Israel blocks visa renewal for UN human rights agency

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on October 15 at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

In response to the UN publication of a list of companies that illegally trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Jewish state has not renewed the visas of employees of its human rights agency in the Palestinian territories. Since June, Israel has stopped granting visas to international employees of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the Palestinian territories, confirmed to the World OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville. Passports sent, as the procedure requires, to the authorities of the Hebrew state for the renewal of residence permits, simply returned without stamps.

Prior to that, obtaining new visas for some employees had proven to be laborious, with a month that could elapse between applying for and obtaining the precious sesame, preventing applicants from leaving the West Bank. Nine of the twelve people whose visas have not been renewed have already had to leave, including James Heenan, the local director of the agency. The other three will see their visas expire before the end of the year. As for the new staff, they are also not allowed to arrive. The twenty local employees, mostly Palestinians, will soon be the only ones on the ground, although it is customary for United Nations employees to obtain visas wherever they request them.

Since the creation of OHCHR in 1993, its relationship with Israel has often been stormy. It seriously deteriorated in February, after the publication by the UN agency of a “black list” of 112 companies operating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, illegal under international law. “The State of Israel cannot tolerate this discriminatory anti-Israel policy”, at the time threatened the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israel Katz, calling Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of “Partner and tool” of the boycott movement against Israel. Contacted by The world, the Israeli foreign ministry did not want to add anything.

The UN plays appeasement

If the UN body refuses to link the publication of this list directly to the non-renewal by Israel of visas, it is difficult not to see a cause and effect link. On the OHCHR side, we play appeasement, as Rupert Colville, its spokesperson in Geneva, would like to point out: “We continue to negotiate with Israel, in the hope that the problem will be resolved quickly. This is a very irregular situation but which has not yet had a serious effect on our field activities, already impacted by the Covid-19 epidemic. In the long run, of course, this could cause problems. “

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