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UN Sponsored Conference on Palestine Considered a Flop

The controversial United Nations sponsored conference on Palestine ended here last week with what must have been a collective sigh of relief from many of the participants that an international embarrassment was over.

Both as a productive debate and as a media event, the 10-day conclave of Arab states, their Third World and Communist bloc allies and a handful of Western nations was, in the unabashed words of the Kuwaiti Ambassador, “a flop.” Since it was not expected to generate much more than the usual anti-Israel rhetoric, it received little media coverage from the start.

At midpoint, it was upstaged by Premier Menachem Begin’s announcement in Jerusalem that he would resign. Its closing hours were overshadowed by the downing of a Korean airliner by Soviet fighter planes.

The deliberations began with a quarrel. Victor Gauci, Malta’s Ambassador to the UN who had been elected rapporteur, stunned the delegates by announcing that his government, a strong supporter of the Palestinians, had instructed him to withdraw from the conference until a row over an Arab boycott of a Maltese firm doing business with Israel is resolved.

The conference proceeded without a rapporteur. It ended on an equally sour note when Mustafe Niase, the Foreign Minister of Senegal who served as conference president refused to hold a closing press conference because he “did not want to be politically engaged.”

FIRST RESOLUTION WAS PREDICTABLE

What little of substance the conference produced was predictable. The final resolution upheld “the right of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the representative of the Palestinian people, to establish its own independent state in Palestine.” It called for an international peace conference on the Middle East, under UN auspices with the participation of the PLO, the U.S. and the USSR — a revival of the Geneva Conference format of 1967 which has been gathering dust for 16 years.

Finland and Sweden, two of the Western states participating, urged some mention of “the right of Israel to exist.” But the Arabs refused and would agree only to affirm “the right of all states in the region to exist within secure borders.”

They rejected outright a paragraph in the original draft resolution which condemned all acts of terrorism in the Middle East. There was no reference in the final resolution to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

THE RESULT OF THE CONFERENCE

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ovadia Soffer, stated in a press communique that “the conference, which cost the UN $7 million, achieved only one result: it enabled the extremist Arabs and their allies to repeat once again their anti-Israel declarations.” He expressed hope that the 21 Arab states which refuse to acknowledge Israel’s existence will finally agree to dialogue and direct negotiations with Israel in the manner of Camp David.

The Israelis, in any event, may have benefited more from the conference than the Palestinians. If so, it was due to the clumsy performance of PLO chief Yasir Arafat who outraged and alienated millions of Catholics around the world by stating at a press conference that Jesus was the first militant Palestinian terrorist. He used the word “fedayee.”

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