UK will change tack on UN motions criticising Israel, says Jeremy Hunt

The UK will oppose motions criticising rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza that are brought to the UN’s human rights council under a special procedure dedicated to Israel’s behaviour in the occupied territories, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The move is likely to delight the Trump administration, which quit the human rights council in June last year, citing its approach to Israel. It also appears aimed at cementing the Conservative party’s relations with pro-Israel sections of the British Jewish community at a time when the Labour party is mired in criticism of its handling of antisemitism complaints.

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, the foreign secretary said a “disproportionate and discriminatory focus on Israel undermines the credibility of the world’s leading human rights forum and obstructs the quest for peace in the Middle East”.

The 47-member human rights council, elected by the UN general assembly, has a permanent feature on its annual agenda titled “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”. Israel has long complained of bias as no other country has a dedicated item.

Instead of helping with reconciliation, the so-called item 7 procedure simply claimed there was a monopoly of fault, Hunt claimed. The UK will vote against all four item 7 texts put forward at the 40th session in Geneva on Friday, he added.

“Item 7 strengthens the hard and trampled road of self-righteousness, a narrative that one side alone holds a monopoly of fault,” Hunt wrote. “Two years ago, the United Kingdom said that unless the situation changed, we would vote against all texts proposed under item 7. Sadly, our concerns have not been heeded.”

Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. It recalled its forces from Gaza in 2005 but maintains a land, air and sea blockade. Several hundred thousand Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank, a move widely seen as illegal under international law, while Palestinians there remain under Israeli military control.

Hunt stressed that opposing item 7 did not mean that the UK was changing its policy towards settlements or towards a two-state solution, but was instead making a protest about the procedure in principle. “The British government has frequently expressed our views about the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly the bloodshed in Gaza and the illegal expansion of settlements,” he wrote. “Criticism of Israel would be supported by the British where justified at the human rights council, he said, but only so long as it was not raised under item 7.”

The UK has not managed to persuade other EU countries to follow its step, with the exception of Denmark. The Danish foreign minister, Anders Samuelsen, said: “It is fundamentally wrong that Israel is the only country in the world that has an entire agenda dedicated to it in the UN human rights council. Tomorrow, therefore, out of principle Denmark will vote no to all resolutions under HRC item 7.”

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said on Twitter Hunt’s announcement was “a gift for Israeli settlers and the Israeli government. The British government has consistently opposed ANY concrete step against the occupation.”