GENEVA (AP) — Israel defended its treatment of Palestinians and others on the world stage Tuesday, resuming a relationship it broke off more than a year ago with the U.N.'s top human rights body.
The appearance by Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan and U.N. Ambassador Eviatar Manor before the U.N.'s Human Rights Council marked the first time Israel has participated in the 47-nation body in more than a year.
Nitzan said Israel is again "open to constructive criticism" from a forum that it has long believed has an anti-Israel bias reflected in a disproportionate focus on the Jewish state's policy toward the Palestinians.
Each of the U.N.'s 193 member nations must submit to a review of its human rights record by the Geneva-based council once every four years. But because the council is less than a decade old, the second cycle of reviews for all nations is not yet complete.
Manor began the afternoon session by calling attention to an impending release of a set of Palestinian prisoners that coincides with the day of the review and was agreed to as part of the peace process. The 26 prisoners had been convicted of killing Israelis between 1984 and 1994, and most were serving life sentences.
"All of them have blood on their hands; all of them have murdered Israelis," Manor told diplomats. "Their release, I believe, illustrates Israel's determination to reach an agreement with our Palestinian neighbors that will, once and for all, end the conflict."
Israel was supposed to have its second U.N. human rights review nine months ago, but it did not participate because it cut working relations with the council over its intention to launch an investigation into Jewish West Bank settlements.
Dozens of nations sounded off with a litany of complaints and recommendations. Typical of the speeches was the condemnation by Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Wafaa Bassem of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, and her nation's demand for the immediate release of all political prisoners and free movement for Palestinian refugees.
Nitzan said Israel already has made "extensive efforts to accommodate Palestinians" during the Muslim month of Ramadan, and that it has reduced the restrictions on movement between Palestinian villages and towns.
Palestinian envoy Ibrahim Khraishi, however, told diplomats that Israel's renewed participation in the council "has no value" because the country had failed to address all the concerns raised in the first review in 2008.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Israel's resumption of cooperation with the council must now be extended by engaging with the U.N.'s human rights team in the West Bank and allowing visits to Israel by U.N. rights experts.