At Last, Israel In At UN
by James D. Besser
This week’s historic decision giving Israel provisional membership in one of five important United Nations regional groups was hailed by Jewish and political leaders.
But they also warned that the decision to admit Israel to the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) was just the first step in what will be a long, slogging battle to remove institutional barriers to Israel’s full participation in various UN bodies.
Israel was officially invited to join the group in a letter from Dutch Ambassador Peter van Walsum, who currently chairs the panel. On Tuesday Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry accepted, saying that the decision “will open a new chapter in the relationship between Israel and the United Nations.”Israel was one of only two nations not part of a regional group.
Its exclusion barred it from key UN committee assignments and from filling one of the rotating seats on the Security Council.“It’s very good news,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, a group that has pushed WEOG membership for several years. “But there is still some way to go; this is a temporary and conditional decision.”
Under the WEOG agreement, Israel will have its membership reviewed in four years, and will not be eligible to vie for contested positions within WEOG for two years.
That means Israel will not be able to use WEOG as a springboard for important UN committee assignments.
Initially, Israel will only be able to participate in WEOG activities at UN headquarters in New York. Harris said his group will push for full participation at other UN centers, including Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna.
Still, Harris termed the decision “an important first step” in winning full equality for Israel within the international body.Harris praised Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke for their role in last week’s decision.
“They doggedly persevered, and made things happen,” he said. “Also the Dutch, in their role as head of WEOG this month, made a big difference.”
The agreement also requires Israel to seek eventual membership in the Asian group.
Barred from that panel by Arab members, Israel sought membership in the Western European group, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
“Israel’s rightful place is in the Asian group, which includes most of its immediate neighbors in the Middle East,” said Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, which also pressed for WEOG membership. “But continuing Arab hostility has blocked Israeli acceptance by the Asian group for 40 years.”
While praising this week’s decision, B’nai B’rith promised to continue working for permanent, unrestricted membership in a regional panel for Israel.
The limits placed on its WEOG membership “demonstrate that despite this improvement in Israel’s position at the world organization, it is still being given separate and unequal treatment,” said the group’s president, Richard D. Heideman said.The decision was hailed in the political world, as well.
Vice President Al Gore said WEOG membership “effectively ends an injustice that for decades deprived Israel of its right to fully participate in the UN’s decision making process,” and reminded Jewish voters that he had raised the matter with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and with the government of Spain.Rep.
Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), who introduced legislation supporting WEOG membership, said the conditions imposed on Israel’s membership are “unfair,” but hailed the decision as “a major step and one that deserves praise from all quarters of the American-Jewish community. The fact is, today we are one giant step closer to ending the anti-Israel atmosphere that has permeated the UN for so long.”