- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

NEW YORK Israel hailed yesterday the end of 40 years of political isolation at the United Nations, agreeing to join a regional bloc composed primarily of Western democratic nations.

Israel's invitation to a four-year membership to the Western European and Others Group, or WEOG, was confirmed on Friday, with a letter from Dutch U.N. Ambassador Peter van Walsum, whose nation is currently the head of the European Union.

"During four decades or more, we're the only member state in the United Nations to be excluded in the regional system," Israeli U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said yesterday.

"I think this permits us to travel in its energy, its activity, its spirit to take something from the family of nations, to give something to the family of nations."

By not belonging to a regional bloc in this case, the Asian Group that includes its Arab neighbors Israel has been shut out of key U.N. committee memberships and also from fielding candidates for high-level U.N. positions.

Israel's temporary membership in the WEOG group is "the rectification of a long-standing, wholly inexcusable exclusion of one country, and one country only, from any regional group in the United Nations," said American U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. "It's a historic step forward in the elimination of a huge injustice."

It is also a foreign policy victory for the Clinton administration, which has been negotiating to get Israel into the WEOG group for the last eight years.

Indeed, President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Mr. Holbrooke all issued statements yesterday welcoming Israel's WEOG alliance.

"The important thing is that you're not going to see that ad next year in the New York Times and everywhere else which shows all the members of the United Nations that are members of groups and the one country that isn't," Mr. Holbrooke said, referring to advertisements by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and other pro-Israel groups.

Aside from a symbolic victory, it is not clear what benefits Israel will reap from belonging to WEOG.

Under the terms of its temporary membership, which will be up for renewal by permanent WEOG members every few years, Israel stands at the back of the line to field candidates for pivotal posts, such as the U.N. Security Council, the Economic and Social Commission and the boards of directors of various agencies and programs. It is forbidden to enter a contested election for at least two years.

Belonging to a U.N. regional group does not generally facilitate alliances in a political, economic or social spheres. Nor does it guarantee votes of support in General Assembly resolutions.

Under the terms largely negotiated by Washington which has made Israel's membership in WEOG a prominent foreign policy objective Israel will only be included in WEOG discussions in New York, but will not participate in the regional group's meetings in Geneva or at other U.N. offices.

Unlike other groups, which are geographically based, WEOG is a miscellaneous collection of European and other democracies that don't really fit in their own regions such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Mr. Lancry, meanwhile, reaffirmed his desire to belong to the Asian Group, Israel's natural geographical home.

"Our admission to this group is for the time being not possible for some political reasons, as you can guess. But our strategy of peace, our conception of peace, invites us of course to be finally a member of this Asian Group," he said.

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