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George Buamgarten

Security Council Meeting on Middle East—Few Surprises, As Jordanian Foreign Minister Presides

George Baumgarten, United Nations Correspondent, January 28, 2014

     The regular monthly meeting of the U.N. Security Council produced few surprises, and the usual combination of both bitter invective and pompous bluster. What was unusual, however, was the presence of several Foreign Ministers –including the Presiding Officer, in the Chair.


     The Presidency of the Security Council rotates alphabetically among both the permanent and non-permanent members, which for January 2014 devolved upon Jordan. What was unusual was the manner in which Jordan happened to get the seat in the first place. The seat was intended for some member from what is called the “Asia Group” (All Security Council members—except the “Permanent Five”—are elected for two-year terms, as representatives of one of five “regional groups”). The Asian seat had gone—after a campaign of several years—to Saudi Arabia. There is an unwritten agreement that there shall always be one (1) Arab member of the Council—either from North Africa or the Middle East. Thus, Saudi Arabia was chosen as an Arab member, representing the Asia Group.


     The trouble began, on the morning after the October election, when the Saudis announced that they were declining the seat to which they had just been elected. Their reasons were never entirely clear, or ever fully and explicitly spelled out. But they seemed to have been very upset with the way things were going in the Middle East, as well as with the Council itself, and its chronic ineffectiveness (“Security Council Reform” is a vastly wider issue at the United Nations, and goes far beyond the Saudis and their particular complaints.). At this point, Jordanian Ambassador Zeid bin Raad bin Zeid bin Al-Hussein rushed home for consultations with King Abdullah II (his Second Cousin, once removed), they decided to stand for the seat, in place of the Saudis. And, with the alphabetical rotation (France having presided in December 2013), they got the Presidency, on the first day of their membership. Prince Zeid (whom this correspondent knows for several years), despite his royal background, is in fact a highly experienced diplomat and international civil servant, and thus well qualified to preside over the Council.


   The Security Council holds a Public Debate (as opposed to closed “Consultations”) most every month, on the subject of “The Middle East, including the Palestine Question”. The Debates are routine, with the exception of ones just after the “flotilla affair”, or when the Arab states are trying to condemn Israel for something. What was unusual on this occasion was the presence of the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Luxembourg, and the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The Secretary-General first briefed the Council, both the “Observer State of Palestine” and the State of Israel spoke, followed by statements by each member of the Council, and then by other states and observers.



     Sitting in as President on this occasion was Ambassador Zeid’s immediate superior, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh (The Council’s Presidency vests with the country, not the Ambassador, so anyone in Jordan may preside—in theory, right up to King Abdullah. Similarly, President Obama could preside during a U.S. Presidency, as he did several years ago, and likely will again when the U.S. next presides in September, during the annual “General Debate”). Judeh, who was educated at Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut (A.U.B.), has been Foreign Minister since 2009


    The first speaker, as always in such debates, was the Secretary0General, Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban spoke himself on this occasion, rather than sending his Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, or some other official. Since the official Agenda was just nominally the entire Middle East, he noted the tragic and explosive situation in Syria, as well as its effect on neighboring Lebanon. He also cited the great increase in tensions and violence in Iraq. Addressing himself to the Israel—Palestine situation, Ban complimented Secretary John Kerry, and his indefatigable efforts to bring the two sides together. He just mentions in passing (in a one-line paragraph) the building of settlements by Israel. He identifies Gaza as a “cause for concern”, and notes the shortfall in UNRWA funding (UNRWA is the UN agency for Palestine refugees.). He asserts that “…only a negotiated solution will bring security and recognition in the region and beyond”. And addressing himself to the two leaders, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, the Secretary-General says: If you are prepared to take the bold decisions required, I will push ahead on the positive agenda of peace dividends for both sides…”.


    The “State of Palestine” was the first speaker in this debate. Under the Rules of the Security Council, each of its Members has the right to speak. Any other member of the U.N. with and interest in the issue at hand may speak, under what is called Rule 37. And organizations (such as the European Union, or the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People) may speak, under what is called Rule 39. And Non-Member entities such as the “State of Palestine” (or the Holy See, which has the same status) may speak under the “Other” Category.


    The “State of Palestine” was represented by its Ambassador/Observer, Dr. Riyad Mansour. Mansour, who served as spokesperson for his Mission under one of its previous Ambassadors, quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From the Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. The Palestinian people, as he portrays it, are the [obvious] victims of a gross injustice. Therefore, the whole issue has been on the U.N. Agenda, for some seven decades. He seems to expect great things from the efforts of Secretary Kerry. And he quotes the Secretary as promising to expend every effort to find peace.


     Mansour further reiterated the Palestinian position: A Palestinian State based on the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution to the refugee problem. “On our part”, he said. “the Palestinian Government and people are committed to peace and justice and are exhausting all efforts…”. Overlooked, as always, in the genesis of the so-called “refugee problem”: the Palestinians and their leaders (Principally the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, El Haj Amin Husseini, who spent most of the Second World War as Adolf Hitler’s virtual house guest in Berlin) encouraged their flight. And their successors have perpetuated the myth of their dispossession, to this very day.


   Answering on behalf of Israel, its Amba

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