Israel Ends U.N. Human Rights Council Boycott

YERUSHALAYIM -

Responding to a threat of “serious consequences” if Israel continued its boycott of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that he is sending a delegation to its meeting in Geneva this week, Haaretz reported.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had sent a letter to Netanyahu saying that failure to participate would further isolate Israel in the international community.

The letter, published in Sunday’s Haaretz, came as part of a campaign to pressure Israel to rejoin the UNHRC. Australia, Canada, the United States, Spain, France and Germany were all said to have peppered Israel with requests that it come to Geneva, according to a senior Israeli official.

The issue was also raised during a discussion between Netanyahu and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York a few weeks ago.

“In light of the fact that we received appropriate recompense for agreeing to resume cooperation with the Human Rights Council, it was decided that Israel will participate in Tuesday’s hearing,” said the official.

Israel has refused to attend UNHRC proceedings since March 2012, after the council  launched an investigation into Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron and east Yerushalayim.

The hearing scheduled for Tuesday, called a “universal periodic review,” or UPR, is part of the Human Rights Council’s system for periodically assessing the status of human rights in member nations. All U.N. member states undergo such a review once every few years, and it is considered a cornerstone of international human rights.

Diplomats said that the Israeli boycott could establish a precedent for allowing nations like Iran, Syria, and North Korea to refuse to appear at such hearings in the future.

In recent weeks, Israel has been negotiating for an agreement that would allow it to return to the UNHRC. Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin oversaw the negotiations. Included was a commitment to curtail separate discussions of human rights in Israel, the only nation singled out for such special scrutiny.

In addition, Israel obtained a promise from the other Western nations to nominate it for full membership in the group of states in the UNHRC known as WEOG (Western Europe and others group).

Today, Israel is not a member of any of the regional groups in the Human Rights Council, which makes it difficult to enlist support for various diplomatic initiatives. The vote on Israel’s full membership is to take place in November, according to the agreement.