Netanyahu says he pitched Trump on US exit from UN Human Rights Council
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Netanyahu says he pitched Trump on US exit from UN Human Rights Council

In leaked recordings, PM is heard telling Likud MKs he 'raised issue' in Washington, calling for 'delegitimization' of rights body

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on February 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on February 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that the Trump administration’s reported consideration of withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council, in part over the body’s “obsession” with Israel, was his idea.

In recordings of a Monday Likud faction meeting that were leaked to Army Radio and aired Thursday morning, Netanyahu can be heard telling fellow party members that he suggested the diplomatic protest maneuver during his meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington in February.

“During the visit I raised the question whether the US should remain in the Human Rights Council,” the prime minister can be heard saying.

Pressed by MK Anat Berko whether it was wise for the US to leave the body given the fact that it sided with Israel in votes there, Netanyahu replied, “No, it’s better to leave. These types of organizations must be delegitimized.”

Last month, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused the UNCHR of “breathtaking double standards” and “outrageously biased resolutions” against Israel, during a UN press conference after her first meeting with the Security Council.

A former US official was later quoted in a Politico report as saying that “a series of requests” from the office of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s office indicated Washington was “questioning the value of the US belonging to the Human Rights Council.”

US United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at the Security Council meeting on February 21, 2017 at UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP PHOTO / KENA BETANCUR)
US United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at the Security Council meeting on February 21, 2017 at UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP PHOTO / KENA BETANCUR)

In a speech Wednesday before the Geneva-based body, the American envoy to the council, Erin Barclay, called on its 47-members to drop its “obsession with Israel.

Barclay, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, cited ongoing abuses in Syria and North Korea, and noted in particular the UNHCR’s “consistent, unfair and unbalanced focus” on Israel, which she said “deeply troubled” Washington.

“No other nation is the focus of an entire agenda item… The obsession with Israel… is the largest threat to this council’s credibility,” said Barclay, a career diplomat. “It limits the good we can accomplish by making a mockery of this council. The United States will oppose any effort to delegitimize or isolate Israel.”

Israel has long accused the UN of having a double standard, and the US has traditionally vetoed Security Council resolutions it sees as one-sided against Israel. In December, however, the US withheld its veto on a resolution terming the West Bank settlements illegal, allowing the measure to pass and drawing an angry response from Jerusalem.

Trump criticized the UN for adopting the anti-settlement resolution, and his administration has indicated it will be more tolerant of settlements than Obama’s.

But at Monday’s faction meeting, Netanyahu said the two leaders had yet to cement an agreement regarding policies in the West Bank, and cautioned Likud MKs that “things are not as simple as you think they are.”

The Human Rights Council during an interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip on June 29, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland. (UN photo)
The Human Rights Council during an interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip on June 29, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland. (UN photo)

In the leaked recordings, Netanyahu can be heard praising Trump’s presidency as a “historic opportunity, but [we] need to know the limits of this opportunity.”

Trump has recently signaled a shift from his previous blanket support of Israeli policies, telling Netanyahu during a joint White House press conference after their February 15 meeting, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

Just days before the prime minister’s visit, Trump told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily that he did not believe Israeli settlement expansion was “good for peace.”

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, two coalition lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation that would extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’ale Adumim at a Knesset committee next week.

The annexation bill will be put forward by Likud MK Yoav Kisch and the pro-settlement Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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