JERUSALEM – Israel cut working relations with the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday and will bar a U.N. team from entering Israel or the West Bank for a planned investigation of Jewish settlements, the Foreign Ministry said.
Israel accuses the council of having a pronounced anti-Israel bias because of what it says is its disproportionate focus on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
Israeli leaders have been in an uproar over the council's adoption of a resolution last week condemning Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and its decision to send a fact-finding mission to investigate.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Israel was severing working ties with the council.
"It means that we're not going to work with them. We're not going to let them carry out any kind of mission for the Human Rights Council, including this probe," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he was not surprised by the Israeli move.
"Israel never cooperated with all fact finding missions that were sent and established by the U.N. to investigate the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians," he said after meeting his Danish counterpart in Copenhagen.
Much of the international community sees settlement construction on occupied lands the Palestinians seek for a future state as a major impediment to peacemaking, and has pressured Israel to freeze it.
Israel has moved 500,000 Israelis to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since capturing the areas, along with Gaza, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, though it still controls access by air, sea and land, except for a crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
The Palestinians say continued settlement expansion pre-empts the outcome of negotiations. Israel, which refuses to halt construction, says the fate of settlements and the related issue of the final borders of a Jewish and a Palestinian state must be determined through negotiations, not demands.
Since its creation in 2006, the Geneva-based council has focused heavily on alleged abuses by Israel. After the United States joined in 2009, the council has increasingly addressed human rights problems in other countries. Last year, it created a special investigator for Iran, held emergency meetings on Libya and Syria and dispatched teams of experts to probe abuses in those countries.
On the same day it called for an investigation of the settlements, the council approved four other resolutions critical of Israel.
The council will likely keep passing resolutions on Israel while the occupation of Palestinian land continues, its president, Uruguayan diplomat Laura Dupuy Lasserre, said last week.
Israel has had uneasy relations with the U.N. for decades, in large part because of the pro-Palestinian majority in the General Assembly, though the United States has used its veto power multiple times to block anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council. Israel halted its marginal funding to UNESCO in the fall after the U.N. cultural agency recognized Palestine as a member.
Relations with the U.N. were especially acrimonious over a U.N.-commissioned report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone on Israel's military offensive in Gaza three years ago, aimed at stopping daily rocket attacks. Israel refused to cooperate with Goldstone's team, though it didn't bar it from entering.