US and Israeli envoys refused to attend a UN Human Rights Council special session Monday on the situation in the Palestinian territories in the aftermath of the 2014 Gaza conflict.
The US decision will disappoint those who hoped the recent disagreement between the allies over Iran policy and the Middle East peace process would see Washington withhold diplomatic cover from Israel.
"As was the case last year, the United States will not engage in the debate. Neither will Israel. Instead, we will call a vote, and vote 'no' on Item 7 resolutions," said the US ambassador to the council, Keith Harper.
Speaking in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Washington had "coordinated our refusal to participate with Israel."
Israel provided no immediate explanation for missing the session dedicated overwhelmingly to a discussion of alleged abuses by its forces, but a source close to the council said its absence clearly amounted to a boycott.
It has long been US policy not to participate in council debates on "Item 7" -- which is always on the Human Rights Council agenda and which Washington maintains unfairly singles out the Jewish state.
"The United States' approach to the Human Rights Council's Item 7 has not changed," Harper said.
"We remain deeply troubled by this council's stand-alone agenda item directed against Israel, and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item."
Monday's session had been scheduled to discuss a probe on the 50-day war in Gaza last year, but investigators obtained a delay after the head of the team quit under Israeli pressure.
"The process cannot be rushed," former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, who has taken over as head of the team, told the council.
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 Palestine Liberation Organization in October 2012.
Schabas denied he was beholden to the PLO, but said he was reluctantly stepping down to avoid compromising the Human Rights Council's inquiry into the July-August conflict.
'A deliberate attempt'
Israel was not satisfied, calling for the entire inquiry to be shelved, insisting the commission and the Human Rights Council which created it are inherently biased against the Jewish state.
Israel 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.
Israel cut all ties with the council in March 2012 over its plans to probe how Jewish settlements were harming Palestinian rights, and did not resume relations until late 2013.
Monday's session came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party scored an election victory last week after he vowed during campaigning to oppose a Palestinian state.
Washington had warned it could withdraw its unwavering support for Israel at the United Nations after Netanyahu's declaration, but US officials made it clear that on Item 7 at least nothing has changed.
A number of states criticised the absence of the United States -- and of most western nations -- from Monday's debate.
Pakistan's representative, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, slammed "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.
"The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law," Makarim Wibisono told the council.
The Gaza conflict ended with a truce between Israel and the territory's Islamist de facto rulers Hamas on August 26 after the deaths of more than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.