UK changes stance on Israel in United Nations Human Rights Council

UNHRC: The UK will oppose discussions under Agenda Item 7 of the UNHRC. Source: United States Mission Geneva (via Flickr)
UK will oppose a motion discussing Israeli action in Palestine and Arab nations - is it fundamental policy change or party politics?

By Lowri Pitcher

Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, has stated that the UK will now oppose motions criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank which are discussed under Agenda Item 7 of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Agenda item 7 is a permanent feature on the UNHRC’s annual agenda. The article forces the Council members to discuss the: “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.” Despite atrocities such as ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, the Syrian Civil War, the Yemeni Civil War and the annexation of Crimea; none of these issues are a fixed topic of discussion in the UNHRC. In relation to the permanent fixture, Jeremy Hunt said that “By any standard of fairness or proportion, elevating [the Israeli-Palestinian] dispute above all others cannot be sensible.”

This does not mean that the UK will no longer critique Israeli action in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, nor is the UK changing its policy towards finding a two-state solution, the UK simply objects to the procedure in principle. Hunt explained that the Government is willing to discuss the Israel-Palestine issue and that “The UN has every right to address these grave matters in a measured and proportionate way. In the future, Britain will continue to support scrutiny of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the HRC, so long as it is justified and not proposed under Item 7.”

At the same time that the UK denounced this article, Anders Samuelsen, the Danish foreign minister tweeted: “It is fundamentally wrong that Israel as the only country in the world has an entire agenda item dedicated to it in the UN Human Rights Council. Tomorrow, therefore – out of principle – Denmark will vote NO to all resolutions under #HRC Item 7.”

These decisions will likely please US President Donald Trump who has decisively changed the US’s discourse towards Israel. The US quit the human rights council last year claiming that the council held a “chronic bias against Israel.” The Trump administration caused similar controversy over recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and deciding the relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem last year.

On 25 March President Trump signed a proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli sovereign territory. The Golan Heights is an area along Israel’s northern border which it took from Syria after The Six-Day War in 1967. Donald Trump’s proclamation has been warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Netanyahu as support to solidify the legitimacy of Israel.

Despite the UK and US’ approach to Israel being hailed as major geopolitical actions, there is a considerable possibility that the motivations behind these decisions are based far more around domestic policy agendas.

Some claim that Donald Trump has increased his diplomatic support of Israel during the last year in order to galvanize evangelical Christians and the gradual increase in the number of Jews who have abandoned the Democratic party for the Republican party to support him; all in the wider context of securing voters during the next presidential elections in 2020.

Similarly, there are claims that the Conservative party is also playing politics. Numerous claims of anti-semitism have been filed against Jeremy Corbyn and his lack of action in resolving these issues has been widely criticized. The inherent problems have even led to MPs resigning and forming The Independent Group. Given the current volatility in British politics and the chances of another General Election being circulated, the Conservatives’ recent actions may signify more than a simple declaration about Agenda Item 7.

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