U.N. breakthroughs leave Israel optimistic for future

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NEW YORK — France has withdrawn its objection to Israel joining the European regional bloc at the world body.

Now only a handful of European states remain opposed to Israel's membership in the group — a prerequisite for joining important U.N. committees and the Security Council and thus providing full participation at the United Nations.

Dore Gold, Israel's outgoing U.N. ambassador, expressed optimism that the issue could be resolved in a matter of weeks. Israel is the only U.N. member that does not belong to one of the five regional groups. Its natural place, with the Asian Group, has been consistently blocked by the Arab states.

"We are on the verge of a major breakthrough in the normalization of Israel" at the U.N., Gold said last week at a luncheon in his honor in New York, sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

France had previously been a chief opponent of the move, a role now held by only Ireland and countries in the southern tier of Europe.

However, of a half-dozen European missions surveyed on Friday, none revealed imminent plans to bring Israel aboard.

Observers say competition is a key reason for the opposition to Israel's membership in the Western Europe and Others Group. Increased membership in a regional group reduces the chances for each individual member-state to be appointed to important posts.

Admission in a regional group requires consensus on the part of its standing membership. Not all members must approve the admission, but none can object.

Gold, who left his post yesterday after more than two years, said that at this time last year there was no feeling that a consensus could be reached among the European group's members, which include the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway.

He credited the change to the work of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, the American ambassador to the United Nations, who made Israel's inclusion in a regional bloc a diplomatic priority. Gold also commended the work of American Jewish groups who lobbied their international contacts on the issue.

In another turnaround at the United Nations, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution unequivocally condemning terrorism.

The resolution, initiated by the Russian Federation, condemns "all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable regardless of their motivation."

Gold said the resolution represents a "180-degree shift" in international consensus on terrorism and "creates the groundwork" for international action against "states that support terrorism, many of which are adversaries of Israel."

The resolution draws upon a 1994 declaration against terrorism by the General Assembly, but represents the first strong statement by the Security Council.

In passing the resolution Oct. 19, the 15-member body called on all U.N. member-states to fully implement and adhere to international anti-terrorist conventions, to cooperate on a bilateral and multilateral basis in fighting terrorism and "to deny safe havens for those who planned, financed or committed terrorist acts by ensuring their apprehension and prosecution or extradition."

Gold said that the wording so closely adheres to Israel's stance on the issue that "it could have been written in Jerusalem."

He dismissed comments on "state terrorism" directed against Israel made by the Security Council representative from Bahrain.

Harris Schoenberg, the director of U.N. affairs for B'nai B'rith International, attributed the Security Council's passage of the resolution to the end of the Cold War.

He said countries that had been less aggressive against terrorism — such as Russia, which currently holds the Security Council presidency and initiated the measure there — have been hit by recent terrorist attacks.

Schoenberg began advocating for anti-terrorist measures at the United Nations after Palestinian terrorists massacred Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

This week's resolution was important, Schoenberg said, because it condemns terrorism as "always criminal, never justifiable."