African States Resist Arab Calls for Israel Boycott at OIC Summit
Despite a series of Arab calls for a boycott of Israel, African countries at the Islamic summit in Doha are unlikely to follow up with a break in ties with the Jewish state, delegates said Monday.
They said the term "invites" rather than "requests" in a summit draft resolution on the Israel-Palestinian conflict would allow each country to decide for itself.
After a special session Sunday devoted to the Palestinian uprising against Israel and a series of speeches, many of which called for a boycott, the three-day summit was likely to wind up a day early, the delegates said.
Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and the delegation heads of Egypt and Tunisia left already on the second day of the summit in the Qatari capital of the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Assad, who warned of the "explosive situation in the region," was among the speakers to call for a break.
His departure signaled that the main thrust of the final resolutions had been approved, although a Qatari official told AFP that work was still continuing on an Iraq resolution.
"The issue of a break with Israel is a question of sovereignty, but at the same time we want to show solidarity with the Palestinians. We have aimed to achieve a balance," said an African delegate.
"African countries insisted on the term 'invites' to allow each country to decide on the basis of its own interests," he said, asking not to be named.
The proposal, drawn up by foreign ministers and obtained by AFP, "invites member states that have relations with Israel or that have taken measures toward the establishment of such relations as part of the peace process to break them."
It also said leaders of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims were "determined to break their relations with any state that transfers its embassy to Jerusalem or recognizes the holy city as Israel's capital."
The six weeks of violence in the Palestinian territories in which around 210 people have died has been the main topic of discussion at the summit.
But participants said the ministers had sharp disagreements over the draft, with African countries led by Gambia insisting they needed to consult their governments before supporting any complete break.
The text calls for the OIC, including its 17 African members and 14 Asian countries along with former Soviet republics, to demand an "international tribunal to judge Israeli war criminals."
It also pledges that Muslim states will "recognize an independent Palestinian state as soon as one is declared" and total support for the Palestinian leadership.
Along with the African bloc -- several of whose members including Gabon, Senegal and Togo have ties with Israel -- OIC member Turkey also made it clear at the summit that it would not give up its military alliance with the Jewish state.
"Our policies have not changed and we must use our good relations with Israel to promote peace," Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem told reporters.
Delegates said African countries including Mauritania which is a member of both the Arab League and OIC pointed to Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan that have peace treaties with Israel and have maintained their ties.
Host country Qatar itself only closed an Israeli trade office on the eve of the summit under pressure from regional giants Saudi Arabia and Iran, another African delegate pointed out.
In an apparent compromise, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz called Sunday for Islamic states "to reduce to a minimum their relations with Israel and to freeze them completely."
"The minimum expected of us ... is to put a halt to any relations with the Zionist enemy," Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said in his message to the summit – DOHA (AFP)
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