U.S. victory at the Human Rights Council

At the urging of the Palestinians (and under intense pressure from the United States) the Human Rights Council delayed taking up the Goldstone report until it meets again in March.  The report alleges war crimes committed by both the IDF and Hamas during Operation Cast Lead last winter.

As I wrote earlier in the week, the debate over the Goldstone report presents the first real test of American diplomacy on the council. The United States sought to block a resolution that fully endorsed the report’s recommendation that the issue be kicked to the General Assembly.  To that end, the U.S. was granted something of a reprieve when the Palestinian delegation said it would be in the interests of the peace process to delay action on the report.

This is a major, tangible victory for the “new era of engagement” that President Obama promised in his General Assembly speech last week.  The State Department worked the phones furiously this week to try and secure support for its position at the Council. And, lo and behold, the Obama administration was able to achieve its preferred outcome at the council though concerted engagement. By working the system from the inside (rather criticizing from the sidelines) the Obama administration was able to steer the council to an outcome that is favorable to American interests. 

Today’s events show that the administration’s decision to join the council was wise and prescient.  When the United States announced its decision to seek a seat on the council back in April, detractors accused the Obama administration of being naive to think that it could change what they described as an irredeemably anti-American or anti-Israel body. For example, Anne Bayesfky wrote in Foreign Policy at the time:

The council has passed more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 U.N. members combined. The council has one (of only ten) formal agenda items dedicated to criticizing Israel.  And one agenda item to consider the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world’s population. There have been 10 regular sessions on human rights for all, and five special sessions to condemn Israel alone. The council excludes only Israel from the key negotiating and information-sharing meetings of every regional group…

Absolutely none of that will change with the United States sitting in the front row, Obama’s rhetorical skills notwithstanding.  [emphasis wrong]

In fact, that is precisely wrong.  The United States was, indeed, able to change the dynamic at the Human Rights Council.  It would seem that a little engagement can go a long way.