There is an upcoming international conference in Israel, “For a Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East,” to be held in Haifa, December 5 – 6, 2013. The Haifa Conference will be followed on December 7 by an international symposium in Ramallah, where Palestinian and Arab groups from around the region can participate.
The Haifa conference is being organized by a Preparatory Committee including former members of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) and dedicated Israeli anti-nuclear and human rights activists. It is, to my knowledge, the first such conference ever organized in Israel, where it is illegal for Israeli citizens to publically state that Israel has nuclear weapons – unless they add, “according to foreign sources.” Needless to say, the organizers of this conference are incredibly brave, and they deserve broad international support and participation – especially from Israel’s biggest ally and enabler, the United States. Abolition 2000 Founding member Jackie Cabasso is making plans to attend.
This conference could not be more timely, coming on the heels of the breathtaking diplomatic resolution to the chemical weapons crisis in Syria, and on the eve (hopefully) of a long-awaited diplomatic breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear stalemate. Establishing a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East offers a concrete alternative to endless suspicions, tensions, conflicts and risks of wars in one of the world’s most volatile regions. Just starting negotiations, in and of itself, would serve as a valuable confidence building measure among the states in the region.
As you know, the parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty unanimously agreed in the final outcome document the 2010 Review Conference to convene an international conference to begin discussing a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East by the end of last year. The conference was tentatively scheduled to take place in Helsinki, Finland in December 2012. However, the U.S. State Department announced on November 23, 2012 that the Helsinki Conference “cannot be convened because of present conditions in the Middle East and the fact that states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions for a conference,” declaring: “We would not support a conference in which any regional state would be subject to pressure or isolation.” The statement was referring to Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the region, and not to Iran, which had announced its intention to participate in the Conference. At an alternative international conference in Helsinki organized by Finnish NGOs last December, Issam Makoul, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, and the first member to ever raise a question in the Knesset about Israel’s nuclear stockpile, declared: “If official Israel will not come to Helsinki, it remains the task of the peace and progressive forces, in Israel and abroad, to bring Helsinki to Israel.” Hence the idea of an international conference in Israel was born, aimed at strengthening the demand for a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East.