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Protest at original Durban conference (Archives) Photo: AP
Protest at original Durban conference (Archives) Photo: AP
Good news. Obama Photo: Reuters
Good news. Obama Photo: Reuters

More than words

‘Durban 2’ boycott hints that Obama ready for dialogue but won’t sell out

Yitzhak Benhorin
Published: 03.02.09, 19:32 / Israel Opinion

Part 1 of analysis


WASHINGTON – The United States’ decision to refrain from attending the “Durban 2” anti-racism conference is good news for Israel. This is the case not only because of the boycott on the infamous event, where Israel will be presented as the globe’s only racist state and a burden on the world, but rather, mostly because we can draw lessons from it regarding the Obama Administration’s future course.

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As he pledged during his election campaign, immediately after being sworn-in on January 20th, President Barack Obama declared his desire to engage in dialogue with enemies. Obama wishes to talk to Iran and Syria and he did not wish to boycott Durban 2 as the Bush Administration boycotted the first conference in South Africa, in 2001.


Israel wanted the US to boycott the so-called Durban 2 in Geneva on April 20th. However, this is not an existential threat for Israel, and it did not demand that the Americans boycott it; it merely requested it and hoped this would be the end result.


President Obama sent his representatives for the preparatory talks in Geneva, where the final draft for the conference’s concluding statement is formulated. The US hoped to change the wording of the concluding statement, yet quickly learned that just like in any self-respecting UN institution, the Arab, Muslim and Third World countries make the decisions. In this case – Libya, Iran, and Cuba determine who should be deemed racist.


The Obama Administration’s emissaries to Switzerland discovered that there was nobody to talk to, and the US decided to quit the conference. That is, dialogue is a tactic, but it isn’t everything. We talk as long as there is something to discuss, yet without renouncing the basic principles of American policy.


If we can learn something from Durban 2 regarding the new Administration’s new policy, it is that the US wishes to speak with Iran, without allowing it to evade the issue of its nuclear program and support for terrorism. Meanwhile, the Syrian ambassador was invited for a talk at the State Department with the head of the Mideastern desk, yet the Americans published in advance the demands they have for Syria in respect to its involvement in Lebanon and assistance to Palestinian terror groups.


It appears that those who are concerned that the essence will be forgotten during the talks between the Americans and the Syrians, and possibly the Iranians, can relax – the Obama Administration wishes to engage in dialogue, yet the basic American principles are not for sale.


Part 2 of analysis to be published Monday night


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