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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

U.N. talks on racism fracture over Israeli-Palestinian discord

August 11, 2001

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— The United Nations' top human rights official expressed hope Friday that differences over an accord on racism had been narrowed enough that the United States would drop its threat to boycott a U.N. racism convention.

"What we are all now focusing on is how to ensure that the United States ... will be at Durban with all other states," said Mary Robinson, U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

Negotiators failed to agree on wording of the accord before adjourning Friday, two hours before the midnight deadline. Nevertheless, Robinson said she was encouraged because negotiators had erased some differences over how to address the Arab-Israeli conflict and Africa's demands for slavery compensation.

Work will resume when the World Conference Against Racism opens Aug. 31, she said.

The United States has warned that it will not attend unless language it regards as offensive toward Israel is removed from the draft.

But U.S. officials said a final decision by Washington was not expected before next week.

Israeli Ambassador Yaakov Levy protested Friday evening that "the same shameful language" on the Middle East that was in draft documents when the negotiating session began had not been removed.

"Consequently Israel will have to reconsider its participation in the Durban conference in the days to come," Levy said.

Robinson, however, said she was encouraged by progress made in the last two weeks.

U.S. negotiators, who walked out of discussions Thursday evening, had also rejected any direct mention of Palestine.

But the announcement Friday that the United States appeared "at least willing to look at possible text" on Palestinians' suffering was "very significant," Robinson said.

"We've come a long way," she said. "A lot remains to be done, but a framework has emerged."

Israel also walked out Thursday over wording proposed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, with Levy saying it denigrated the suffering of Jews under the Nazis.

The Arab group had removed direct references condemning Zionism, the movement that led to the founding of the modern state of Israel. But in acknowledging the Holocaust, the proposal referred to it as "the Jewish holocaust in Europe" with a small "h," in defiance of Jewish demands.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference draft "condemns Israel 77 times rather that 88 times, which the Arab draft did," Levy told The Associated Press.

Speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ambassador Rajmah Hussain of Malaysia said her group had demonstrated "a spirit of flexibility" in trying to "reflect the plight of the Palestinian people" under the "racist practices of the occupying power."

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