25 February 1999 (Not distributed)

Letter from Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, to the President of the Security Council: (Security Council Meeting Procedures)

As you know, the Security Council, in its 3980th meeting on 22 February 1999, considered a request for the participation of the Observer of Palestine in the debate on agenda item: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The request, which appears in document S/1999/175, was not made pursuant to rule 37 or rule 39 of the provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council and the Council decided, without a vote, to invite the Observer of Palestine to participate in the current debate "in accordance with the rules of procedure and the previous practice in this regard."

In spite of the clear language of that decision and of the previous practice, Palestine was pushed back from spot number 12 at the time of inscription towards the end of the speakers list. Confusing explanations were given for this action, possibly as a result of the absence of sufficient information about the Council’s "previous practice in this regard." Some misplaced references were made to General Assembly resolution 52/250, Participation of Palestine in the work of the United Nations, as a possible reason. An additional last minute deviation was a change in the language used by the President of the Council to introduce the Observer of Palestine. The change was made without the knowledge of the party concerned and apparently without consultations with the President.

The record on the matter of Palestine’s participation in the meetings of the Security Council is quite clear:

On 4 December 1975, at its 1859th meeting, the Security Council considered a request by a Member State (Egypt) for the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the debate of the Council. The request was not made pursuant to rule 37 or rule 39 of the provisional rules of procedure of the Council. The Security Council decided on that day by a vote that an invitation should be extended to the representative of the PLO to participate in the debate and that the invitation would confer upon it the "same rights of participation as are conferred when a Member State is invited to participate under rule 37." That invitation, upon vote by the Council, was repeated henceforth on numerous occasions.

On 9 February 1989, at its 2845th meeting, and after the General Assembly adopted resolutions 43/160A and 43/177, the Council considered a request made by the Observer Mission of Palestine for the participation of the Observer of Palestine in the debate of the Council. Again, the request was not made pursuant to rule 37 or rule 39 and the Security Council decided by a vote to invite the Observer of Palestine to participate "with the same rights of participation of rule 37." That invitation, upon vote by the Council, was repeated henceforth on numerous occasions.

On 28 February 1994, at its 3340th meeting, the same request was made by the Observer Mission of Palestine and, after negotiations aimed at accepting the request without a vote, the Council decided to invite the Observer of Palestine to participate in the current debate of the Council "in accordance with the rules of procedure and the previous practice in this regard." That invitation was also repeated on numerous occasions, with the same language of that decision, including on 22 February 1999.

The record cited above clearly demonstrates that the Security Council has always and consistently decided that the participation of the PLO, and later Palestine, takes place with the same rights of participation of rule 37. As long as the Council adopted the same decision with regard to the invitation, its implications remain the same regardless of the subject being considered by the Council. Questions, therefore, about the position on the speakers list in which the PLO or Palestine actually spoke in any particular case becomes totally irrelevant.

Nevertheless, for the sake of further clarifying the record, the PLO, and later Palestine, on several occasions, did participate in accordance with the same decisions by the Council, that is with the same rights of participation of rule 37, in the discussion on issues not related to Palestine or the Middle East. It did speak among Member States of the United Nations who are not members of the Security Council. Examples include the debates on Bosnia-Herzegovina in November 1992, on the situation between Iran and Iraq in February 1986 and on a situation regarding the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in April 1986. Indeed, the "previous practice" of the Security Council is quite clear and the Council, following its own decision on 22 February 1999, should have adhered to this practice.

References to General Assembly resolution 52/250, although welcomed from our point of view, are misplaced in this case. There has always been a difference between the treatment accorded to Palestine in the Security Council and that accorded to it in the General Assembly. Indeed, that treatment in the Security Council, since 1975 and until 1998, was more advanced. In any case, the entire purpose of the above-mentioned General Assembly resolution is to give Palestine additional rights and privileges and not to subtract from them. The text of that resolution makes it clear that the additional rights and privileges of participation of Palestine adopted in the resolution are being effected "without prejudice to the existing rights and privileges." Accordingly, General Assembly resolution 52/250 can not possibly justify what transpired in the Council on 22 February 1999. Considering the references made to General Assembly resolution 52/250, we can only hope that other aspects of this resolution will be considered applicable as well by members of the Council.

Finally, I would like to address the issue of the change in the language used to introduce the Observer of Palestine, which makes what occurred on that day all the more skeptical. While the change in language may not be drastic, it is nevertheless important and it is difficult to understand how something of this nature could happen, particularly in conjunction with the change of the spot on the speakers list. Without trying to interfere in the inner workings of the Council, we believe the entire matter requires serious consideration by the Council.

I would appreciate your making this letter available to the members of the Council and we trust, Mr. President, that this procedural issue will be corrected and that the aberration, which occurred on 22 February 1999, will be without prejudice to the previous practice of the Security Council with regard to the future participation of Palestine. I look forward to receiving a response from Your Excellency in light of this letter and of your comments following my statement before the Council on 22 February 1999.