outpost on private Palestinian land in Homesh.
On October 7, 2023, Hamas and other Palestinian groups launched Operation al-Aqsa Flood, which involved coordinated air and land attacks on multiple Israeli border areas.
Within days, the attacks and subsequent Israeli retaliation had led to hundreds of casualties on both sides.