The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo by Reuters
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The United Nations Human Rights Council was established in 2006 in order to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the previous institution. As opposed to UN bodies that oversee the implementation of human rights covenants and are made up of independent experts, the members of the Human Rights Council are countries, and therefore its decisions are more prone to politicization than those of other institutions.

Even though the council has not met all the expectations of it, among other reasons because of the prevailing political atmosphere, it is still considered one of the main institutions for the advancement of human rights, and its Universal Periodic Reviews - hearings at which every UN member country is required to appear - are considered to be part of the international human rights regime.

Israel cut all its ties with the Human Rights Council in March 2012, at the initiative of then-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. The step was a protest against the Council's intention to establish a committee to examine the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In recent days, heavy pressure has been applied on Israel to appear at its periodic review hearing before the council scheduled for Tuesday. Had it decided not to attend, Israel would have become the first country to boycott the process.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue, maintained that such a step would potentially cause Israel great diplomatic damage and make it difficult for Israel's friends around the world to help it.

Lieberman's decision to disengage from the Human Rights Council, without discussion in the cabinet or the approval of the prime minister, was a mistake. Even if the Human Rights Council discriminates in an unfair manner against Israel, that is not enough to negate its right to establish a committee on the settlements - which are an indivisible part of the discriminatory regime and the dispossession of the Palestinian population - or to justify a rupture with such an important body of the United Nations.

Israel's non-attendance at the periodic hearing would also have been a mistake - and not just because of the international criticism such a step would generate. A resource such as the hearing has the power to actually reduce the potential for political bias against Israel and to advance Israeli interests, which include joining the Western Europe and Others Group of nations in the Human Rights Council. Today Israel is not a member of any one of the regional groupings, something which contributes to its isolation and makes it harder for Israel to enlist support in diplomatic processes.

Therefore, the decision of Netanyahu and the government of Israel to listen to Germany and appear before the Human Rights Council, as do all nations, is important. It will advance Israel's own interests and improve its international standing.