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UN: Israel Emerges From Isolation

Israel has taken a big step in emerging from isolation at the United Nations by joining a regional body for the first time. Representatives from Israel and the United States, its main supporter, are expressing hope that Israel will now begin to play a normal role in the world body. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 31 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- For nearly four decades, Israel has been excluded from UN regional groups, effectively barring it from representation on important committees within the world body.

But helped by pressure from its main UN ally, the United States, Israel yesterday formally joined the Western European and Others Group, known as WEOG. The group, which extended the invitation to Israel late last week, includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Turkey, the United States, and the members of the European Union.

Israel was the only UN member not to belong to a regional group. Arab nations have repeatedly blocked its admission to the Asian Group, where it should be situated geographically.

The regional groups serve mainly to nominate countries and delegates to positions within UN bodies, including the Security Council.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, praised the decision of the WEOG group and said it marks an important moment for the organization.

"The UN is emerging into a new -- I hope, post-ideological -- phase of its existence, where issues are dealt with on their merits. It isn't over yet, there are still things we need to clear up to make Israel's presence in the UN what it should be, but this is certainly the biggest single step in memory."

Israel's new membership carries some conditions. It is limited to the regional group in New York, and does not apply to other sites of UN bodies such as Vienna and Geneva. The arrangement is temporary, lasting four years, and during this time Israel is to continue to try to become a member of the Asian group. The WEOG group's current rotation for UN positions means that Israel will not be eligible for membership in UN committees for several years.

But despite these limitations, Israel's ambassador, Yehuda Lancry told reporters that the country's new membership signals a new era in relations.

"We can consider that is a historic turning point in our relationship with the United Nations that is really a new chapter that we are opening with the family of nations."

Lancry said Israel will continue to seek membership in the Asian regional group, and he expressed optimism that what he called Israel's "strategy of peace" would ultimately gain its acceptance.

"We would like to be accepted in our area, not only on the political level but on the plurality of levels. The political one, of course, but the cultural one, the spiritual one, the economic one and the people-to-people one."

Israel's relations with the United Nations reached a low point in 1975, when the General Assembly voted to categorize Zionism as a form of racism. But in 1991, the United States succeeded in rallying the votes to strike down that resolution.

The U.S. and Israeli ambassadors indicated that Tuesday's change at the United Nations was prompted in part by a growing acceptance of Israel since it signed the Oslo accords with Palestinian officials in 1993.