Negotiators turn to other anti-Israel wording in draft U.N. racism document
GENEVA (AP) – Negotiators attempted to remove attacks on Israel from draft documents being prepared for the World Conference Against Racism, after nearing agreement Thursday to eliminate anti-Zionism wording from the text.
Facing a boycott threat from the United States, virtually all Arab countries appeared ready to drop references to Zionism from the documents being drafted for the conference that begins Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa.
But there are many other attacks on Israel laced through the 88 pages of draft text, and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington that the United States wants those removed as well.
Secretary of State Colin Powell would like to attend the meeting in Durban, but it depends ”on how some things turn out,” Boucher said.
”We are very concerned about some of the issues that are being raised in the preparatory part of the conference.”
The United States also objects to demands from Africa that countries benefiting in the past from colonialism or slavery must now pay compensation.
The European Union offered new wording Thursday to condemn slavery and colonialism and the suffering it caused, without making reference to reparations.
”I don’t think ‘I’m sorry’ is going to be enough,” said Reed Brody of New York-based Human Rights Watch who is in Geneva to follow the talks. ”There needs to be a recognition of an obligation today. That’s what the rest of the world is looking for.”
Negotiators in Geneva were going through the draft declaration for the U.N. conference paragraph by paragraph to see whether any could be approved, but almost every section caused problems with at least one country.
Officials said they would note the severity of the objections to a paragraph ”with an amber light or a red light.”
By lunchtime they had covered less than a quarter of the 131 paragraphs. All but one – a general denunciation of racists – had raised objections.
Paragraph 30 – from the Arab countries and Iran – is clearly aimed at Israel, even though no country is named. It attacks ”foreign occupation founded on settlements, its laws based on racial discrimination.”
The occupation practices ”constitute a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity and a serious threat to international peace and security,” the draft wording says.
”We would like a red light placed next to that one,” said a spokesman for the United States. ”My delegation has serious reservations about it.”
Israeli Ambassador Yaakov Levy tried to capitalize the ”H” on holocaust in another paragraph deploring ”wars, genocide, holocaust, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities.” He was told that any change would have to wait until negotiations on the wording resumes.
Levy told The Associated Press that among his goals is the removal of ”improper mentioning of the Holocaust.” Israel maintains that the Holocaust should refer specifically to Nazi atrocities against the Jews, not genocide in general.
Besides negotiating publicly on the wording, the real horse-trading about the documents is going on between delegations or behind closed doors in working groups.
One is assigned to sort out problems on the Middle East, and another one is working on the African compensation demands.
The near-decision to drop attacks on Zionism, the movement that led to the founding of the modern state of Israel, came Wednesday in an informal session of delegates chaired by South African Ambassador Sipho George Nene.
Syria blocked immediate agreement on the Zionism issue on the grounds that it was ”premature” to declare it resolved before it is taken up in a formal meeting.
The disputed wording revives a 1975 U.N. resolution asserting that Zionism is a form of racism. The General Assembly rescinded the resolution in 1991.
Although Arab diplomats said they were willing to delete the references to Zionism, they said they would insist on including the Palestinian situation as long as any other specific problems are included.
The proposed text also refers to anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews worldwide.
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