Israel hears from critics worldwide

REUTERS , UNITED NATIONS AND DETROIT

Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 6

Israel and its allies had an earful on Monday.

With the world pressing Iran and North Korea to give up nuclear programs, Arab states on Monday criticized the West for allowing Israel to remain outside global non-proliferation regimes.

Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons capability but has not signed on to major agreements, including the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which is aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear arms.

"What surprises us is that at a time when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is intensifying its efforts and monitoring members countries ... we see that it continues to ignore the rejection of Israel in not joining the treaty," Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Meanwhile, the US, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan have been working to engage Pyongyang in a negotiating process aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said: "It is unacceptable that Israel's possession of such weapons should remain a reality that some prefer to ignore or prevent the international community ... from facing it squarely and frankly."

Syria, accused by the US of developing chemical and biological arms, took aim at both Washington and Israel.

Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara noted that "a lot has been said lately about the dangers of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by countries that already have different types of such weapons."

"Some have even waged war under the pretext of eliminating these weapons," he said in an apparent reference to the US and its war to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Shara called it "regrettable ... that some quarters selectively choose to level their false accusations at some Arab and Islamic states but not on others, while simultaneously ignoring the Israeli arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."

The Arab ministers repeated their support for making the Middle East region free from all weapons of mass destruction.

Israel maintains an ambiguity about its weapons programs but Joe Circincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has written that the Jewish state is believed to have between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons, a stockpile of chemical weapons and an active biological arms program.

Arabs were not the only critics to voice opinion on Israel on Monday.

A senior US diplomat said on Monday that Israel's refusal to stop building settlements in the West Bank threatened its future as a democratic Jewish state.

The warning came in a speech by William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, at the US-Arab Economic Forum in Detroit, a conference exploring ways of fostering growth, development and trade between the US and the Arab world.

"As Israeli settlements expand and their populations increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the two peoples will be separated into two states," Burns said.

"The fact is that settlements continue to grow today, encouraged by specific government policies and at enormous expense to Israel's economy, and this persists even as it becomes clear that the logic of settlements and the reality of demographics could threaten the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy."

Burns was referring to experts' predictions that Jews will become a minority in the area encompassing Israel, the West Bank and Gaza by 2020.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech to the forum later, claimed US progress in rebuilding Iraq and having "mobilized the world against terrorism," while calling on Palestinians to help get the "road map" back on track.

Powell's 35-minute speech was interrupted by applause just twice, in a city with one of the largest Arab and Islamic populations outside the Middle East.

One was when Powell reinforced the call for an end to Israeli settlement activity and the other when he urged an end to the opening of "unauthorized outposts" by Israel.