JERUSALEM, March 26 (Reuters) - Israel said on Monday it has severed contact with the U.N. Human Rights Council after its launch last week of an international investigation into Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The decision, announced by a Foreign Ministry spokesman, meant that the fact-finding team the council planned to send to the West Bank will not be allowed to enter the territory or Israel, said the spokesman, Yigal Palmor.
"We are not working with them any more," Palmor said about the Geneva-based forum. "We had been participating in meetings, discussions, arranging visits to Israel. All that is over."
The international investigation was launched on Thursday, with the United States isolated in voting against the initiative brought by the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli leaders swiftly condemned the U.N. body, saying it was hypocritical and biased toward Israel.
"They systematically and serially make all kinds of decisions and condemnations against Israel without even symbolically considering our positions," Palmor said.
He said Israel would continue to cooperate with other U.N. bodies.
The president of the U.N. Human Rights Council Laura Dupuy Lasserre said she had seen media reports of Israel's reaction and, if confirmed, it would be "most regrettable".
"I have no doubt that it is in the interest of Israel to cooperate with the Human Rights Council on this investigative mission, not least so that it can explain its own policies and actions to the independent commissioners once they are appointed," she said in a statement.
Asked by Reuters to comment further, she said recent history showed Israel would not stop the fact-finding mission from gathering information by deciding not to cooperate with it, even if it could not physically gain access to the West Bank or Israel.
"The most recent example of refusal to cooperate is Syria, which did not permit either the Human Rights Council mandated Fact-finding Mission or the Commission of Inquiry to enter the country.
"On the other hand, in the case of the other two Commissions of Inquiry that took place in 2011, both Libya and Cote d'Ivoire did cooperate, and allowed the Commissioners to visit."
As in the Syrian mission, the investigation would have to resort to other sources of information if denied access.
"Unfortunately, the image of Israel would be damaged in a moment of high expectations in the peace negotiations," she said. "I can't emphasize strongly enough that it is my hope and wish we won't come to that path."
The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned Israel's planned construction of new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying they undermined the peace process and posed a threat to the two-state solution and the creation of a contiguous and independent Palestinian state.
About 500,000 Israeli settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war. Palestinians want the territory for an independent state along with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Palestinians say settlements, considered illegal by the International Court of Justice, the highest U.N. legal body for disputes, would deny them a viable state.
Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and says the status of settlements should be decided in peace negotiations. (Writing by Maayan Lubell; additional reporting by Tom Miles in GENEVA; Editing by Toby Chopra)