Switzerland is hosting an international meeting in Geneva to try to agree on a new emblem for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
It is hoped that the meeting will pave the way for a diplomatic conference, which would allow the Israeli first aid service to be globally recognised.
Founded in 1930, Magen David Adom (Red Star of David) is still not a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, an umbrella body for national first-aid societies, their federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The Israeli society is holding fast to its emblem – a red Star of David. It refuses to operate under either of the two emblems currently in existence and recognised by the movement: the cross and the crescent.
Different attempts to overcome this impasse have always failed, essentially because of resistance from Arab countries.
The most recent attempt was in 2000. As the home state of the Geneva Conventions (which set the rules for emblems), Switzerland was on the verge of convening a diplomatic conference of the signatory countries.
One solution put forward by the ICRC seemed to rally all the parties concerned. The guardian organisation of the Geneva Conventions proposed a white square, bordered by red and standing on one corner(the red crystal). Under certain conditions, that emblem could have been integrated with another symbol, such as the Star of David.
But since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, positions hardened again and Switzerland's diplomatic efforts were undone.
A neutral symbol
The solution envisaged by the ICRC is still waiting in the wings. This is the project that will be discussed by the representatives of the 191 signatory states to the Geneva Convention when they meet on Monday and Tuesday in Geneva at Switzerland's invitation.
If positions soften sufficiently, Switzerland could convene a diplomatic conference. This would allow an additional protocol to be adopted in the Geneva Conventions. This formula is necessary to endorse the creation of a new humanitarian emblem.
Furthermore, this breakthrough could also allow the American Red Cross to renew its contributions to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Since 2000, the American association has not paid its dues in protest at the exclusion of the Israeli association.
Lives at stake
These quarrels about an emblem may seem silly. Particularly as the collaboration between Magen David Adom and other humanitarian organisations poses hardly any problems on the ground.
But any confusion about image undermines the protection of rescue workers and injured people in wartime. This is why the ICRC has always sought to avoid the multiplication of logos. This would cloud recognition of a universally known and widely respected symbol.
The choice between and cross and a crescent – the two emblems currently in use – causes problems for some countries with both a Muslim and Christian population.
"The adoption of a new emblem – neutral in form – is an opportunity for those countries, as well as for those who are interested in a symbol without a religious connotation," Antonella Notari, ICRC spokeswoman said.
The Red Cross humanitarian organisation does not intend to change its famous logo of a red cross on a white background. According to Antonella Notari, it continues to fulfil its protective role in most of the 80 countries where the organisation is active, with the exception of Iraq and Afghanistan.
swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva
The red cross and red crescent emblems are universally recognised symbols of assistance for the victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters.
An international meeting is taking place in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday to put forward the adoption of a third humanitarian emblem, the red crystal.
The Federation of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies comprises 181 national societies.
With the ICRC, it forms the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The Movement does not officially recognise the Israeli first-aid society Magen David Adom.