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A junior Jordanian diplomat and possibly an Egyptian will apparently be the only Arab representatives attending the 2007 OSCE Mediterranean Seminar this week in Tel Aviv, instead of the five Arab states invited to a conference whose purpose is to connect the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe with North African states and Israel.
"It's a glaring sign more significant than any deliberations that can take place," said B'nai B'rith's Alan Schneider, who was at a one-day NGO preparatory meeting on Monday ahead of the Tuesday conference which was co-hosted by the Citizens' Accord Forum and the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. "These Arab states are not prepared to accept Israel as an equal partner and engage in dialogue that will legitimize Israel's role in the Middle East. Other dialogues, such as the Barcelona process" - the European Union's framework for dialogue with 10 Mediterranean non-EU states - "failed for this reason."
His comments were echoed by other American Jewish organizations attending the NGO meeting, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, and by Israeli activists and educators who had hoped to meet Arab counterparts.
"This was a complete waste of time. I don't know what I accomplished here, frankly," said one Israeli, who felt "offended" at the poor turnout. "Some of the NGOs are here to connect to the OSCE, but I came for the Arabs. And they didn't show."
Even one OSCE official openly said the lack of attendance "is unquestionably a setback for the OSCE."
The seminar, this year titled "Combating Intolerance and Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding," is an annual forum in which 56 OSCE members, including the US, Russia, Canada and other European and Central Asian countries, can discuss security and development with the organization's "Mediterranean partners" - Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Israel, all of whom were invited. Dozens of diplomats, mostly from Europe, are expected at the conference.
According to OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, who spoke with The Jerusalem Post ahead of Monday's meeting, the organization's "Mediterranean framework" is meant to advance the commitment of these states to build "societies based on the rule of law which respects individual rights," a goal which all OSCE member states and partners undertake to pursue.
"This requires some commitments which are quite demanding, which require a transformation of institutions, of practices, of society and culture," de Brichambaut said, but admitted, "sometimes we can see patterns of ambiguous behavior with regards to the OSCE" from these countries.
Minister for Diaspora Affairs Isaac Herzog, who was the keynote speaker on Monday, said there was a rationale to the "Mediterranean approach."
"There are strong European connections to the Mediterranean world, Italy to Libya, France to Algeria," he said. "There is a difference between the external image the Arab league projects and the reality. And there is a moderate coalition in the Arab world that runs from Morocco through Egypt and Jordan and includes Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]. True, it's a coalition of political interests, but it's there."
Even so, the failure of Arab diplomats to show up at an international conference on tolerance held in Tel Aviv was significant, he added, saying, "In general, Arab governments' attitude to anti-Semitism is ambivalent, since they always link it to the Middle Eastern conflict, which is a mistake [that] Europe and the rest of the world don't [make]."
According to a source familiar with the process that chose Tel Aviv as the venue, Israel was the only Mediterranean partner country to offer to host the conference, but when some Arab states warned they would not attend, the OSCE "had to make the call" between Israel and a neutral country such as Cyprus. Though Tel Aviv was selected in the end - "in part not to embarrass the Israelis," according to the source - the result was a Mediterranean partnership conference almost devoid of Mediterranean partners.
The NGO preparatory meeting Monday also saw no representatives of civil society in any of the invited Arab states except Morocco, whose half-dozen NGO representatives were apparently all members of organizations working in Morocco's majority Berber population, not among its Arabs, including at least one Berber Jewish group.
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