Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A controversial vote

Egypt’s decision to support an Israeli bid at the UN has been met with calls for rejection, writes Doaa El-Bey

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“Israel seems to be doing great on earth. Let’s vote to send it to another planet if we ever get the chance to.” “Believe it or not, Egypt has voted for Israel having a prominent place at the UN. It is one of the 177 countries that voted for the Zionist entity.”

These were just two of the dozens of tweets that reflected the strong rejection or criticism of Egypt’s decision to vote in support of Israel’s bid for membership of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Affairs (COPUOS) this week.

Egypt had indicated that it does not regard Israel as an occupying state by voting for the UN position, critics said. “For the last 57 years, Egypt has never voted in favour of Israel at the UN. By voting in favour this time, it clearly says that it is changing this position,” said one diplomat who preferred not to give his name.

The UN General Assembly approved the decision to appoint El Salvador, Israel, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on Friday by 117 votes in favour to one against (Namibia), with 21 abstentions.

The abstaining states, which included Qatar, Tunisia, Syria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq and Algeria, explained that they rejected the appointment because of Israel’s continued occupation of Arab territories in contravention of international law. As a result, Israel should be barred from taking up any position on any United Nations body, they said.

The Arab Group at the UN, which abstained from voting, underlined that it supported other candidates. Taking the floor on behalf of the Arab Group, Saudi Arabia’s representative expressed the country’s support for the five other candidates — El Salvador, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka and the UAE — but said the group had reservations about Israel’s membership, owing to a lack of transparency over its space activities and the country’s refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Syria’s representative at the UN expressed his country’s strong objection to Israel’s nomination, saying that Israel was continuing its occupation of Arab lands in contravention of international law and this prohibited it from joining any UN body. He also pointed to Israel’s possession of a huge arsenal of weapons, including nuclear weapons, calling its intentions into question.

In the face of fierce domestic criticism, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry Ahmed Abu Zeid said that voting for Israel had been “inevitable” because the vote included three Gulf countries that Egypt wished to support.

He said that member states had had to vote for six countries at once, including the three Gulf countries, and could not vote for each country individually. The position of the Arab Group was expressed after the vote in a joint statement, he said.

“The question that comes to mind is why Egypt did not abstain, like Algeria or Mauritania or even Qatar, and voice its support for the three Gulf states after the session like the others in the Arab Group,” the diplomat asked.

Israel’s mission to the UN said its acceptance was an “important achievement” that came after “intensive diplomatic efforts”.

The Arab-Israeli conflict dates back to the early 20th century and reached a peak when Israel occupied Palestine in 1948. In 1967, Israel seized the West Bank, the Golan Heights in Syria and Sinai in Egypt.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria fought the October War against Israel to reclaim the Occupied Territories for their countries. The fighting paved the way for talks between Egypt and Israel, which signed a peace treaty in 1979 after months of negotiations, ending a state of war and normalising ties.

However, tensions between the two countries still exist, and their relations have been affected by the fact that Israel still occupies Palestinian and Syrian land. All efforts to reach a peace agreement and return the land have failed.

The creation of an area free of weapons of mass destruction has been another issue that has caused tension between Egypt and Israel. Tensions built up ahead of the NPT meeting in May, when Egypt was adamant about reaching a legally binding agreement to which all Middle Eastern states must abide.

However, the talks in New York, which aim to prevent the wider dissemination of nuclear weapons, failed to reach consensus. Both the US and Israel said states such as Egypt had set “unrealistic” conditions at the UN meeting, while Egypt accused the US and other countries of deliberately trying to hinder efforts to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

Egypt is a signatory to the NPT and ratified it in 1981. Israel is not party to the NPT.

“We saw a concession on the part of Egypt in supporting Israel’s bid to join the COPUOS without any concession from Israel either on the Palestinian issue or any other issue. That makes Egypt’s stand all the more difficult to understand,” the diplomat said.

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