Swiss FM here on MDA compromise

MDA has been trying for some five decades to get into the International Red Cross.

Visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who has not been granted a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon since she helped promote Yossi Beilin's Geneva Initiative in 2003, met Sharon Sunday and discussed an international conference at year's end that could finally pave the way for Magen David Adom's (MDA) entrance into the International Red Cross (IRC). The MDA has been trying for some five decades to get into the IRC. According to a source in Sharon's office, the meeting was "a good one" that "cleared the air." The official said the idea is for a special amendment approving the adoption of a neutral symbol to be voted on at the end of year by the signatory nations to the Geneva Conventions. Calmy-Rey's arrived on a three-day visit to the region to get agreement on a neutral emblem. Switzerland is the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, and the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross is the principal humanitarian organization charged in all four 1949 Geneva Conventions with carrying out relief activities for victims of armed conflicts. Calmy-Rey visited Egypt on Saturday, and is scheduled to go to the PA and Lebanon on Monday. Under the plan, the IRC would adopt a neutral third emblem in addition to the red cross and red crescent: a red "crystal" into which the red Star of David could be placed for use by Magen David Adom staff and volunteers outside of Israel. Calmy-Rey is expected to discuss the planned conference in further detail with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom Monday morning. The ministry has been fighting for the MDA's admittance into the IRC for years. Admittance into the IRC would mean both an increase of prestige and funding for the MDA. In addition, it would mean Israelis from the MDA would then be able to ask to go to any country where their help was needed - including those where persecuted Jews need to be rescued or imprisoned Jews need to be visited - and receive immunity from being attacked when they hoist their red Star of David embedded in the crystal emblem. Israel's request for membership in the Red Cross was rejected in 1949 by secret ballot at the Geneva Conventions, due to its choice of the red Star of David as an emblem. Since then, Muslim countries have lobbied for Israel's exclusion from the organization, and some have threatened to resign should the MDA be admitted. The issue was close to being resolved in 2000, along the same lines that are being discussed now - with the adoption of a neutral symbol - but the efforts were derailed with the outbreak of Palestinian violence in 2000. One Foreign Ministry official pointed out that the American Red Cross has withheld its dues from the IRC for the last two years in protest against MDA's exclusion. According to sources in Sharon's office, Calmy-Rey asked Sharon to ease restrictions on the movement of Red Crescent ambulances in the territories. Sharon assured her that this was already being done, despite "bad experiences" in the past with ambulances used to smuggle weapons into Israel. Sharon said that there is cooperation between MDA and Red Crescent teams in the field, and that directives have been given to enable Red Crescent ambulances quicker access through the roadblocks. He pointed out that there would be a "humanitarian lane" to facilitate easy access for ambulances at a new terminal being built at the Tapuah junction.