GENEVA – Member countries of the international Red Cross (search) movement met on Monday to investigate whether they can revive an effort to give Israel full status five years after the last attempt failed because of Arab-Israeli tension.
The disagreement centers around whether a red Star of David (search) can join the emblems of the red cross and red crescent to identify ambulances, medical workers and others on humanitarian missions.
Israel, which cooperates with the movement, has been denied full membership over the emblem issue for 57 years.
"Members are holding informal discussions on whether or not to convene a diplomatic conference," said Raphael Saborit, a spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry.
Delegates from 123 countries and several international organizations are meeting for two days behind closed doors to determine whether a consensus would support calling the formal meeting.
The preliminary meeting was called by Switzerland, which is the depository country of the Geneva Conventions (search) on warfare that lays the ground rules for the Red Cross movement.
Switzerland decided earlier this year to revive the process because of favorable "political and diplomatic circumstances," Saborit said.
Switzerland canceled the previous conference, which had been scheduled for October 2000, because of the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada (search) against Israel.
The latest proposal envisions what its proponents call a red crystal — a square standing on one corner, with a blank white interior and a thick red border. Magen David Adom, or MDA, the Israeli society, would be allowed to put its Red Star of David in the center but the Israeli military would not be able to use the combined symbol in an armed conflict to protect its medics.
Once the diplomatic conference agrees to an additional symbol and two member countries ratify it, all members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement would be free to chose one of the three symbols.
The American Red Cross (search) has been campaigning for full Israeli membership for years. It has withheld six years' of payment owed to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (search) — totaling approximately $34 million — since May 2000 to protest the MDA's not being admitted.
The red cross emblem was first adopted in 1863, when Swiss humanitarians founded the movement to care for war victims. It simply reverses the colors of the neutral Swiss flag, without any religious intent.
But Muslims, reminded of the crusader's cross from centuries earlier, refused to use the emblem. Instead, the Ottoman empire (search) was already using the red crescent to protect its medical workers in the 19th century.
The red crescent, along with the Red Lion and Sun of Iran, was enshrined with the red cross in the Geneva conventions of 1929.