Ten months after Foreign Ministry ceased all cooperation

Israel renews contacts with UN Human Rights Council

Jerusalem envoy speaks with president of Geneva-based group, with which it broke ties in 2012; Venezuela chosen to oversee review of the Jewish state

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 has taken steps that appear to be aimed at restoring its relationship with the United Nations Human Rights Council, 10 months after Jerusalem cut ties with the body over a planned fact-finding mission into the West Bank settlement enterprise, The Times of Israel has learned.

Israel’s permanent representative to the Geneva-based UNHRC, Ambassador Eviatar Manor, last Thursday spoke to the council’s president, Remigiusz Henczel, in what is believed to be the first senior-level official dealing between the two parties since Israel unilaterally severed ties and ceased cooperating with the body last March.

In a meeting of the Human Rights Council Bureau, Manor asked Henczel to postpone a routine review of the human rights situation in Israel. Manor “also stated that Israel respected all human rights mechanisms, although it had a complex and difficult relation with the Council and OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights],” according to the official minutes of the meeting.

“Members of the Bureau took positive note of this development, a first in many months,” the minutes read, adding, however, that UNHRC officials believe Israel’s step “deserved to be complemented and clarified.”

UNHRC officials also expressed hope that last week’s conversation “would soon be complemented by a written note,” which would explain why Israel requested a postponement of the review and for how long.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said there is “no change in Israel’s policy regarding the Human Rights Council.” Yet he did not state whether Israel would participate in the routine review and declined to explain why Manor request a delay of the procedure.

Israel’s relations with the UNHRC were never good, yet reached a nadir in March 2012, after the council decided to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission to “investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people” throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Incensed about the council’s apparent obsession with Israel, the government in Jerusalem decided not to allow the council to carry out the probe and canceled any cooperation with it.

“From now on, we will no longer work together in any way, shape or form with any officials from the council, including High Commissioner [Navi Pillay],” a top Foreign Ministry official said at the time. “If anyone from the council calls us, we just won’t answer the phone.”

Analysts suggest last week’s apparent rapprochement could be linked to last month’s resignation of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, who was behind Israel’s boycott of the UNHRC.

The Israeli ambassador’s conversation with the UNHRC president last week centered around Israel’s participation in the so-called Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a standard assessment of the human rights records of all UN member states overseen by the council since its founding in 2006. Israel participated in the first round of reviews, which was concluded by October 2011, but has so far failed to indicate whether it would participate in the second round, which is currently ongoing.

Each country’s UPR is overseen by three nations, drawn from a lot by a representative of the country under review.

But since Jerusalem did not send any delegate to a session Monday during which Israel’s so-called troika was to be selected, Henczel, the Council’s president, drew the countries to oversee Israel’s review: Maldives, Sierra Leone and Venezuela. Since the government in Caracas is known to be hostile toward Israel, cutting ties in 2009 in the wake of 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, “commotion and laughter” erupted in the room when Venezuela was drawn, according to notes taken by UN Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog and human rights group.

Venezuelan flags and portraits of Hugo Chaves feature prominently at a demonstration in Ramallah against Operation Cast Lead, Jan 9,2009 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)
Venezuelan flags and portraits of Hugo Chavez feature prominently at a demonstration in Ramallah against Operation Cast Lead, Jan 9, 2009 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)

Pakistan’s representative slammed Israel over its failure to appear at the meeting, urging the council to do everything in its power not to let Israel skip the review, as this could compromise the entire UPR mechanism, which is based on universality. Representatives of other countries also urged Israel to return to the fold and comply with the UNHRC’s review processes, but refrained from calling for punitive action.

“The member accusing Israel of violating the founding principles of the UN human rights system was newly elected Pakistan, a savage land where women are gang-raped by tribal edict,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch’s executive director. “And the one chosen, by a draw of lots, to be one of three overseers of Israel’s council review is another newly elected member, the Iranian-allied dictatorship of Venezuela. A jury of rapists and brigands is not justice, it’s a travesty.”

After Manor’s conversation, the council decided to suspend the discussion of Israel’s participation until January 29. If by then Israel has not confirmed that it will comply with the review, the council will decide on a “course of action to be taken,” according to UN Watch notes.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)
Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)

“A chorus of reflexively pro-UN voices, from European diplomats to radical left NGOs… have lashed out at Israel’s apparent decision to skip the UPR, accusing the Jewish state of wreaking apocalyptic damage upon a supposedly precious world institution,” Neuer told The Times of Israel. “In reality the UPR is, for the most part, a mutual praise society. Qaddafi’s Libyan regime came out of its review with top marks. It’s not for nothing that despots walk into this court with confidence and ease.”

The UNHCR did not respond to a query for comment before the article was posted.

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