It is time for the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to help find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and resolve other conflicts in the region, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN said on Friday.
Speaking on behalf of the UN Arab regional group, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the Palestinian question has been “central to the UN agenda since its inception,” but “the process to resolve this issue has been at an impasse for decades.”
The envoy was speaking during an informal dialogue session at the UN General Assembly about the selection of the organization’s next secretary-general. In the absence of a serious challenger, Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and UN refugee chief, was making his case for a second, five-year term.
After praising Guterres for his “excellent management of the COVID-19 crisis,” which had limited the spread of the virus within the UN organization, Al-Mouallimi urged the UN chief to make the Palestinian issue a priority during his second term.
He called on him to ensure “serious participation of the parties involved in the conflict” and revitalize the work of the Quartet on the Middle East — the UN, the US, the EU and Russia — “so we end up with a fair peace based on the international consensus as we have enshrined in the relevant resolutions and the international law.”
The Saudi envoy also asked the secretary-general to continue supporting the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) by striving to find a long-term sustainable funding model.
“Your personal commitment to this is very important,” said Al-Mouallimi. “So what are you planning to do to make sure that the peace process in the Middle East, and the Palestinian issue, move forward? What role can the UN play here?”
Guterres replied: “You can count on my total commitment to UNRWA. We have survived a very difficult moment,” he added, referring to the crisis in 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew US funding for the agency.
“But the situation looks more promising now and we are totally committed to move in the future in a more effective way.”
The secretary-general reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Jerusalem as a capital for both states. He pledged to do “everything possible” to revitalize the work of the Quartet and other forms of regional cooperation, but added that this “depends on the will of member states.”
Guterres also expressed his “appreciation for what has been a constructive attitude that Saudi Arabia has been demonstrating in our recent discussions” regarding the war in Yemen.
Al-Mouallimi asked him about his plans to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and avoid an even greater economic and political disaster in the country.
While lamenting a few “hiccups” in the efforts to resolve the conflict, Guterres said he hoped that an agreement might still be in sight.
“We are moving in a direction, we are totally committed to it, and I am trying to talk to as many actors as possible to make sure pressure is put in this regard,” he added.
Turning to other regional conflicts and the challenges the UN faces in helping to resolve them, Guterres said that pushing for the next meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, for elections to take place at the right time in Libya, and for the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from conflict zones “is not easy but it must be a priority for all of us.”
Al-Mouallimi then raised the subject of nuclear weapons, saying: “Nuclear danger is present in the Middle East and threatens our people. What is your vision to make sure that the Middle East is an area free of nuclear weapons and that nuclear facilities in the region are subject to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards?”
“We have a number of initiatives taking place. You can count on my full engagement,” Guterres replied.
He also said that fighting desertification and water scarcity in the Arab world is another of his priorities.
The Saudi envoy then pressed the secretary-general on the unfair geographical distribution of senior leadership appointments at the UN, in particular the under-representation of the Arab world.
Many regional states and groups have expressed concerns that for decades the nominations and appointments of senior UN officials have been monopolized by the most powerful nations, especially the permanent members of the Security Council: the US, Russia, China, the UK and France.
Guterres said although some progress has been made in enhancing geographical parity, he laments the limitations on recruitment and promised to tackle the issue as part of UN reforms.
Al-Mouallimi asked him what the best formula might be to ensure the fairest representation on the Security Council.
“(Former Secretary-General) Kofi Anan already said it: There can’t be reforms of the UN without reforms of the Security Council,” said Guterres. “It all depends on the will of member states. We will always be at the disposal of member states. But we fully respect the autonomy of the UN bodies.”
In response to a question from Al-Mouallimi about the measures that are needed to tackle hate speech, and Islamophobia in particular, Guterres said the latter is a major concern that undermines the cohesion of many societies.
“You can be absolutely sure of my total commitment to fight Islamophobia,” he added.
As part of his vision during a second term, Guterres also called for a new social contract to better address “two seismic shifts” he said will shape this century: the climate crisis and digital transformation.
“Both could widen inequalities even further,” he said.
Seven people have nominated themselves as potential challengers to Guterres, including Rosalia Arteaga, the former president of former Ecuador, but none of them have received the backing of a UN member state.
“Of course, we would like to see more than one candidate,” Enyseh Teimory of 1 for 7 Billion, a global campaign committed to ensuring the selection of the best possible secretary-general, told Arab News.
“But the very fact that the secretary-general was in front of the General Assembly taking questions is a really important consolidation of the progress we saw in 2016.”
In 2016, the General Assembly for the first time hosted an open debate with the 13 candidates for secretary-general, seven of whom were women. For many years the selection was made behind closed doors by the two most powerful member nations: Russia and the US.
“We are in a good (position to ensure) that in 2026 we’re going to go even further to make sure that civil society is fully engaged in all steps of the election process. I think there’s now appetite for (this) on the part of member states.”
Source: Arab News