Having won a seat for the first time on the United Nations Security Council, Saudi Arabia turned around a day later and rejected it, citing the Council’s double standards and failure to uphold international peace, justice and security.
As UN moments go, this is a classic — if only for its sheer absurdity. It is precisely because of the UN’s double standards that a country such as Saudi Arabia can win a seat on the Security Council in the first place — with 176 of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly voting yes. As as friend of mine puts it, the Saudi move smacks of Groucho Marx’s joke that he would never join any club that would accept him as a member.
Obviously, the real problem is not a sudden Saudi aversion to UN double standards per se. If it were, Saudi Arabia would not still be running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, in General Assembly elections to be held Nov. 12. As far as I’m aware, the Saudis — who with no evident concern about hypocrisy have served previously on the Human Rights Council — have not dropped their bid to reclaim a seat.
There’s a lot of speculation right now on why the Saudis did their about face on a Security Council seat, especially after their ambassador to the UN in New York, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, initially told the press that “our election is much to rejoice over.” In a statement released Friday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry cited a hodge-podge of reasons for the boycott, ranging from the failure to apply “deterrent sanctions” to the Syrian regime, to such stock stuff as the failure to “make the Middle East a free zone of all weapons of mass destruction,” and the continuing failure to resolve “the Palestinian cause” to Saudi Arabia’s liking.” What makes the most sense to me — though it’s just a guess — is that the Saudis suddenly realized that in dealing with hot issues such as Syria and Iran, they might be better off dealing in the backrooms, rather than having to put their diplomatic cards on the table in Security Council votes.
But whatever the reasons, if the Saudis want to denounce double standards and demand better behavior from the UN Security Council, why not hold them to it?
Right now it’s unclear how the UN might fill that suddenly vacant two-year nonpermanent seat, for 2014-2015. Candidates for the Council’s 10 rotating seats are usually nominated by regional blocs in the General Assembly. From these slates, the GA then elects the winners, with a required minimum of two-thirds of the GA’s 193 votes. But what Saudi Arabia has just done, in walking away from a win, is highly unusual.
So perhaps, in the interest of integrity, Saudi Arabia would care to recommend as an alternate a country that has done more and sacrificed more for the cause of peace in the Middle East than all the other countries of the Middle East combined, as well as the UN itself. How about recommending that Israel, the only truly functional democracy in the Middle East, fill the vacant seat?
It is thanks to the Israelis that the world — including Saudi Arabia — has been spared a Syrian regime with a full-bore nuclear program; in 2007 the Israelis took upon themselves the risk of destroying the Assad regime’s nearly completed clandestine reactor, built with the help of North Korea. It was the Israelis who in 1981 destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor, quite likely sparing the world — including the Saudis — a nuclear-armed Iraq. In a neighborhood rife with hostile and terror-spawning despotisms, it is the Israelis who have tried over and over to walk a line toward peace — withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000, Gaza in 2005, and trying cope with a “Palestinian cause” that can be summed up by the PLO logo featured to this day on the web site of the Palestinian Authority’s Mission to the UN, depicting a map from which Israel has been erased. While Saudi Arabia boycotted the General Assembly annual opening debate last month, it was Israel whose leader squarely addressed a threat that also deeply worries the Saudis — the threat of a nuclear-weapons-seeking Iran.
There were reports earlier this month that Israel, which has never held a seat on the Security Council, will be campaigning for a seat for 2019-2020. If the Saudi aim is to pressure the UN Security Council toward dropping its double standards and stepping up as a genuine defender of international peace and security, surely the obvious candidate to fill that empty seat is Israel. Indeed, though the bigotry of the African and Asia-Pacific states means that Israel has been left to align itself with the voting bloc known as the “Western European and Others Group,” geographically Israel belongs to the “African and Asia-Pacific states” that combined to produce the slate on which Saudi Arabia ran for a seat.
Not that Saudi Arabia, or the UN General Assembly, is about to do anything of the kind for Israel. We live in the real world. Any prospect of Israel replacing Saudi Arabia in a Security Council seat these next two years would probably send the UN into terminal shock (which, in itself, might do wonders for world peace). But if anyone really cares about ending those double standards, reforming the UN and giving peace and security a chance, this is the obvious move.