In two days of talks, Israel and the American Red Cross accepted a proposal to include Magen David Adom's red Jewish Star of David as an emblem within a new neutral shape that could be used instead of the Christian red cross or the Muslim red crescent, Red Cross officials said.
Both Israel and the U.S. government, which took part in negotiations, voiced reservations before deciding to go along with a test of the idea.
The plan is to frame the Star of David in a new emblem--probably a red diamond, similar to the shape on playing cards. The diamond could also be used as a frame for national emblems of other societies.
The sizes of the diamond and the Star of David still have to be worked out, as do details on how the symbols would be used to protect military medical workers on the battlefield, Red Cross officials said.
The Swiss-run ICRC, mandated to aid war victims on all sides under the Geneva conventions, wants to avoid a "proliferation of emblems" because it is already alarmed by disrespect for the red cross and red crescent in some conflicts.
"We are witnessing a historic moment," said Muhammed al-Hadid, the president of the Jordanian Red Crescent.
Other key Red Cross officials said the Israeli society could be admitted by the end of the year pending approval of the new symbol.
But the proposal drew a lukewarm response from the American Red Cross.
Spokesman Chris Thomas said his organization has "serious doubts" that the process outlined Friday will succeed by the end of the year.
He said the American Red Cross will hold ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger to a promise it said he made to members of Congress and the U.S. administration last week that the ICRC would invoke a "safety net" to admit MDA by the end of the year, regardless of the outcome.
In Jerusalem, the president of Magen David Adom, Dr. Moshe Mellul, said his organization has not yet received the Red Cross proposal for a diamond.
"Our position is that our symbol should be accepted as it is," he told The Associated Press. But the governing body will discuss a different proposal if it is submitted, he said.
In the case of Kazakstan and possibly Eritrea, which wish to respect the sensitivities of both Christians and Muslims, the cross and crescent could be used together in the new emblem.
The red crescent, which uses a symbol in Islam, was first used in the 19th century by the Ottoman Empire to protect medical workers in combat.
It will still be up to a full session of the Red Cross movement, which includes 188 countries, to ratify the decision.
The issue of the emblem has been a key obstacle to the MDA's joining the federation since 1949--in addition to Middle East politics that kept some nations from supporting the Israeli position.
The American Red Cross will continue to withhold $5 million in basic dues from the international federation over the dispute, Thomas said.
Representing the American society in the discussions was Lawrence Eagleburger, the former U.S. secretary of state, who pushed the working group to clear obstacles to MDA's admittance.
Also attending the meeting were representatives of the U.S. and Israeli governments, but MDA did not send a representative.