May 18, 2005

Israel to support Qatar at UN


Israel will support Qatar's bid for temporary membership on the U.N. Security Council, Israel's U.N. mission said this week.

Last month Qatar took the unusual step of soliciting Israel's help to secure a temporary seat on the 15-member council. Qatar's ambassador to the United Nations, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, met with Israel's UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, to make the request. Qatar is one of two candidates to take over the Asia seat on the council, currently occupied by Pakistan, when Pakistan's two-year term expires in January 2006.

Israeli and Qatari officials refused to comment publicly on the development.

"It's a very hopeful sign that they've even reached out to Israel," observed Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B'nai B'rith International. "It says a lot about how Qatar is trying to position itself, not just as a moderate Arab country, but a country that on the one hand is open to the West and on the other hand will not use its position in the Security Council to politicize the Security Council against Israel."

Israel has no diplomatic ties with Qatar, but it has a trade mission in the Persian Gulf state.

Support for Qatar in the UN could win Israel reciprocal support for its own causes in the world body, which often face solid opposition from the UN's Arab bloc. For Qatar, Israel's acquiescence strengthens its bid for the Security Council seat, possibly rendering it more "kosher" for support by Western nations reticent to grant an Arab state greater power in the world body.

The Security Council currently has five permanent and 10 rotating members. Five of the rotating members are elected each January 1 by the UN General Assembly to serve two-year terms, and the members are chosen from several regional groups.

Several weeks ago, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed expanding the permanent membership of the Security Council beyond the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China to include world powers that have emerged over the last half-century. Among the most talked-about candidates are India, Japan, Germany and Brazil. The proposal, one of several Annan suggested to reform the beleaguered world body, is under preliminary discussion.

Qatar's candidacy for the 2006-07 term likely would not be affected by any potential reforms at the UN. Its primary competitor for the Asia seat on the Security Council is Cambodia, according to UN sources.