- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

DURBAN, South Africa — The Israeli delegation last night threatened to walk out of a U.N. conference on racism if anti-Israeli language is not dropped from conference documents.
"We hope for efforts to find a compromise formula," Mordechai Yedid, the head of the delegation, told reporters yesterday. "But there is no political will" from the Palestinians.
He refused to say when the decision whether to depart would be made. Other members of the Israeli delegation, however, said they were feeling increasingly pessimistic after listening to speeches from key Arab leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Specifically, the Israelis are trying to find neutral language to substitute for more than two dozen objectionable paragraphs in the political declaration and the program of action that are to be adopted by conference participants. The signatories are to promise to fight racism and xenophobia around the world.
"We think our red lines should be no hate language and no singling out of Israel and no condemnation," Mr. Yedid told reporters last night.
The violence in the Middle East has overshadowed the proceedings in Durban, with frustrated Arab nations using the racism conference as a forum to attack what they call "the racist practices of Zionism."
Other passages in the draft documents refer to Zionism as apartheid and a crime against humanity.
Conference organizers have appointed Norway as an intermediary to seek out language that all parties can agree to.
"It will be difficult, but not impossible," said Sverre Bergh Johansen, head of the Norwegian delegation. "It is too soon to talk about progress."
But Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat and a member of the U.S. delegation, said last night that the United States was satisfied with a Norwegian-crafted draft, and had recommended it to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
That draft is said by delegates to be three paragraphs that endorse peace in the region and a return to the negotiating table. But the Israelis have not committed to it yet and, more importantly say delegates, neither have the Palestinians.
A forum for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which is running parallel to the racism conference in Durban, yesterday issued its own conference document that equated Zionism with racism and called for Israel to be sanctioned as a "racist, apartheid state."
The document also asked the United Nations to prosecute Israel for war crimes and acts of ethnic cleansing.
The NGOs' declaration was rejected by many of the participating groups. Jewish groups walked out of the all-night meeting in anger while several others, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, will hold a press conference today to dissociate themselves from it.
This is not the first time a U.N. conference has condemned Zionism. The United States and Israel boycotted two earlier U.N. racism conferences, saying they could not participate while a resolution by the U.N. General Assembly condemning Zionism as racism was still on the books.
That was rescinded in 1991. Both the United States and Israel reluctantly agreed at the last minute to send midlevel delegations to this conference, saying it was important to be constructively engaged.
Members of both delegations have been active in all the drafting meetings, and an Israeli delegate is scheduled to speak from the conference podium today.
Mr. Yedid said his government was increasingly concerned about its relationship with the United Nations, which created the state of Israel in 1948.
The world body also called for the creation of a Palestinian state in General Assembly Resolution No. 242, and mandated restitution for those who were displaced by either.
"We are very concerned about Israeli-United Nations relations," Mr. Yedid said. "We have made it clear to the secretary-general and [High Commissioner for Human Rights] Mary Robinson."
He said that Israeli "is at a critical juncture" with the organization after recent, rancorous debates about the Middle East in the General Assembly, Security Council and Human Rights Commission.

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