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U.S. Joins Criticism of Israel at U.N. Human Rights Conference

February 4, 1992
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Hoping to avoid the usual volley of attacks on its treatment of the Palestinians, Israel urged the U.N. Human Rights Commission this week to tone down its rhetoric in the interests of promoting the continuing Arab-Israeli peace talks.

But the Jewish state’s strongest ally at the commission’s annual conference, the United States, had some strong criticism of its own Monday regarding Israeli practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

During a debate on “Violations of Human Rights in the Territories Occupied by Israel,” the chief U.S. delegate, Kenneth Blackwell, said the United States is “concerned about a number of Israeli practices,” including “excessive use of force, deportations, arbitrary administrative detention and demolition of homes as collective punishment.”

He also scored as “another obstacle to peace” the “continued Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories. We strongly oppose settlement activity and have urged repeatedly that it be suspended.

“However,” he said, “there is no point in a sterile debate on the question of the legality of the settlements.

“Resolutions urging International Court of Justice consideration of this issue not only miss the point — which is that this is an issue that can only be resolved as part of a comprehensive settlement — but are a distraction that could undermine the peace process.”

His remarks were mild, compared to those made by Tayseer al-Adjouri, the Palestinian observer, and al-Sherif Sharaf, the Jordanian observer.

Adjouri denounced Israeli behavior in the territories as “affronts against mankind.”

And Sharaf said that “Israel’s inhuman dealings with the innocent Palestinian civilian population have reached new and fearful heights.”


The opening round of rhetoric appeared to dim Israeli hopes that this year’s session of the U.N. commission would be less hostile than those of years past.

Yitzhak Lior, Israel’s U.N. ambassador here, had made a pitch in one of the first speeches at the conference opening, to forestall the traditional volley of anti-Israel invective.

Appealing for a “non-confrontational ambience,” he observed that the 12 months since the commission last met had been “eventful and pregnant with unforeseen consequences.”

One is the marked change of Israel’s position in the international arena, restored or newly opened ties with previously antagonistic states and the beginning of peace talks.

It is not farfetched to hope today that before too long there will be an exchange of ambassadors between Israel and its nearest Arab neighbors, said Lior, who has observer status at the U.N. panel.

The U.S. ambassador agreed that now is not the time to spawn rancor by using the U.N. commission as “a propaganda forum to restate old positions.”

“Rather, it is a time for innovation and statesmanship — for seizing the opportunity to move this region forward into a new era where peace and human rights are the order of the day, not the hope for a distant tomorrow.”

Blackwell also leveled criticism at those who attack Israelis. “We are also concerned about the continuing violence directed against Israelis. Our concern extends also to Palestinian violence against other Palestinians,” he said.

“Violence will not bring achievement of Palestinian rights. Rather, it continues to be counterproductive and a threat to the peace process, especially now with the parties committed to negotiation,” Blackwell said.

The U.S. envoy has also spoken out strongly here against the U.N. panel’s choice of leadership. Last week, it elected Cyrus Nasseri, an Iranian with a questionable background, as its chairman.

Blackwell deplored the fact that a representative of a country so opposed to the application of human rights was elected to such a position.

Nasseri’s election has provoked other outcries, particularly among members of Iranian opposition groups. For instance, the National Council of Resistance of Iran accused Nasseri of being the head of an Iranian terrorist group in Switzerland.

The group accused him of involvement in the 1986 assassination of Kazem Rajavi, the brother of the group’s president, who was a diplomat during the reign of the ousted Shah of Iran.

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