- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Last-minute maneuvers may have jeopardized a deal for Israel and the Palestinian territories to enter the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement after decades of ostracism, according to officials at a conference in Geneva.

The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, at a two-day meeting that began yesterday, had been expected to formally endorse the use of a new religiously neutral emblem facilitating the move.

Israel’s national emergency medical service, Magen David Adom (MDA), has never been willing to use either the cross or crescent — symbolic of Christianity and Islam respectively — while the movement has been unwilling to allow the use of the Star of David.

Adoption of the new symbol, a diamond-shaped “red crystal,” would end the more than 50-year stalemate. But the deal was thrown into doubt when Pakistan and Tunisia unexpectedly introduced a politically charged amendment to the resolution yesterday.

The action set off alarms in the U.S. government, a long-time supporter of MDA Red Cross membership.

A group called American Friends of MDA abruptly called off a celebratory press conference in Washington, saying the State Department had urged Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, to call off her plans to participate.

“They thought any public comments might negatively affect the vote,” said Daniel Allen, executive vice president of American Friends for MDA.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said at yesterday’s briefing that he knew nothing about such a request, and Mrs. Clinton’s office failed to respond to repeated phone calls. However, Mr. Ereli said the United States has worked “relentlessly” to help integrate Israel into the international human rights community.

The American Red Cross withheld $42 million in overhead dues over a six-year period to protest MDA’s exclusion from the group, according to the American Red Cross.

Agence France-Presse, reporting from Geneva, said the amendment proposed by Pakistan and Tunisia would say the movement’s rules applied in “all Arab Territories occupied since 1967, namely the Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan and the Lebanese Shebaa Farms.”

Israel said the suggested rewording, which effectually condemned Israel’s occupation of territories, was unacceptable, according to Agence France-Presse.

“This political opposition isn’t helping anyone. MDA has a lot to offer the community, with our experience in dealing with mass casualty issues and disasters,” Mr. Allen said.

“We don’t understand what the problem is with allowing a humanitarian organization to join the family of nations here,” he said.

The adoption of the red crystal symbol was approved in principle at a meeting of Red Cross Movement member governments in December, despite strong Syrian opposition, by a vote of 98-27 with 10 abstentions. Two-thirds of the governments meeting today in Geneva must approve for the protocol to become official.

In November 2005, MDA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Palestine Red Crescent, which has been unable to become a member because of the Palestinians’ lack of recognized statehood. The memorandum stated that the two organizations would seek joint entry, according to the Red Cross.

Mr. Allen said that if MDA’s entry to the organization was blocked, it might jeopardize the Palestine Red Crescent’s chances as well.

Ian Piper of the International Committee of the Red Cross told the Associated Press that he hoped joint entry would result in an acceptable situation for all parties.

“For us, it’s a great advantage that they both be recognized simultaneously, that they are both equal, that they both play by the same rules and are accountable to the same group of peers,” he said.

Devorah Goldburg of the American Red Cross said, “We still remain hopeful that a consensus can be reached. We just want to remind everyone that this isn’t a political organization and the focus should be on humanitarian concerns.”

• David R. Sands contributed to this article.

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