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UN lists companies operating in Israeli settlements

What happened: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) yesterday published a list of 112 companies and corporations that do business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

  • The publication follows a 2016 UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution to form a list of companies that operate inside Israeli settlements in the West Bank and list “activities that raised particular human rights concerns” in the Palestinian territories such as providing material and services that would support the expansion of, or help “maintain,” Israeli settlements. At the time, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said: “We hope that our work in consolidating and communicating the information in the database will assist States and businesses in complying with their obligations and responsibilities under international law.”
  • Of the listed companies, the majority, 94, are Israeli and include Israel’s largest banks, mobile phone companies, retail and food companies.
  • Eighteen companies are international, including three from the UK; JCB, Greenkote and Opodo. Other large international companies include Airbnb, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Motorola.
  • The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet said: “While the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterisation of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them.”

Context: Israel has long accused the UNHRC of bias, pointing to the council’s permanent agenda item 7 about Israel that is discussed at every meeting of the UNHRC.

  • In 2018 the US left the UNHRC citing it’s bias towards Israel. The US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at the time called it a “cesspool of political bias”. Israel was never a member of the council but cut ties with the body, though continued contacts with the OHCHR, the professional arm of the UNHRC.
  • The UK announced in March 2019 that it would vote against all resolutions proposed under item 7 in protest at its continued inclusion on the council’s agenda.
  • Israel and the US have tried for the last three years to prevent the publication of the list and it is unclear why it has been published now
  • There is concern in Israel that the international companies listed may come under political pressure to cease all business activities in the West Bank.

Reactions: The Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that it was severing all relations with the UNHRC and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz called the publication of the list a: “Disgraceful capitulation to pressure from countries and organisations that want to hurt Israel. The decision to continue the anti-Israel line of the Human Rights Council is a blot on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

  • President Reuven Rivlin said: “I am proud to give these businesses a platform, they contribute to Israeli society, to the economy and to peace. We call on our friends in the world to speak out against this disgraceful initiative that recalls benighted eras.”
  • Rami Levy Supermarkets, who are on the list, said: “If they could see the coexistence and all the people who earn a living there—Jews and Arabs together—they would encourage these kinds of businesses and not put them on this kind of blacklist. Businesses that are owned by people from the Arab and the Jewish sector work side by side in the malls. Thousands of Palestinians are employed in these places. Had they examined the matter in depth, they would never have dared to draw up this list. They are only hurting this sector.”
  • Palestinian Authority (PA) Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki called the publication of the list “a victory for international law”.
  • PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said: “We will pursue the companies listed in the report legally through international legal institutions and through the courts in their countries for their role in violating human rights. We will demand compensation for illegally using our occupied lands and for engaging in economic activity in our lands without submitting to Palestinian laws and paying taxes.”

Looking ahead: Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said that the report had no legal ramifications but the OHCHR could now present the list as a resolution at the upcoming UNHRC’s 43rd session that opens in Geneva on 24 February.

  • The list of companies is clearly designed by the Human Right’s Council as a tool to shine a spotlight on companies operating in the West Bank in order to facilitate boycott campaigns and political pressure campaigns to force them to cease or drastically limit their activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.