Officials tone down response to UNHRC mission

“Terror is terror, and diplomacy is diplomacy,” and there is no need to compare this with terrorism, one diplomatic official says.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat 311 (R) (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Diplomatic officials on Sunday toned down the harsh rhetoric and threats following the UN Human Rights Committee’s decision to send a fact-finding mission to Israel to probe the settlements’ effect on Palestinian human rights.
One official said there was some “discomfort” among diplomatic officials over a statement Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman put out from Singapore on Friday, accusing PA President Mahmoud Abbas of using “diplomatic terror” against Israel in the international forum.
“Terror is terror, and diplomacy is diplomacy,” and there is no need to compare this with terrorism, one source said.
In the statement, Liberman also said that he would convene a meeting of the Foreign Ministry to discuss lobbying other countries, such as the US, to leave the UNHRC, as well as consider cutting off all cooperation with that body. There were even media reports that Israel considered recalling its ambassador to the UN organizations in Geneva over the issue.
Neither suggestion is realistic or has been seriously discussed, one source said. The US – which recently became a member of UNHRC as part of US President Barack Obama’s policy of greater engagement with the UN – is not going to leave so quickly, and especially not over an issue dealing with the settlements, something the US has little sympathy for, according to the source.
The source also said there were some three dozen UN organizations based in Geneva, some of them dealing with issues important to Israel, and that Jerusalem was not going to recall its ambassador because it disagreed with the policies on one of those bodies.
In a surprising step, Peace Now’s executive director Yariv Oppenheimer said he opposed the council’s creation of a factfinding mission on settlements.
“We think the [UN] Human Rights Council is not an objective body,” Oppenheimer said.
His organization strongly opposes all Israeli settlement activity and independently monitors it.
“Settlements are an important issue and they are harming Palestinians human rights,” he said. “We are very critical of Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank,” he said.
But Oppenheimer added, the council “has taken the issue a few steps further than the truth.”
It is possible, he said, that Peace Now would refuse to cooperate with the fact-finding mission.
“We have not decided yet,” he said. “But we are considering this move.”
Meanwhile, even though Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Radio Sunday morning that Israel would not allow the fact-finding mission into the country, no formal decision on how to respond to the commission has yet been made, either in the Foreign Ministry or at the cabinet-level.
While cabinet ministers spoke angrily about the decision on their way to the weekly cabinet meeting, the issue did not come up there, or even in the Likud ministerial meeting that preceded it. Contrary to reports, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not convene the forum of his top ministers, known as the octet, to discuss the matter.
“There is time,” one government official said. “We don’t have to rush into any decision now.”
The officials said that neither the mandate for the commission, nor its participants, has yet been drawn up, nor has there been a formal request yet for any Israeli cooperation.
And just as no decision has been made regarding how to interface with the commission, no decisions have been made on whether and how to take economic or diplomatic sanctions against the PA for initiating the move.
While Ayalon said that Israel needed to send a clear message to the Palestinians that they cannot simultaneously work to harm Israel diplomatically and benefit from Israeli gestures, he added that the country would not “shoot from the hip” and instead would act with discretion on the matter.
The PA, meanwhile, criticized the US for voting against the UNHRC decision. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that by voting against the decision, the US was committing a “big mistake” in its foreign policy.
The UN council’s decision was adopted with 36 votes in favor and 10 abstentions. The US was the only country to vote against it.
Erekat said that the fact that the US was alone in opposing the decision showed the extent to which Washington was biased in favor of Israel.
The US vote was also a sign of how the US did not know what was needed to achieve peace in the Middle East, he added.
Erekat urged the Arab countries to exert pressure on the US to change its policies. “It is high time for the Arabs, in the wake of current changes in the Arab world, to address the US as decision-makers,” he said.
The PA welcomed the decision to dispatch a fact-finding mission to look into the impact of the settlements. PA leaders said the decision was an important step that would send a message to Israel regarding its policy of settlement construction.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.