Palestine’s Participation in the Security Council

The members of the United Nations Security Council recently affirmed that Palestine can participate, without restrictions on the order of its participation, in the meetings of the Council on all issues, whether directly related to Palestine and the Middle East or not. This affirmation is consistent with the previous practice of the Council and it corrected a departure from that practice, which took place on 22 February 1999 during the Council’s meeting on “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”.

Prior to the meeting of that day, in a brief informal consultation, the members of the Council discussed the speaking order that should be allotted to Palestine in the Council’s debate. The Secretariat failed to provide the necessary information about the Council’s previous practice in this regard, which led to changing Palestine’s speaking order, placing it at the end of the list after all Member States.

After delivering his statement at the debate, the Permanent Observer of Palestine raised the issue publicly as inconsistent with the Council’s practice in the past. The President of the Council for the month, Canada, responded by stating that he would ask the Secretariat to provide information to the Council on this matter.

The Mission of Palestine then sent a letter regarding the issue to the President of the Council, and the President indeed requested a study by the Secretariat, a final copy of which was distributed on 22 April 1999. The Secretariat’s study contained a list of all previous participation by Palestine in the Security Council’s debates, which supported the argument raised by Palestine and made clear that, in the past, no restrictions similar to that which occurred at the 22nd of February meeting were imposed.

After receipt of the study by the Council and lengthy discussions and negotiations, the President of the Security Council for the month of August, Namibia, sent a letter to the Permanent Observer of Palestine regarding Palestine’s participation in Council meetings. That letter stated, inter alia, the following: “In this regard, members of the Security Council agreed that actions taken as a result of their informal consultations on 22 February 1999 did not constitute a precedent for the future participation of Palestine in Security Council meetings, which is based on the rules of procedure and the previous practice in this regard.”

It is important to note that the Arab member of the Council, Bahrain, and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement caucus of the Council, were very helpful in ensuring the text of that letter, which required unanimity by the Council. The most helpful in this regard were the Ambassadors of Malaysia and Namibia.