The Swiss have been criticised by Arab countries for convening a conference in October intended to pave the way for Israel to join the Red Cross movement.This content was published on September 28, 2000 - 14:20
Israel has been kept out for the last 50 years because the movement does not recognise its symbol, a red Star of David. For its part, Israel refuses to use the existing symbols: the red cross or red crescent.
Under pressure from the United States, efforts have been made this year to find a solution that would let Israel in. The Red Cross movement's members have been edging closer to an agreement on creating a new emblem, a move that requires a new protocol to be adopted at a diplomatic conference.
However, Arab countries think Switzerland's decision - as the depository nation of the Geneva conventions - to convene the conference is premature.
On behalf of the Arab league, Algeria's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Mohamed Salah Dembri, presented the protest.
He told swissinfo: "We should first examine the text of an additional protocol providing for a new emblem, and do this by consensus. Only then should a date for the diplomatic conference have been fixed."
Dembri added that though Switzerland has the right to convene such a summit, it would have to see that the discussions that are underway yield results. "Otherwise, " he said, "The conference will be a failure."
Dembri says Arab countries have no objection to the Israeli federation joining the Red Cross movement, but that they are in no way willing to accept the Star of David symbol.
He says the same symbol is used in the army and in civil society, and that it is therefore not neutral enough.
The ambassador's view is that a decision need not be rushed: "Why should we have an accord by the end of the year?" he asked, "If we need to work on it for a few more months, we'll work for a few more months. If we need to work for another year, we'll work for another year. The end of the year has never been a definitive target for us."
Switzerland, for its part, is standing by its decision to press ahead with the diplomatic conference, notwithstanding the dispute with the Arab signatory states.
The Swiss ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, François Nordmann, told swissinfo that the process of consultation gave the Arab countries ample time to talk over the addition of the new emblem.
He denied Switzerland was under any pressure from Washington or Israel to resolve the issue as rapidly as possible.
Malcolm Shearmur and Samantha Tomkin
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