Abbas calls on states to defend two-state solution 'by recognizing Palestine'

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas speaks during a joint statement with French President following their meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on February 7, 2017
Stephane DE SAKUTIN (AFP)
Israel's UN envoy slams UNHRC, Abbas for teaming up 'in campaign of incitement against Israel'

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas called on nations of the world to defend the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by "recognizing Palestine", as he addressed the opening of the 34th session of the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Monday.

"We find ourselves more than ever in need of actions from the United Nations," Abbas said, accusing Israel of violating the "word and spirit" of the UNHRC, international human rights law, and the charter of human rights.

Abbas was among the first of some 100 dignitaries who will speak at the three-day high-level session. It was his second address to the high-level UNHRC portion, following his last speech in 2015.

His address came just two weeks after Trump appeared to walk-back his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying he could "live with" either a two- or one-state solution.

Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP)

Abbas reiterated his support for a two-state solution, in which an independent Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel "in peace and security" according to internationally-recognized 1967 borders and with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Though he did not specifically mention the United States, Abbas appeared to call out the administration of president Donald Trump when he cautioned "against the transfer of any nation's embassy to east Jerusalem."

Trump's promise to move the embassy from its present location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been welcomed by Israel, but slammed by the Palestinians and many other countries and international organizations as a move that could sink the peace process.

Referring to Israel throughout the address as "the occupation," Abbas said that recent developments on the ground were moving Israel closer to an "apartheid solution" to the conflict, mentioning specifically the Israeli government's recent passing of controversial new legislation legalizing dozens of Jewish outposts built on private Palestinian lands in the West Bank.

Abbas Momani (AFP/File)

Abbas called the law "a dangerous precedent which we reject" adding that the current situation "does not allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state."

"Palestine will remain the litmus test of human rights council," Abbas concluded.

The council is slated to debate human rights issues such as death penalty, racial profiling, incitement, as well as the rights records of specific countries including Iran, Syria, and Israel.

Israel scrutiny 'peak of hypocrisy'

Israel's Permanent Representative to the UN Danny Danon slammed the Abbas' speech at the UNHRC as "the peak of hypocrisy," accusing the Palestinian president of using international forums to pressure Israel and avoid direct, bilateral negotiations.

"In the peak of hypocrisy, Abbas and the Human Rights Council have joined together in a campaign of incitement against Israel," Danon said in a statement.

"It is no surprise that this Council, which has long been divorced from reality, has chosen once again to provide a platform for Palestinian smears against us," he added.

"It is time that Abbas and the Palestinian leadership understand that a new era has dawned at the UN in which speeches and one-sided initiatives against Israel will not succeed. The only way forward is through direct negotiations with Israel," Danon said.

UN Photo/Cia Pak

The Trump administration has been critical of anti-Israel bias within UN institutions, and is reportedly mulling quitting the UNHRC over its believed bias against Israel, though it will participate in the current session.

The UNHRC is mandated to discuss Israel's human rights record with regards to the Palestinians during every session under Agenda Item 7. Israel is the only country for which such a mandate exists.

Several countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran hold chairs on the 47-member council and are known to be frequent offenders of human rights, however, Israel has been condemned more times than any other country.

FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP/File)

Agenda Item 7 will be heard on March 20, during which the council is expected to receive at least three reports detailing allegations of Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

The three reports have been authored separately by Michael Lynk, special human rights representative for the council in the Palestinian territories, the Office of the UN Secretary General, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Another report will focus on the human rights of Israel's Druze community in the Golan Heights, the Jerusalem Post reports, with a resolution reiterating the UNHRC's call for Israel to return the annexed territory to Syria expected at the end of the session on March 24.

Jalaa Marey (AFP)

Israel captured the territory during the Six Day war, annexing it in 1981. Israel maintains that its control over the Golan Heights is necessary for security reasons, and has recently sought to push the United States to recognize its sovereignty over the area.

The 34th session of the UNHRC comes as rights group Amnesty International accused Israel of widespread human rights violations in its annual report, while also condemning the Palestinian Authority for failing to take steps "to ensure accountability for crimes committed by Palestinians armed groups."

With Trump at helm, US takes UNHRC seat 

The US claimed its seat Monday on the Human Rights Council under the new presidency of Donald Trump, whose election has provoked deep concern over the body's future.

Over its 11-year history, the council has come in for criticism, including allegations that it has, at times, been co-opted by rights abusers who push resolutions attacking their geopolitical rivals, with genuine rights issues marginalized.

In a keynote address, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the world was facing "a time of urgency" and that the council was needed more than ever. 

"Disregard for human rights is a disease, and it is a disease that is spreading," he said. 

"The Human Rights Council must be part of the cure."

Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP)

Trump's State Department has not yet named an envoy to the body and was represented at Monday's session by veteran foreign service officer Erin Barclay. 

Trump's international agenda remains murky but rights advocates have warned that the early signs do not bode well for either the council or the broader human rights agenda. 

"Clearly 'America First' does not suggest an approach that (prioritises) multilateral engagement," said John Fisher of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Geneva, referring to Trump's foreign policy doctrine.

(Staff with agencies)

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