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Vote Against PLO in U.N. Agency Hurts Its Efforts to Join Others

The deferral Friday of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s bid for full membership in the World Health Organization has severely diminished its chances for admission into the other U.N. agencies to which it planned to apply, according to political observers here.

The 166-nation World Health Assembly, the WHO’s governing body, voted 83-47 Friday afternoon to postpone consideration of the PLO’s application for membership as a sovereign state for one year–until its next annual meeting in May 1990.

The vote was one of the rare occasions when an American-led initiative against Palestinian aspirations was supported by the Soviet Union and China.

Soviet diplomats explained privately that Moscow believed that American peace efforts in the Middle East should be given a chance to work.

Other Eastern European delegates, who followed the Soviet lead in the vote, said they did not want to jeopardize the current American dialogue with the PLO.

Thirty countries, Israel among them, abstained or were not present for the vote.

The head of the Israeli delegation, Health Minister Ya’acov Tsur, explained to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency later that Israel abstained from voting to postpone the issue because “we cannot agree to have it re-examined next year.”

Nevertheless, Tsur called the outcome “a great relief and a great victory.”

ARAFAT DECRIES U.S. ‘BLACKMAIL’

But he warned Israelis that it “does not mean that many of the member states, including most Western European countries, have changed their stand in favor of Palestinian self-determination.”

PLO leader Yasir Arafat blamed the Americans for the Palestinian defeat and accused the United States of resorting to “cheap blackmail.”

The United States had, in fact, served notice two weeks ago that it would withhold its assessed $73.8 million contribution to the WHO’s fiscal 1990 budget if the PLO were admitted.

That announcement created a crisis atmosphere when the World Health Assembly meeting opened here on May 8.

The American contribution represents about a quarter of the WHO’s budget. In addition, the United States is the largest source of voluntary contributions to the agency’s special programs combatting AIDS, tropical diseases and diseases fatal to children.

Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, the Japanese physician who is director general of the WHO, said the loss of American funding would be “a bigger danger to world health than the AIDS epidemic.”

The Israeli delegate. Tsur, may have been referring to this when he remarked that “the circumstances were in our favor.”

Arafat, for his part, insisted that the “Palestine state” will continue to seek admission to other specialized U.N. Agencies.

These include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Labor Organization and the International Telecommunications Union.

JEWISH GROUPS PLEASED

But observers believe the PLO’s chances are doomed, at least for the time being, by the setback in the WHO.

Unlike the World Health Assembly, where a simple majority is sufficient, the other U.N. agencies require a two-thirds majority vote for admission.

In New York, American Jewish groups were quick to welcome the WHO vote. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations praised the leadership of President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker in rejecting the PLO demand for admission to the health body.

“Their strong stand gave courage to other countries to vote against the PLO in a secret ballot,” said Seymour Reich, chairman of the conference, which represents 46 national Jewish groups.

Reich also lauded the Soviet vote to delay consideration of the PLO’s request. “We hope it is a sign of future cooperation between our two countries in the difficult task of encouraging a process that will lead to Middle East peace,” he said.

“The PLO had no legitimate claim to membership,” Thomas Neumann, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said in a prepared statement. “We commend the United States and those governments who stood fast in denying this cynical maneuver for recognition.”

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