The United Nations General Assembly has elected Israel to chair one of its six permanent committees for the first time in the world body's history. Palestinians and Arab countries have condemned the decision.
Israel secured the chairmanship of the UN's legal affairs committee with 109 votes from the 193 member states.
The role, while largely symbolic and procedural, is expected to boost Israel's profile at the UN. As head of the legal committee, it will report to the General Assembly on matters relating to international law. The UN's five other standing committees oversee the areas of disarmament, economic and financial issues, human rights, decolonization and the UN budget.
Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon (pictured above) told reporters he was "very proud to be the first Israeli to serve as the chairman of a committee."
"Israel is a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism," he added. "We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the countries of the world."
Committee chairs are usually selected by consensus, but in this case a vote was called at the request of Arab nations who voiced strong objections to Danon's candidacy.
Protest from Arab countries
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour criticized the decision, saying the group should have nominated "a very responsible qualified candidate, not a big violator of international law."
Yemen's Ambassador Khaled Alyemany, who heads the Arab Group at the UN, said he had urged all member states to protest the election of the Israeli ambassador.
"We cannot accept that a country like Israel, violator of international law and humanitarian law and the last colonial force existing in the world, has the right to rule on all legal affairs," Alyemany said.
While nobody voted against Israel, there were 23 abstentions, 14 invalid ballots, and 43 votes for other candidates. The runner-up was Sweden.
nm/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)