The US has asked to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council in another move that, superficially at least, spells a departure from the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the institution. However, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, the reasons for the earlier departure from the Council still stand: alleged excessive focus on Israel, as well as the inclusion of nations which the US considers hostile, remain prominent issues for Washington and its rhetoric about “human rights”.
“We need to eliminate Agenda Item 7 and treat the human rights situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories the same way as this body handles any other country,” declared Blinken.
Agenda Item 7 has long antagonised Israel and the US. It makes discussion of Israel a permanent agenda item at the UNHRC and has elicited calls of anti-Israel bias which divert attention from other human rights violations around the world.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has endorsed Blinken’s criticism of human rights abuses by countries – mentioning China and Russia – that “seem to have joined the council only to undermine its work and to deflect criticism of themselves.” However, doesn’t the UN promote a safe space where various dynamics protect human rights abusers under various schemes, while allowing powers such as the US to determine which countries should be defined as violators of such rights? It is precisely the special status awarded to the US and Israel that needs to be challenged, in order to start altering the narrative on human rights and to make the UN and its institutions truly answerable and accomplished in holding rights abusers to account.
Israel has maintained its self-declared exceptionalism to prolong its military occupation of Palestine, a derivative of the colonial process that accelerated during the Trump era and which will most probably also benefit under US President Joe Biden. It is the exceptionalism which Israel created for its own purpose that has set it apart in the international arena. As far as criticism goes, Israel also benefits from the duplicity that comes with the settler-colonial state being a permanent item at the UNHRC, as well as receiving close to unanimous endorsement for its security and “self-defence” narrative. There is, in fact, no anti-Israel bias, but there is intentional ambiguity, in much the same way that Israel is considered as a normal country rather than a settler-colonial enterprise with its origins rooted deep within the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population.
HRW’s recommendations for the US to alter the scrutiny on Israel has more to do with the dynamics of voting on resolutions than encouraging the Biden administration to take a tough stance on Israel’s colonial expansion. The US and Israel know full well that resolutions are non-binding, hold no political value, and are just a veneer for the international community’s contempt when it comes to the Palestinian people’s political and human rights. A far more pressing discussion would centre on how the UN is ignoring its own principles and priorities. Had it acted against Israel’s colonisation of Palestine and its accompanying brutality and cruelty, as it is bound to do in order not to be in violation of international law, there would be no need for “Agenda Item 7” at the UNHRC or anywhere else.
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