The Arab League on Sunday approved the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request to create a committee aimed at stopping the State of Israel’s bid to become one of the ten non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UN SC) — a mere day before the Israel-Africa Summit was called off amid growing pressure.
The PA hopes the committee will help to knock down Israel’s chances at winning the bid to be on the council for the 2019-2020 term. However, how the committee plans to exert its pressure is unknown. Representatives from the Palestine Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment.
The UNSC is composed of 15 members, five of which are permanent: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The other ten members are non-permanent and are elected for two-year terms. Currently, Egypt is the only Arab state on the council.
Israel is the only recognized Middle Eastern country never to have held a seat on the UN SC. Palestine is not considered a fully recognized state internationally and therefore could not hold a seat.
Currently, Germany and Belgium are in the race along with Israel for the two seats assigned to the “Western Europe and Others Group” (WEOG), which Israel was only allowed to join in 2000, after being barred for years from from seeking high-profile seats in the UN.
Israel announced its plan to run for the 2019 seat in 2005, when then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was received by the UN following its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. The state chose to announce its plans so far in the future because the two slots for the WEOG had been bid on for each term up until 2019.
While the Jerusalem Post reported in June that Israel was “doing little” to promote its bid for a seat on the UN SC — outside of making its interest clear — Bloomberg found in August that the state was pushing hard for the seat, despite Israel’s controversial reputation in the world body.
Earlier this year Israel announced it would withhold $8 million of its $11 million annual membership fee at the UN after two resolutions critical of Israel were passed at the UN SC and UNESCO within a six month period. In December the UN SC voted to approve a resolution that condemned Israel’s settlements as illegal obstacles to the peace process (with the U.S. abstaining), then in May UNESCO passed a resolution that described Jerusalem as “occupied” and declared that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem was “null and void.”
Palestinian-American author and columnist Ramzy Baroud told Mondoweiss that he believes Israel’s push to renew its commitment to its bid for the Security Council seat could show a shift in Israel’s international diplomatic strategy.
“The irony is that Israel has spent many years delegitimizing the UN and torpedoing its efforts of implementing international law regarding the situation in Palestine,” Baroud said. “The strategy of elevating its status at the UN can been seen as an admission of failure of that antagonistic strategy. But if Israel wins that seat, it is likely to use the new position to strengthen its occupation of Palestine, as opposed to adhere to international law. With the US on its side, Israel would labor to prevent any efforts aimed at criticizing its illegal settlement policies or any other illegal practices.”
Regardless of Israel’s historically critical stance against the UN, Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Bloomberg in August that he believed Israel has a good chance of knocking Belgium out of the running through the help of Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors, who now count on Israel as an ally against Iran.
However, the Arab League’s vote to work against Israel’s bid could turn the tables, potentially taking away any hopes Israel may have had in capitalizing on Arab alliances against Iran.
In addition, part of Israel’s campaign has focused on gaining support from African nations, but those efforts might also be for naught, as it was announced Monday that the Africa-Israel Summit in Togo would be canceled partially due to Togo’s political crises, but also as a result of ongoing pressure from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), South Africa and Arab states.
“The conference was meant to be the pinnacle of Israel’s diplomatic triumph in Africa,” Baroud explained. “Calls for boycott – in which South Africa played a major role – and the possible absence of notable African governments led to its cancellation. This too shall prove consequential when the vote over Israel’s UN seat is held.”
Meanwhile, the PA hopes to use its pressure in the Arab League to hinder Israel’s bid even further, but the government is doing so less than a year before the vote, a time crunch that could become an obstacle to the newly formed committee’s efforts.
“It is unfortunate that the Arabs and the Palestinian Authority are waking up to this reality quite late. Israel has been plotting for this moment for years, and the PA is just now requesting an Arab League strategy to prevent Israel from reaching that influential position,” Baroud said.
“What Palestinians are counting on at the moment is existing historical support that the Palestinian people have among many countries around the world, especially in the South,” he added. “Most of these nations have experienced colonization, military occupation and had their own liberation struggles. They should not allow a colonialist regime to set atop of the UN, obstructing international law, while preaching to world about democracy and human rights.”