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The United Nations and Israel

Syrian UN Security Council Seat Vexes Israel's Security Counselors

By Aluf Benn Ha'aretz Correspondent Ha'aretz 10 April 2001

Foreign policy mandarins in both the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Office are divided over what to do about Syria's application - and nearly certain shoo-in - as the Asia bloc representative on the UN Security Council for the coming two years.

One school of thought says Israel should rise up on its hind legs, because, even though it is a losing battle, as Syria is seen having the votes to win the coveted seat, Jerusalem should be objecting to Damascus getting such an important role in the world body.

The other school of thought says that precisely because Syria's assumption of the role is a forgone conclusion, Israel should not waste its diplomatic ammunition on the cause.

The two schools of thought exist both in the ministry and in the PMO, where staff chose to focus on the Palestinian track upon entering office, unlike predecessors going back to Yitzhak Rabin, all of whom hoped for a breakthrough with Syria, first, and all of which were disappointed.

"The Syrian option is dead," a source in the PMO said this week, noting that Syrian President Bashar Assad has become a vehement supporter of the Palestinian Intifada, and has been routinely attacking Israel with particularly vituperative rhetoric, most recently at the March summit of the Arab League in Amman. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rarely commented publicly on Syria since taking office, though he did spend some of his time with President Bush last month in the White House discussing Damascus. Sharon told Bush that Syria's support of the most radical anti-peace elements in the Middle East, including support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and its hosting of rejectionist groups in Damascus, should keep it on the U.S. list of countries that support terrorism.

Indeed, it is Syria's occupation of Lebanon, combined with its support for various terrorist organizations in that country and on its own soil, that could serve as the main focal point of an Israeli campaign against seating Syria on the Security Council. The U.N.'s mandate for council membership specifically states that the seats are reserved for countries that support peace-making efforts in their region.

But those opposed to fighting a Syrian seat, while appreciating the argument for launching a campaign, argue about the results. Since Israel will be unable to prevent the vote in favor of Syria getting its two-year term on the council, it would be a wasted diplomatic effort to fight the vote. Some sources in the PMO's office agree with that tack, saying that Israel could even benefit from having Syria on the council, at the very least using the fact that an enemy country has such an important role at the U.N. as proof that the body is hostile to Israel.

If there is a decision to fight the vote, the main target of Israel's campaign will be Washington. Syria is one of the countries on Washington's list of states that support terrorism. How will an American ambassador to the U.N. vote in favor of letting Syria onto the council? Israeli diplomats will ask. On the other hand, Washington wants to draw Syria into the anti-Iraq coalition. Like Israel, Washington also hasn't made up its mind what to do about the Syrian candidacy.

Israel worried by Syrian bid for membership in UN Security Council

By Nitzan Horowitz Ha'aretz Correspondent Ha'aretz 9 March 2001

WASHINGTON - The inclusion of Syria as one of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council is becoming a growing concern in Israel, and Jerusalem is considering how to foil the possibility.

The elections for the new grouping of non-permanent Security Council members are planned for November. Each of the 10 countries elected in addition to the five permanent members (U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China), holds the position for two years.

It has become a tradition at the Security Council that one Arab country is included among the non-permanent members. Currently, Tunisia holds the post. Now Syria is hoping to fill the position.

Syria's bid has already garnered significant Arab and Asian support at the UN. It is also believed that there is African support for Syria. In recent days, major international players, such as France, Russia and China, and other countries, have agreed to support the Syrian quest.

A European Union source told Ha'aretz yesterday that Brussels will find it difficult to oppose the election of Syria.

What still remains unclear is whether the U.S. will pose serious opposition to the Syrian bid. In the past, Washington placed serious obstacles to the inclusion of Arab countries in the Security Council because of their alleged involvement in terrorism. During the 1990s, the UK and the U.S. succeeded in preventing the inclusion of Libya in the council, and supported the entry of Egypt as an alternative.

It is still uncertain what the stance of the new U.S. administration will be, although it is expected that there will be opposition to the Syrian bid. At this stage Washington is not enthusiastic about taking on the UN in a struggle against Syria, particularly since the Bush administration is making efforts to rally Syrian support in a revived Arab coalition against Baghdad. However, active Jewish and Israeli lobbying may alter the situation by November.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Yehuda Lancry, said yesterday that the candidacy of Syria contradicts article 23 of the international body's charter which emphasizes that the candidates for Security Council membership must contribute to international peace and security.

Israeli sources say it may be difficult to suggest to the U.S. to implement a stance to the Syrian candidacy like it did for Libya and Sudan, because Syria has already participated in peace talks with Israel.

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