Israel Welcomed Into UN Regional Group

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - After a 40 years of isolation at the United Nations, Israel is finally moving into the fold of nations. Israel has been accepted - albeit conditionally - into a regional group comprising Western member-states.

The move is considered important, because under U.N. rules, the regional groups decide the 10 rotating seats on the Security Council and other U.N. committee assignments.

The US has campaigned for years to get Israel into the so-called "Western European and Others Group," after Arab states and others prevented it from joining its natural geographic group, Asia.

Israel received notification of the decision in a letter from the current WEOG chairman, Dutch U.N. Ambassador Peter van Walsum.

Van Walsum wrote that "in the light of Israel's current inability to join the Asian group and taking into account the understandings set out below, WEOG welcomes Israel as a full member of WEOG on a temporary basis."

Israel's membership will be reviewed after four years, and it must continue to pursue admittance into its own regional grouping.

Although a U.N. member since 1949, Israel has been the only country to be excluded from a regional grouping since the groups were first established in the 1960s. Its exclusion has prevented Israel from having representatives nominated to key U.N. bodies, including the Security Council.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that Foreign Minister David Levy had thanked WEOG members in a letter for their efforts to add Israel to the group.

"Adding Israel to WEOG," he said, was a step towards "repairing the fundamental distortion that has existed for four decades."

He said the move was a "sign of the turnabout and new relations toward normalizing the standing of Israel in the organization of the United Nations."

In addition to being excluded from a regional group, Israel has also been condemned by the U.N. more than any other nation, often with only the U.S. standing by its side.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, called the move an "historic step forward in the elimination of a huge injustice."

"We were told it couldn't be done but here we are to celebrate it," Holbrooke said at the U.N. Calling the move the "biggest single step in memory," Holbrooke said "it isn't over yet."

"There are still things we need to clear up to make Israel's presence in the U.N. what it should be.

Israel will now be eligible for many U.N. committee posts as well as one of the 10 non-permanent seats on the Security Council, which are chosen according to regional groups.

But the move will not affect the rotation already in place on several key committees, some of which have already been determined through the year 2007 and beyond.

The WEOG includes members of the European Union, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. for some purposes.

The other four regional groups are Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America and the Carribean.

While Israel's entrance into WEOG opens the doors for it to join bodies in New York, it is still barred from organizations based in other U.N. centers worldwide.