Israel ready to reengage with UN Human Rights Council

Israel ready to reengage with UN Human Rights Council

Jerusalem is prepared to thaw ties frozen in 2012 — but only if ‘fair play and international standards’ are applied, deputy FM says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (CC BY-US Mission Geneva/Flickr/File)
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (CC BY-US Mission Geneva/Flickr/File)

Israel is working toward reengaging with the United Nations Human Rights Council, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin has confirmed, adding, however, that such a move would occur only if the body could guarantee that the Jewish state would receive fair treatment in the future.

Jerusalem unilaterally cut all ties with the Geneva-based body last year over its alleged anti-Israel bias.

“Since then many countries have asked us to change our policy,” Elkin said Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the 4th Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem. “And I ask myself: Is Israel expected to agree to being discriminated against, or should a change in our policy come about only through the ending of discrimination? The answer is clear and after much deliberation I have recently agreed to diplomatic engagement with the council and major actors in the international community to see if we can arrive at understandings and guarantees that will enable our return to the council, while ensuring that fair play and international standards are applied towards Israel.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin during an interview in Jerusalem Sunday (photo credit: AP/Dan Balilty)
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin during an interview in Jerusalem Sunday (photo credit: AP/Dan Balilty)

In his speech, delivered in English, Elkin slammed the UNHRC for unduly singling out Israel for harsh criticism. Forty-six of 103 country-related resolutions and six of the 19 special sessions held since the council’s establishment “were against Israel,” he said. The Jewish state is not a member of any regional grouping and is the only country that has an agenda item “specifically to condemn its so-called violations of human rights,” Elkin noted.

“Can such a miserable record be defined as anything other than anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Israelism?” he asked rhetorically.

After the UNHRC’s March 2012 decision to establish a fact-finding mission into Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman announced that Israel would cut all ties to the council and cease cooperating with its officials. “From now on, we will no longer work together in any way, shape or form with any officials from the council, including the High Commissioner,” Navi Pillay, Liberman said at the time. “If anyone from the council calls us, we just won’t answer the phone.”

Earlier this year, Israel became the first of 193 UN member states to boycott a routine evaluation of its human rights situation scheduled to be conducted by council. The international community reacted angrily, saying Jerusalem risked undermining the council’s entire periodic review process, considered one of its most potent mechanisms.

At the same time, Israel took steps aimed at restoring its relationship with the council when Jerusalem’s permanent representative to the body, Ambassador Eviatar Manor, phoned the council’s president, Remigiusz Henczel, in the first senior-level official dealing between the two parties since March 2012.

‘We will not be the council’s punching bag’

Last month, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter visited Israel, urged leaders to work on finding ways to restore ties with the UNHRC and offered his help in brokering a deal. Jerusalem seemed willing to restore ties, but Foreign Ministry officials indicated that full cooperation still appeared far away.

“We are now going to work on finding diplomatic solutions to this inherently unfair situation, solutions that will enable us to return to the council, to work with council not on the basis of ‘anyone who wants to bash Israel can do so free of charge,’ but serious work on equal footing,” said ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

It is currently unclear what exactly such a mechanism, in which Israel will no longer be automatically at the receiving end of endless criticism, could look like.

“We’re going to start working with a number of countries in the council… and the commissioners,” Palmor said. “We will need to see whether it is possible for Israel to get equal treatment.”

A diplomatic official told The Times of Israel that Jerusalem is well aware of the UN realities — in which Arab and Muslim states have an automatic majority when it comes to resolutions hostile to Israel — “but we will see whether there is any possibility to get the council to work fairly with Israel, in which case when there is criticism we will accept it,” the official said. “But we will not be the council’s punching bag.”

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