Michelle Bachelet
Michelle Bachelet Reuters

The United Nations’ human rights commissioner on Tuesday condemned Israel’s decision to classify six Palestinian Arab organizations as terrorist entities and called for the move to be immediately reversed.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that Israel’s move was “an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation,” according to Haaretz.

Bachelet’s statement said the organizations designated as terror groups “are some of the most reputable human rights and humanitarian groups in the occupied Palestinian territory and for decades have worked closely with the UN.”

She further wrote that Israel’s decision was “based on extremely vague or unsubstantiated reasons, including entirely peaceful and legitimate human rights activities, such as providing legal aid to Palestinians in detention, organizing activities for women in the West Bank and promoting steps against Israel in the international arena.’”

Bachelet asserted that “[c]laiming rights before a UN or other international body is not an act of terrorism, advocating for the rights of women in the occupied Palestinian territory is not terrorism, and providing legal aid to detained Palestinians is not terrorism.”

She noted that Israel had claimed the organizations had become arms of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but provided no evidence and “no information on the type of alleged ‘PFLP terror activity,’ nor has any public process been conducted to establish the allegations.”

This past Friday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated six groups identified with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as terrorist organizations: Union of Palestinian Women's Committees (UPWC), ADDAMEER - Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Al-Haq Organization, Defense for Children International–Palestine (DCI-P), and the Union Of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price later said the US was not notified in advance of Israel’s decision and would seek clarifications from Israel on the basis for this decision.

“We will be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for the designation,” he told reporters in a briefing.

"Israel didn't give us prior warning about this designation," he added.

Israeli Defense officials responded to the statement and said that US administration officials were given information about the decision beforehand and that the relevant intelligence was shared with the US by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).

On Monday, Price again insisted that the US was not provided with advance notice of Israel’s plans to declare the six groups as terrorist organizations.

"It is, to the best of our knowledge, accurate that we did not receive a specific heads up about any forthcoming designations," he said.

Yehoshua Zarka, deputy director-general of the department for strategic interests within the Foreign Ministry, told Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) in an interview on Tuesday that the Americans were updated prior to Gantz’s announcement, but may have expected a more in-depth briefing than the one they originally were given.

“Of course I updated the Americans on our intentions. It could be, however, that they thought that the update should have been more in-depth – and that would be legitimate,” he said.

Zarka added that while it might be “interesting to get bogged down in discussing the dispute and misunderstanding, it isn’t the main priority. What we want to do now is fix things so that something like this doesn’t happen again. Our relations with the United States are very important and we don’t want to leave them feeling that they aren’t our partners.”

All the same, Zarka downplayed any suggestion that the spat was significant in the long-run. “To categorize this as a crisis would be wrong,” he said. “There are those who enjoy exaggerating things like that, but it was just one small incident in the larger picture of a visit to Washington that incorporated many meetings and covered many topics. At the end of the day, what we learned from this is that the Americans want more in-depth briefings, so that’s what we’ll be doing. And that’s it.”