UN conference success for Israel says Peres

 

Israeli Foreign Minister Mr Shimon Peres today called the UN racism conference in South Africa a "great success" for Israel, after a compromise final document failed to condemn its treatment of the Palestinians.

"It's a great, very important success for our diplomacy and a bitter defeat for the Arab League, in that the systematic majority that the League uses in international forums has broken down," Mr Peres told Israel's second television channel in a statement made from Italy.

The conference in Durban adopted its final declaration after an extra eighth days of tough, sometimes bitter discussions, and included compromises on the Middle East and the legacy of slavery.

It recognizes the Palestinians' right to self-determination and an independent state, but refrains from explicitly condemning Israel.

It also recognizes the right of all Middle East states to security, including Israel, which has bitterly fought a Palestinian uprising for nearly a year in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The fighting has left more than 770 people dead, most of them Palestinians.

Ahead of the conference the 22-member Arab League pledged to work together to condemn Israel's practices toward the Palestinians.

An original Arab draft on Israel's treatment of Palestinians referred to "ethnic cleansing," described it as an apartheid state engaged in a crime against humanity, and referred to "the racist practices of Zionism."

Israel and the United States had withdrawn from the meeting on Monday over Arab attempts to label Israel a racist state with what they termed "hateful" language.

The European Union (EU) had threatened to follow their lead if the final text included items that equated Zionism with racism.

A 1975 UN resolution, which defined Israel's founding philosophy of Zionism as racist, was repealed in 1991.

Earlier Mr Peres, who was attending an international conference in Cernobbio, northern Italy, praised the Durban resolution as signalling the end to the "reflex" of anti-Israeli votes at international meetings.

"For the first time, the anti-Israeli majority ... was broken faced with our willingness to reach peace and through the obstinate defence of our principles," Mr Peres said in a statement.

Mr Peres thanked Washington for standing by Israel at the racism meeting, as well as the EU and many other countries for their "support."

He expressed "satisfaction that hateful chapters against the Jewish people were withdrawn from the final declaration."

In New York, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed the last-minute compromise on the final declaration, but said it was "regrettable" the meeting was overshadowed by disagreements.

AFP