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ICEJ NEWS - 09/05/2001
After the US and Israeli exit on Monday from the UN conference on racism in Durban, European states emerged as the primary players crossing swords with the Arab/Islamic bloc over their disturbing agenda to condemn the Jewish State for "racist" and "apartheid" policies. The Arab bloc is denying charges it derailed the gathering with its strident anti-Zionist campaign, claiming they were merely stating the "facts," but their efforts may be driving a wedge in the Non-Aligned Movement that often dictates UN affairs.
The Durban conference was plunged into crisis on Monday when the US and Israel made good on their threat to pull out in protest of draft resolutions that scour Israel for committing "genocide," "ethnic cleansing" and "crimes against humanity" in its treatment of Palestinians.
The early departure came after Arab League members refused to consider a Norwegian compromise that would have required them to drop language in a proposed final declaration that singled out Israel for harsh criticism.
The US pullout triggered a storm of criticism, including harsh words from African and black American delegates who accused Washington of seizing on the Middle East to avoid uncomfortable conference themes such as past slavery. South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma also fiercely defended the right of Arab states to raise the Palestinian question at the conference. "The world has changed. [The US] can [no longer] just act as if they were masters," he told journalists.
Yet the Bush Administration said it was left with "no choice" but to leave due to Arab stubbornness. US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who boycotted the conference, denounced the draft declaration's "hateful language" and said he had told the US delegation to return home. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Tuesday added, "there's no question that in a conference that should have been dedicated to fighting intolerance, the language that it has chosen to use in describing Israel is laced with intolerance."
Israeli officials pointed an accusatory finger at Egypt in particular yesterday for torpedoing the Norwegian compromise that would have enabled both Israel and the US to remain. Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who was held back from leading the Israeli delegation in Durban, told ARUTZ-7 that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher had even exclaimed to a group of Israeli reporters, "Who cares if five or ten cars blow up in Jerusalem?"
One Israeli official said that they were hearing from numerous countries, including Eastern European, African, and South American nations, that they were "disgusted" with the way the conference had been "hijacked" by the Arab/Islamic bloc. "One of the positive things to emerge from this," he said, "is that our enemies have gone so far over the top that many, many people now realize how ridiculous it has all become."
Some delegates from other countries indeed told reporters the Arabs had misread the climate among developing countries wanting to deal with serious discrimination issues, only to be stymied by the bash-Israel juggernaut. "They thought the Israeli bombing and assassination campaigns in the preceding months was enough to use this conference to resurrect Israel's status as a pariah state," a Nigerian delegate said yesterday. "With the wisdom of hindsight, I think countries like Egypt and Syria might admit they made a big mistake."
But Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister who headed the united Arab stance in Durban, dismissed this interpretation with a wave of the hand. "Nonsense," he said. "It was the Israelis who brought Middle East-specific language into the draft conference declaration by raving on about anti-Semitism. They threw down the gauntlet. When we brought in language about Zionism, we were only replying."
"If this conference has been dominated by a single issue," he further explained, "it is because the media hugs the US's position tightly. It is the media's own narrow-mindedness that is the problem," he insisted.
He added - somewhat late for the US and Israeli delegations - that the Arabs "are going to sit down now and be reasonable... We are not wedded to keeping verbal formulations that speak of Zionism as a new form of apartheid," Moussa said. "Our bottom line, our absolute nonnegotiable, is that the international community specifically mention and condemn the occupation of Palestine."
With the US and Israel gone, attention has shifted to whether the European Union will be able to spearhead a last-ditch compromise effort... or lead off another round of walk-outs.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer took the lead in defending against any attempts to "trivialize" the Nazi Holocaust, while France and Canada also have taken surprisingly strong stands on Israel's behalf.
By Wednesday, delegates from the EU, Arab League and South Africa were still huddling in marathon session trying to reach a compromise. The language under consideration has been embargoed from the press. The EU - backed in its stance by 13 aspiring members, including Turkey - says it wants an accord by Wednesday night. And though the Europeans made it clear they reject the singling out of Israel for condemnation, there were mixed signals on whether they were ready to back it up with a threat of packing up early.
In Durban, a spokesman for Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country presently holds the rotating EU presidency, denied that any decision had been taken on what the bloc would do if a deal proved impossible.
But in Paris today, French cabinet minister Jean-Jack Queyranne quoted Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as saying that the EU withdrawal could take place "in the next few hours... If the link between Zionism and racist is maintained, the issue of our departure - along with the Europeans - will come up immediately," he quoted Jospin as saying.
Queyranne also quoted French Cooperation Minister Charles Josselin as saying a walkout by France and its EU partners "would mean a failure with international consequences at the United Nations and in relations between developing countries and Western countries."
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has already left Durban himself, tried to prevent a stampede out by sending back an urgent plea that all national delegations stay and complete a harmonized agenda to combat racism.
And UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson, who is chairing the conference, expressed her "dismay" at the "hurtful" anti-Israel and anti-Zionist language in the NGO document adopted Saturday night, and said she would not be able to recommend it to the official UN member forum just now getting underway and running through Friday.
In a final note, reports out of the Cape Town area indicate a Jewish doctor there has been savagely attacked by militant Muslims in his office and was in intensive care yesterday. The assailants used clubs, with blades inserted into the wood. His practice is situated in Athlone, a suburb with a high Muslim concentration, many of whom were his patients.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.