Palestinians ask for U.N. human rights investigation

GENEVA Mon Mar 19, 2012 3:36pm EDT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority has asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct a formal inquiry into the impact of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said on Monday.

The probe should look into "attempts to confiscate land and settler violence along with the impact of settlement expansion on Palestinian life and basic human rights," he said, adding that the proposal for an inquiry was formally tabled on Friday.

If it goes ahead, the investigation would be similar in format to recent U.N. inquiries into Syria and Libya, and would involve three or four experts who would report back to the U.N. human rights body in June.

Unlike the U.N. Security Council, the Human Rights Council functions by majority vote, meaning the United States and other big powers could not veto the resolution. Israel could still refuse to allow investigators to enter the occupied territories however.

"If this is the case, we will go back to the Human Rights Council to pass new resolutions that condemn the Israeli policy and call for just policies which respect Palestinian rights and offer a clear condemnation of Israel on this issue," Maliki said.

"Certainly we coordinate our steps: first, we will wait for the resolution to pass; second, for the committee to be formed; third, for the U.N. to demand Israel allow the committee to enter."

Asked about the fact finding mission, Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said: "This is another move by the Palestinians to dodge negotiations and choose a strategy of confrontation. We hope that the countries who aspire to end the conflict through a peace agreement will reject this request."

The international community says the settlements are illegal. Israel disputes that.

GOLAN HEIGHTS TENSIONS

U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe did not mention the Palestinian request for an inquiry when she addressed the U.N. forum in Geneva on Monday. But she did say that the council was biased and had a disproportionate focus on Israel, adding it should hold all countries to the same standards.

The debate also gave an opportunity for the Syrian delegate to complain about Israel's behavior in Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

But Donahoe said it was hypocritical to hold a debate that included a resolution on human rights in the Golan Heights, saying it was "motivated by the Syrian regime at a time when it is murdering its own citizens".

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay catalogued abuses by both sides, recommending a series of "small steps" that each country could take to improve human rights now, without waiting for advances in the Middle East Peace Process or any other development.

"Doing so will not only improve the lives of civilians; it will demonstrate the leaders' commitment to the goal of living side by side in peace and security," she said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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