UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks durin
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks durinAFP/File

The United States will not take the floor at the main U.N. human rights forum on Monday during the annual debate on violations committed in the Palestinian territories, a US spokesman told Reuters.

The step is unprecedented. The UNHRC is a notoriously anti-Israel forum where Washington has always defended Israel.

Asked for an explanation, a spokesman said only that the US ambassador to the council Keith Harper was in Washington.

The Obama administration has said in recent days that it is undertaking a "reassessment" of relations with the Jewish state.

"The U.S. delegation will not be speaking about Palestine today," a U.S. spokesman in Geneva told Reuters in response to a question as the debate began. He declined further comment.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry defended Israel before the UNHRC, urging its members to end its blatant bias towards the Jewish state.

In a speech denouncing human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria and North Korea, Kerry spoke about what he said is the council’s “deeply concerning record on Israel.” He stated, "no one in this room can deny that there is an unbalanced focus on one democratic country." Kerry criticized the council for having criticism of Israel as part of its permanent agenda.

Israeli response?

In a possible response to the American move, Israel's representative did not take part in the UNHRC special session on Monday.

A source close to the UNHRC council said the absence amounted to a boycott, although a spokeswoman with the Israeli mission in Geneva told AFP "we won't comment on that."

Monday's session had originally been scheduled to discuss a probe on the 50-day war in Gaza last year, but the investigators obtained a delay after the head of the team quit after Israel revealed he had previously consulted for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist group.

"The process cannot be rushed," former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, who has taken over as head of the "war crimes" probe, told the council. Davis previously was part of the controversial 2009 Goldstone Report - even Judge Richard Goldstone, who led the committee, later retracted the core accusation of "war crimes" leveled in the report.

Canadian international law expert William Schabas resigned as chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict last month after Israel complained he could not be impartial because he had prepared a legal opinion for the PLO in October 2012, aside from a long history of anti-Israel bias he had voiced in numerous forums.

UNHRC attacks Israel yet again

Israel has called for the entire UNHRC inquiry to be shelved over the bias displayed at the UN body. 

The Jewish state is the only country in the world with a special agenda item dedicated to it, meaning its rights record is discussed at every session of the UN's top rights body.

Its absence Monday does not mark the first time it has boycotted the council.

It cut all ties with the council in March 2012 over its plans to probe how Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria were "harming Palestinian rights," and did not resume relations until late 2013.

Monday's session came after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party soundly defeated Labor last week.

Most other western nations were absent from the meeting on Monday as well, with Pakistan's representative speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and complaining that it was "a deliberate attempt to undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council."

Although the report on the 2014 Gaza war investigation was delayed until June, the UN's new Special Rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories did not hold back from criticism against Israel at the meeting.

"The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack," Makarim Wibisono claimed to the council.

He lamented "acute" needs in Gaza, warning that Israel's continued "blockade keeps Gaza in a strangle hold which does not even allow people to help themselves."

Despite his words, 49% of Israeli strikes in the war with the Hamas terrorist organization that deeply embedded in civilian infrastructure were terrorists, meaning the Jewish state achieved a 1:1 ratio of combatants to civilians almost unprecedented in urban warfare.

In contrast, a report last November revealed 96.5% of those killed by US drone strikes in the Middle East were civilians.