West Bank settlement of Ariel
The settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Photo by Tess Scheflan
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The United Nations' Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to appoint a panel charged with evaluating the effects of Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian human rights in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

According to the text of the decision, the UN will "dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem."

The committee's mandate will be to submit a report on the topic to the council. The decision also called on Israel "not to obstruct the process of investigation and to cooperate fully with the mission."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted harshly to the decision, calling the body a "hypocritical council with an automatic majority against Israel." He added that the council "should be ashamed of itself, and has nothing to do with human rights."

Netanyahu added that out of 91 decisions made by the UN body to date, 39 dealt with Israel. "Only three of the decisions dealt with Syria, and only one with Iran. It was enough to hear the Syrian ambassador speaking today about human rights to understand the extent which the council is out of touch with reality."

Thirty-six states voted in favor of the decision, while ten states abstained, including the Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Costa Rica, Italy and Spain. The United States was the only country to vote against it.

Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva Aharon Leshno-Yaar criticized the decision. "Despite the fact that this is my fourth year in Geneva, I am still stunned by the hypocrisy of the Human Rights Council," he said in a speech.

"This council itself is adding fuel to the fire and fanning the flames which it should be trying to put out. Today will not be remembered as a great day for this council," he added.

Palestinian ambassador to the UN Ibrahim Khraishisaid Israel's occupation should be condemned as a violation of human rights.

"We don't want to isolate Israel, but when we see that Israel hasn't stopped taking over our lands, we must act. If this situation continues, how will we be able to apply a two-state solution? The occupying power is violating international law… one day there will even be limits on the air that we breathe," he added.

U.S. ambassador to the UN in Geneva said that the decision harmed efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and would not help protect the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians. "We don't accept the legitimacy of construction in the settlements, but we are disturbed by this one-sided and biased decision," she said.

"Anyone who supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state must support efforts to renew negotiations and refrain from taking steps that harm this effort… This won't promote peace, it will only push the sides further away from one another," the ambassador added.  

Syria's ambassador accused Israel of accelerating settlement construction, which he deemed a violation of the Geneva Conventions and an "act of piracy."

The decision was one of five approved by the council on Thursday which were critical of Israel. Others dealt with Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, the Palestinian's right to self-determination, the state of human rights in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the implementation of the Goldstone report's recommendations following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said in response, "The Palestinians must understand that they can't have it both ways: they can't enjoy cooperation with Israel and at the same time initiate political clashes in international forums. Had the Palestinians wanted to solve the settlements issue, they would resume without delay a direct and unconditional negotiation on all core issues within the framework of a comprehensive agreement."

Read this article in Hebrew