BANGKOK — When Israeli officials showed up in Thailand last week to participate for the first time in the annual meeting of the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace, they received a hostile welcome from several Muslim nations. But in a sharp turnaround from other international parleys, Israel found itself being defended by representatives of Indonesia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
This year’s conference was held in the Thai city of Pattaya. Throughout the gathering, Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese officials tried to have the Israeli delegation expelled — and to pass an array of anti-Israel condemnations that had been approved in previous years.
But the president of the sixth annual conference, Thai parliament chairman Dr. Bhukin Balaklava, refused to expel the Israeli delegation. The committee enjoyed observer status at the parley and was headed by Chemi Doron, vice chairman of the Knesset. Balaklava said that countries with serious disputes should take part in the conference with the hopes of settling their disagreements. Still, the Iranians sent out a false news release claiming that Israel was expelled from the conference.
In another diplomatic victory for Jerusalem, for the first time the participating nations did not include a condemnation of Israeli policy toward Palestinians in their closing statement. They did vote to condemn terrorism in all its forms, arguing that such acts never could be justified.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, was the first country to oppose the attempts to pass the anti-Israel resolutions, though it refuses to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state as long as the conflict with the Palestinians remains unsettled. Members of the Jordanian and Palestinian delegations joined the Indonesians in support of Israel. The Jordanian and the Palestinian delegates also showed support for their Israeli counterparts outside the official conference meetings, sitting side by side with them during breakfast each day.
The groundbreaking gestures in Thailand come as the P.A. and several Arab leaders appear to be taking steps to reach out to Israel. This past Monday, Israeli and Palestinian ambulance services signed an agreement they hope will ease Israel’s accession to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Under the pact signed in Geneva between Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent, Palestinian ambulances are guaranteed speedier passage through West Bank checkpoints. The move is seen as a key to mollifying Arab signatories to the 1949 Geneva Conventions who otherwise might have voted against a resolution. The resolution, which will be discussed next week, introduces a nondenominational red diamond emblem to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, as Muslim states refuse to recognize the red Star of David.
Also this week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak praised Prime Minister Sharon as the only Israeli leader who could bring peace and the king of Saudi Arabia hailed Amir Peretz’s elevation to Labor Party leader as a development that could unite the Israeli peace camp.
At the conference in Thailand, Jerusalem’s opponents took several steps to protest the newfound friendliness toward Israel. Representatives of Iran, Syria and Lebanon boycotted a lunch with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra over the presence of the Israeli delegation.
Just before the close of the conference November 23, the three countries made a last attempt to isolate Israel. Their representatives threatened not to join a meeting with the king of Thailand if the Israeli delegates attended. The three Muslim nations argued that since Israel only enjoyed observer status at the gathering, under conference rules, Jerusalem’s representatives should not be allowed to take part in the meeting with the king.
Balaklava, the president of this year’s conference, informed the head of the Israeli delegation about the ultimatum. In order to avoid forcing their Thai hosts into a difficult decision, the Israeli Foreign Ministry decided to have its delegation skip the meeting with the king.
It seems unlikely that Israel will be allowed to take part in next year’s conference, as Iran is the scheduled locale. The 2007 conference is set to take place in Indonesia.