Israel cuts contact with UN rights council over settlement probe
JERUSALEM - The Israeli foreign ministry decided on Monday to cut contact with the United Nations Human Rights Council after it said last week it would investigate Israeli settlements, a spokesman said.
"There was a decision by the foreign ministry to sever work contacts with the organisation," ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, adding that Israel had yet to formally inform the council of its decision.
"There won't be working relations with them, conversations, passing papers, making visits, exchanging information, consulting one another, attending meetings," he added. "That's work, and it will not take place."
The Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip slammed the Israeli decision, with spokesman Fawzi Barhum calling it a "Zionist attempt to blackmail" international institutions that criticise Israel.
"This is proof of the vulnerability of the Zionists in front of rights organisations and the UN, and will generate a wide international consensus on the oppression of the Palestinian people and the justice of their cause," he said in a statement.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday called publicly for a boycott of the council, which last Thursday passed a resolution ordering the first investigation into how Israeli settlements may be infringing on the rights of the Palestinians.
"This hypocritical organisation has nothing to do with human rights. Its bias and lack of objectivity are obvious and we have no reason to cooperate with it," he told Israeli public radio.
The resolution was adopted by the 47-member council by 36 votes in favour and 10 abstentions. Only the United States voted against it.
The decision was condemned by Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slamming the council as "hypocritical" and saying the body "should be ashamed of itself."
Israel is not a member of the Human Rights Council, but as a UN member it has the right to observe discussions and can contribute under certain conditions, though it cannot vote or present resolutions.
Israeli media have said that the government was weighing various punitive measures against the Palestinians, who it blamed for initiating the council's decision, including suspending tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
But the Jerusalem Post said Monday that no decision had so far been taken, and quoted a senior diplomatic official as saying that Israel would seek to mobilise support from council member states to join its boycott, though he said that would be difficult.
Israel last froze transfers in November after the Palestinians were admitted to full membership of the UN cultural agency UNESCO, over objections from Israel and Washington. It lifted the freeze after less than a month after protests from the international community.