|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
13 - 19 September 2001
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United we lobbyThe Arab verdict on Durban: not bad. Dina Ezzat reports
"A decent result:" thus did Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa sum up the result of Arab efforts to obtain a condemnation of Israeli practices in the occupied territories from the third World Conference Against Racism. Arab and Muslim countries' attempts to apply the term "racist" to Israeli practices and statements against the Palestinians may have borne no fruit, but the Arabs did not return from Durban empty-handed, since the conference emphasised the Palestinians' right to an independent state and the refugees' right to return.
"True, we did not get all what we wanted, but we got some. This is the way of international conferences: you never get 100 per cent," commented Moussa.
"The pressure was far too great. The Americans, who withdrew from the official conference on the third day, stayed in the conference halls and, together with the Israelis, conducted an intensive lobbying effort that targeted many countries and concerned UN officials," commented one Arab diplomatic source. "So 24 hours after the declared withdrawal of the US and Israel, the Europeans and Canadians were threatening the Arab countries that they would withdraw as well, and hold the Arabs responsible for the collapse of an international conference," the source added.
Ultimately, the Arab delegations had to agree to a compromise proposed by South Africa, the host and chair of the summit, and supported by the Europeans and other states. "When everything else was being finalised, when UN officials -- including conference secretary-general Mary Robinson -- were directly and indirectly accusing the Arabs of hijacking the conference, when you know that you can get something that has the support of the international community, and when you know that the Arab League secretary-general was being accused of inciting Arab stubbornness, you could not opt to isolate yourself," another diplomatic source told Al-Ahram Weekly.
So while American and Israeli officials attacked Moussa openly, describing him as the conference's "main trouble-maker," the Arab League head felt the trade-off the Arabs made in Durban was not that bad. First, Moussa said, the Arab delegations managed to bring the number of references to the Nazi-perpetrated holocaust from 16 down to one in the final Declaration, which read: "We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten."
Arab delegates also managed to prevent the inclusion of a paragraph proposing that all countries in the world must introduce legislation to penalise anyone remotely suspected of anti-Semitism. In another victory for the Arab/Islamic group, Islamophobia was placed on a par with anti- Semitism in the final Declaration: "We also recognize with deep concern the increase in anti- Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities."
The Palestinian issue also received some attention, with the Declaration stating: "We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognise the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self- determination and the establishment of an independent state..."
Ultimately, then, the official Arab consensus was that Durban was a success of sorts. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa described the conference as "a first step down the road," while Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher estimated the Arabs obtained "maybe 40 to 60 per cent of what they wanted."
This success, Moussa argued, should not be attributed solely to the efforts of the official Arab delegations, since NGO participation was equally effective. "The message coming out of the NGO Forum was very clear. Those NGOs told the world it should not fall prey to campaigns that aim to spread inaccurate stories about what is going on in the Middle East," he noted. Moussa added: "In today's world, NGOs are not at the fringe of hard-core politics."
Whatever the Arabs reaped at Durban, in other words, was sown by official and non- governmental delegates alike.
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