Keith Harper, Cherokee Nation, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

US, Israel Boycott UN Human Rights Council’s Palestine Discussion

Gale Courey Toensing

Despite a current rift in the relationship between the United States and Israel over comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the U.S. stood firmly behind its ally in boycotting the United Nations Human Rights Council’s annual discussion about human rights in Occupied Palestine.

Keith Harper, a Cherokee Nation citizen who was appointed the U.S. ambassador to the HRC last June, issued a statement on March 23, the day of the discussion, saying the U.S. “in support of Israel, made no statement … on alleged Israeli violations of human rights in the Palestinian territories, otherwise known as Item 7.”

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Item 7 appears each year on the agenda of the HRC’s debate in Geneva. It reads: “7. Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” and has two parts: “A. Human rights violations and implications of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” and “B. Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” This is the second year that the U.S. has declined to participate in the debate about Palestinian human rights under the Israeli occupation.

Harper said the non-participation underscores the U.S. position that Item 7 lacks legitimacy. ”The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the very existence of Agenda Item 7 and any HRC resolutions that come from it,” Harper said. “We remain deeply troubled by this Council’s stand-alone agenda item directed against Israel, and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item. No other nation has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it. As was the case last year, the United States will not engage in the debate. Neither will Israel.”

Instead of participating in the debate, the U.S. will call a vote on Item 7 resolutions and vote no, Harper said.

The JTA news website confirmed that Israel also declined to participate in the discussion. But JTA dismissed the idea that the non-participation was part of the U.S.-Israel rift over Netanyahu’s comments that there would never be a Palestinian state as long as he was in office. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it asked the United States not to attend, the JTA said.

During the session, the HRC heard an oral update by the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, and heard reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, the council reported.

The HRC passed a resolution last July creating the Commission of Inquiry to investigate all human rights violations in Occupied Palestine, particularly in Gaza during Israel’s 51-day bombardment of the seaside enclave that killed more than 2,250 people including 500 children.

The U.S. was the only state to vote against the resolution. Harper explained why in an interview with ICTMN during Israel’s siege of Gaza. “I think it was the right vote because that resolution was not constructive, it was going to make it more difficult to get a ceasefire, which should have been the goal of all of us, he said. “In addition, the resolution was extraordinarily one-sided, it did not mention Hamas rocket attacks, for example, and so because of the biased nature of that resolution there was no reason to support it.”

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Commission Chairperson Mary McGowan Davis told the HRC that the commission was looking at a broad range of alleged violations committed by all parties, and had asked Israel for access to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, but Israel has not responded.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, Makarim Wibisono, said Israel’s actions in Gaza “cast serious doubt over Israel’s adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law.” He expressed deep concern about the oppression and humiliation of an occupied people, Israel’s excessive use of force, continued settlement construction, and treatment of Palestinians, including children in Israeli detention.

The presentations were followed by a general debate during which dozens of countries and NGOs spoke against Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.

Nations’ delegates condemned Israel’s “brutal, relentless and indiscriminate attacks” in Gaza last summer and the constant state of humanitarian crisis in which the Palestinians live. They questioned whether Gaza would be a livable place by 2020. They called on the international community to take “stronger action against Israel to put an end to its atrocities in Gaza and other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

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