UN Vote Ends Israel's Long Status as Outcast

Repeal of Zionism-is-racism resolution could boost prospects for a United Nations' role in the region

BY repealing its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, the United Nations has removed one of the last stones from the high wall that once isolated Israel from a large segment of the world community.But diplomatic analysts say the Dec. 16 action by the General Assembly will do little to energize Middle East peace talks now languishing in Washington. "If the Arab states had supported the revocation, it could have had a very salutatory affect," says Marvin Feuerwerger, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy. "As it is, there's not an immediate positive translation to the peace process." Although six Arab countries failed to attend the Dec. 16 vote, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan - the three Arab nations now engaged in face-to-face peace talks with Israel - were among the nine Arab states that voted against the repeal motion. The measure was passed by a vote of 111 to 25, with 13 abstentions. The repeal drive was spearheaded by the United States, which has long argued that the resolution unfairly discriminated against Israel. The Dec. 16 vote culminated a three-month campaign announced by President Bush in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September. It is expected to ease tensions between Washington and Jerusalem created by disagreements over the peace process and by Israel's policy of expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Dec. 16 vote to rescind the "Zionism-is-racism" resolution was criticized by Arab spokesmen who warned that any relaxation of international pressure would be exploited by Israel to seize more Arab lands in the territories. "It would whet the appetite of Israeli extremists wishing to pursue their policy of creeping annexation," said Lebanon's UN ambassador, Khalil Makkawi, who spoke Dec. 16 for the UN's Arab bloc. Israel's isolation reached its peak after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when dozens of communist and third-world countries broke off relations to protest its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In 1975 they joined the Arab states to pass the Zionism-is-racism resolution. But motivated by economic interests and the end of the cold war, most of those countries, including the Soviet Union, have restored ties with Israel. On Dec. 16, they switched positions on Resolution 3379, leaving the Arab countries and a handful of mostly Islamic nations isolated and outnumbered. As further evidence of Israel's growing acceptance, this was the first year in decades that its credentials in the United Nations went unchallenged. Israel and South Africa had long been considered outcasts by a majority of UN members. Zionism is the ideology of Jewish nationalism. It has been the driving force behind the decision of millions of Jews, beginning in the late 19th century, to return to their Biblical homeland after 2,000 years of life in "diaspora" communities around the world. Support for racism charges stemmed partly from alleged violations by Israel of international laws pertaining to military occupation. It was nourished by human rights violations against Palestinians living in the territories, many of whom have been forced off land that has been held by Arabs for generations. The Zionism-is-racism resolution was one reason for Israel's steadfast refusal to allow the UN to play a role in Middle East peacemaking. With 3379 now repealed, the organization could play a future role in helping Israel and Arab states deal with such multilateral issues as economic development and water shortages, analysts say. "The UN will no longer automatically be disqualified from the process by Israel," says Dr. Feuerwerger. "That's good for Israel but it's also good for the UN." In his September address to the General Assembly, Mr. Bush said the UN could not "claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel's right to exist." In Washington, meanwhile, a continuing dispute between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prompted spokesmen from both sides to warn on Dec. 16 that the Middle East peace process was in jeopardy. The two delegations are deadlocked over whether Palestinians should be allowed to negotiate with Israel independently of Jordan. Though strictly procedural, the issue has important substantive implications since it bears on whether the ultimate outcome of the peace process will be an independent Palestinian state. Negotiations were to resume Dec. 17, along with separate Israeli talks with Syria and Lebanon. Israeli negotiators are expected to leave Washington by mid-week. It was not clear early Dec. 17 where or when they would resume.

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