Palestinians attacked Israel as the only country to cut its ties with the United Nations Human Rights Council, in spite of Jerusalem\’s efforts to resume those relations, during a Geneva debate on the matter Friday.
"Israel is the only state that has expressed its disengagement from the council," the PLO deputy charge d\’affairs Imad Zuhairi told the UNHRC.
Jerusalem cut is ties with the the UNHRC in March 2012 to protest council actions which it considers show a persistent bias against Israel.
But Israel has been under heavy international pressure to restore those ties so that it can participate in the council\’s Universal Periodic Review process in which the council examines the human rights record of all 193 member states.
Israel abstained from the process in January, placing it in danger of becoming the first country to ignore the human rights review.
The international community is concerned that Israel’s abstention will open the door for other countries, including those known as serious human rights abusers, to similarly ignore the UPR.
On Friday, UNHRC President Remigiusz Henczel welcomed a letter the council received last week from Israel expressing a desire to re-engage with the council.
He set an October 29 date for Israel\’s UPR and said he hoped that ties would be restored by then so Israel could participate.
"Let me conclude by encouraging the state under review to participate in its review," Henczel told the council.
Zuhairi downplayed the significance of Israel\’s letter to the council.
"An exchange of letters can not be considered effective engagement," he said. Zuhairi added that Israel has been persistently non-compliant in council activity.
Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Countries similarly attacked Israel.
But the United States and Canada welcomed Israel\’s letter and spoke of the importance of the UPR process.
Jerusalem\’s restoration of ties with the council would "benefit Israel and the UPR process," said US Ambassador to the UNHCR Eileen Donahoe.
The Canadian representative added that it was important that Israel\’s UPR process be conducted in an objective and non-politicized manner.
Israeli diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post that Jerusalem would agree to restore ties only upon receipt of assurances that the council would treat it fairly.
It has asked the UNHRC to abolish Item 7, a permanent point on the agenda under which member states debate Israeli human rights violations in the Palestinian territories at each session.
The UNHRC is scheduled to hold its next Item 7 debate on Monday, in which the special rapporteur Richard Falk, who is also the only special investigator permanently assigned to a country, plans to issue a report on Israel.
In an unusual move the European Union spoke about Israel on Wednesday during Agenda Item 4, which deals globally with human rights situations in all 193 UN member states.
Typically, it would have made that statement under Item 7, and diplomatic sources said they saw the placement of the statement under Agenda Item as a positive sign that movement might be possible on this issue.
In its statement, the EU said that it was concerned about the situation in the Palestinian territories and that it supported the United States drive to relaunch direct negotiations.
“Long term peace and security can only be sustained if human rights and international humanitarian law are fully respected by all – and accountability for human rights violations is key,” the EU said on Wednesday.
Aside from abolishing Item 7, Israel has also asked to be included in the group of UN Western nations that meets in Geneva. While it is part of that group in New York, it has not been included in the Geneva group, making it the only country excluded from regional groupings.
In speaking of Israel’s intention to reestablish ties with the council late last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said that since the UNHRC\’s inception in 2006, 43 of the 103 UNHRC resolutions against individual countries were issued against Israel. Similarly, he said, six of its 19 emergency sessions were about Israel.
Still he said Israel would now look to reestablish those ties.
Israel’s ambassador to the UNHRC, Eviatar Maner, wrote in a letter to the council to that effect dated June 3, which was published on the council’s website only on Thursday.
“I have been instructed to write to you and, in response to your latest letter of 14 May 2013, re-affirm my intention to continue our close and fruitful dialogue,” Maner wrote.
“Moreover, I wish to cooperate with you and pursue a diplomatic engagement with a view to positively resolve all outstanding issues in Israel’s complex relationship with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms,” Maner wrote.