Delegates accept new Red Crystal emblem, paving way for Israel to join.
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH, AP
Delegates to an international conference have accepted a new Red Cross emblem, paving the way for Israel to join the humanitarian movement after nearly six decades of exclusion, officials said Thursday.
The 192 signatories of the Geneva Conventions approved the new "red crystal" emblem by vote after last-ditch negotiations between Israel and Syria over Damascus' demands for humanitarian access to Syrian citizens in the Golan Heights broke down.
"I can inform you that the protocol has just been adopted," said Didier Pfirter, a Swiss diplomat who has been coordinating global efforts to muster support for the new emblem.
"Unfortunately, it has not been possible to adopt the protocol by consensus, but it has been adopted by a clear majority," said Pfirter.
"The most important thing is the result," said Dr. Noam Yifrach, president of the Magen David Adom, after receiving a congratulatory call from Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the board of governors of the American Red Cross. "Tomorrow, nobody will remember the numbers."
Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom welcomed the decision to adopt the new emblem.
"During the past three years I have pushed hard to end the historic discrimination which prevented MDA from joining the ICRC. Now, due to Israel's active efforts, the way has finally been paved for MDA to be accepted into the International Red Cross."
"The vote on this issue also reflects Israel's improved international standing in recent years. Israel can today promote initiatives in the international arena more freely and more effectively than it has been able to for many years. This is yet another achievement for Israel's diplomacy, joining a long list of other successes in recent months."
MDA officials told The Jerusalem Post in phone interviews Wednesday that the International Red Cross had preferred unanimous agreement rather than a minimum two-thirds vote that would approve the emblem.
"A month ago, I would have said it was a sure thing, but now I am not," Yifrach said. "The Arab and Muslim countries want to give a present to Syria." The Syrian Red Crescent society has made its vote in favor of the emblem conditional on Israel giving it the right to visit Druse living on the Golan Heights who were Syrians before the Six Day War.
Yifrach said even if the emblem was approved during the diplomatic conference, an international conference of member governments and societies would still have to meet in May. A general assembly of the International Red Cross movement's member societies could be convened even the same day to approve MDA's membership, he said.
The Syrians, backed by other Arab and Muslim countries, were hoping to win concessions from Israel at the last minute, as the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) did earlier this week when Israel agreed to the "right" of the PRC to treat Palestinians in the territories, while MDA has the "right" to treat Israelis in both Israel and the Palestinian areas.
Yifrach suggested that with Israel facing the election of a new government in March, it would be difficult for the current government to make a serious decision on the Golan Heights issue. By May 20, when the international conference is due to be convened, he added, "the issue could be more easily settled."
MDA wants the neutral red crystal emblem approved during the current meetings in Geneva.
Israel said there was little it could do now, but hoped the Swiss and Americans would be able to resolve the crisis.
Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Eddie Shapiro said Israel had long pushed for acceptance to the International Red Cross through "diplomatic channels," emphasizing that the issue was "purely humanitarian." He accused the Arab countries, and chiefly Syria, of turning the matter into a political one.
"The intervention of Syria was expected," Shapiro said, since Israel's Arab enemies often try to exclude the country from international arenas.
"If we don't succeed, we'll try to do it again later," he said. "But right now this is under negotiation between Switzerland [and] the United States."
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.