U.S. Shuns UN Debate on Israeli Settlers Ahead of Obama Visit

UN Human Rights Council concludes that Israel's 'creeping annexation' of West Bank violates many rights; U.S. ambassador says Washington is 'extremely troubled' by UN council's 'biased and disproportionate focus on Israel.'

The United States refused to take part Monday in a UN Human Rights Council debate on Israeli settlements and their effects on Palestinians.

The Geneva-based council, which has been accused of being biased by Washington, was discussing a January report by a panel of UN investigators. The debate took place two days before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Israel.

The experts concluded that Israel's "creeping annexation" of the West Bank had led to many rights violations, and brought up the possibility that future cases might be handled by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

No U.S. delegate spoke on this issue. When the council turned to the wider issue of human rights in the Palestinian territories, U.S. ambassador Eileen Donahoe said that "the United States remains extremely troubled by this council's continued biased and disproportionate focus on Israel."

She did not comment on any specific human rights problems, but said that ending the Middle East conflict would be the key to addressing human rights issues in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Obama has said the purpose of his trip to the Middle East is to listen, rather than bring any proposals for a political solution. He has ruled out demanding a construction freeze in Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

In the Geneva debate, many Arab countries backed the UN experts' view that the settlements undermine the Palestinians' right to political self-determination by making it harder for them to form a state.

The European Union also reiterated its position that "settlements are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace."

Israel stopped cooperating with the Human Rights Council last year. As a result, none of its diplomats attended Monday's discussions.

Mobile homes at the West Bank settlement outpost Ramat Gilad.
Alon Ron