JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel in its first cooperation with the U.N. Human Rights Council in nearly a year-and-a-half heard calls to halt settlement building and release all Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli representatives appeared in Geneva on Tuesday for a quadrennial review of the country’s human rights record.
Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan and U.N. Ambassador Eviatar Manor told the panel that the scheduled release on Tuesday of Palestinian prisoners who had murdered Jews was proof that Israel is serious about the peace process.
Some 76 countries signed up to speak at Tuesday’s session. Criticism ranged from calling on Israel to halt building in the West Bank settlements and release all Palestinian prisoners, to allowing all Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in Israel. The Iranian envoy would not say Israel, instead referring to the “regime.”
Several countries criticized Israel’s lack of civil-marriage laws for Jews and the fact that the Chief Rabbinate controls Jewish life-cycle events.
Israel had severed ties with the United Nations body in March 2012 following the council’s appointment of a fact-finding mission on how Israel’s West Bank settlements affect Palestinians.
It was the second time that Israel has participated in the Universal Periodic Review process.
Since boycotting the review in January, Israel has been granted several extensions. If it had not agreed to appear for the rescheduled review on Tuesday, Israel would have been the first country to boycott the review. Iran and Syria took part in the first round of the process.
In exchange for Israel’s participation in the review process, Western countries have agreed not to participate in a standing Human Rights Council agenda item that requires debate on Israeli human rights violations of the Palestinians, as well as work to add Israel to the membership of the council known as WEOG, or Western Europe and Others Group.
Until these conditions are met, Israel has not fully lifted its boycott of the council.
“Israel’s unfair treatment must come to an end,” Manor said. “I hope our appearance here today will go a long way to restore equality and fairness regarding Israel in Geneva, and I am confident our continued diplomatic engagement will eventually allow our return to full activity within the Council.”