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Israeli and PLO Envoys to U.N. Meet Prior to Opening of General Assembly

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Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations joined the U.N. observer from the Palestine Liberation Organization for an informal lunch Monday, on the eve of the opening of a General Assembly session that is likely to sweep away decades of anti-Israel resolutions.

The meeting between Gad Yaacobi, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, and Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian permanent observer, one day before the opening of the 48th annual General Assembly, was arranged and hosted by Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Elaraby.

Egypt, along with the United States and Russia, the two co-sponsors of the Madrid launched peace process, has agreed to help update, defer or eliminate the anti-Israel resolutions that the General Assembly until last year passed like clockwork to overwhelming Soviet- and Arab-backed majorities.

Yaacobi asked Kidwa to lend a hand to the effort as well.

The two diplomats also discussed putting forward a positive U.N. resolution, which would applaud the recent Israeli-PLO accord and call for funds for the development of the territories.

Yaacobi has said he is interested in a “working relationship” with the PLO at the United Nations. But he has stressed that he will be no less vigilant in insisting that U.N. bodies treat the PLO in accordance with its observer status in the world body, rather than as a full-fledged member.

But the Yaacobi-Kidwa meeting heralds a dramatic shift from the days when the PLO’s anti-Israel rhetoric was the centerpiece of United Nations activity and an Israeli diplomat could not get his hand shaken in the U.N. corridors.

The anti-Israel tide at the United Nations began to turn in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the formation of a Western coalition in the Persian Gulf War and the opening of Middle East peace talks in Madrid.

This was seen most dramatically with the repeal that year of the 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.

LOOKING FORWARD TO CHANGED CLIMATE

Last year, many of the most egregious anti-Israel resolutions were toned down or not even put to a vote. On several votes, the number of abstentions equaled the number of supporters.

Yaacobi expects that “this year, perhaps, we will defer or change or eliminate some more.”

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency shortly before the historic Israeli-PLO accord was signed in Washington, Yaacobi was looking forward to a changed climate at the General Assembly.

“Who will endorse the resolution calling for an international peace conference on the Middle East, which year after year is being recycled in the General Assembly? Who will endorse the resolution about the uprising of the Palestinian people?” he asked rhetorically.

“All those resolutions and many others will become visibly irrelevant in the eyes of many member states,” he said.

In a foreign policy address Monday at Columbia University, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher called on the United Nations to revoke “resolutions that challenge Israel’s very right to exist.”

If, as the Israeli and PLO officials discussed, the General Assembly passes positive resolutions supporting the peace process, that would be a marked contrast to the world body’s opposition to the Camp David accords, which led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

Such support would also help the world body play a role in the implementation of the peace agreement, a role the Israeli government would welcome, said Yaacobi.

“The U.N. itself can contribute to the creation of a new economic, social, technological and scientific environment in the territories, and in the Mideast region,” said Yaacobi.

Eight months ago the ambassador urged the United Nations Development Program to double its $17 million in annual aid to the territories.

“We still think it’s too little to cope with the very urgent needs,” said Yaacobi.

International supporters of the peace accord, which grants Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho, have agreed that the plan cannot work without increased economic aid to the territories.

With the announcement of the peace accord, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali established a high-level task force focused on the economic and social development of Gaza and Jericho.

FULL EQUALITY STILL ELUSIVE GOAL

Scheduled to prepare proposals by this week, the task force was charged with establishing an integrated approach toward development, coordinating development plans of other institutions and mobilizing international financial support.

Yaacobi welcomed the creation of the task force, which was scheduled to meet with Israeli officials here.

But oddly, acceptance by the United Nations of Israel’s approach to the peace process and its rapprochement with the PLO may not be sufficient for Israel to achieve full equality at the United Nations.

Such equality, namely the ability to serve on the Security Council and other key committees, is dependent on being a member of a regional group.

Israel has long been excluded from the Asian group by the Arab countries, something which is unlikely to change until peace is achieved with Syria, at the least.

Given its longstanding isolation at the United Nations, Israel made little effort to join a regional group. Then last year, with ties established to a majority of U.N. member-nations and no longer considered a pariah by the world body, Israel began to seek observer status in the Western European and Others regional group. This group includes such Western but non-European nations as the United States and Australia.

So far, Israel has won support from most members of the group, but not the unanimous support it needs.

“The main problem emerging is related to the reluctance of members of the group to share with us” the limited number of elected positions at the United Nations, which are apportioned based on regional groups, said Yaacobi.

Yaacobi hopes to overcome the self-interest of the European states by appealing for a gesture in response to the recent breakthroughs in the peace process.

“It’s very important,” he said.

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