Firms tied to Israeli settlements named
UN?says companies violating Palestinian human rights
JERUSALEM (AP) — The U.N. human rights office on Wednesday released a list of more than 100 companies it said are complicit in violating Palestinian human rights by operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank — a first-ever international attempt to name and shame businesses that has drawn fierce Israeli condemnation.
The list’s publication after repeated delays escalated a looming showdown between Israel and the international community over its more than half-century policy of building settlements in the West Bank. Emboldened by a new U.S. Mideast initiative, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex Israel’s more than 100 settlements, while the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicated she will soon launch a war-crimes investigation into settlement policies.
The list included well known global companies, among them Airbnb, Motorola and General Mills. Although the vast majority of the world considers settlements illegal, Wednesday’s report did not accuse the companies of violating international law. Instead, it appeared to be aimed at pressuring them by drawing negative attention to their ties to a much-maligned Israeli policy.
“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” said Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“However, after an extensive and meticulous review process, we are satisfied this fact-based report reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate,” Bachelet said.
The Human Rights Council in 2016 instructed the U.N.’s human rights office to create a “database” of companies deemed to be linked to or supportive of the settlements. Beginning with a potential list of over 300 companies, it narrowed it down to 112 firms involved in practices that raised human rights concerns, such as settlement construction, security services, banking and equipment that was used to demolish Palestinian property.
The report does not call for sanctions or have any concrete impact on the companies. But Israeli officials accused the report of caving in to pressure from the grassroots Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel and raised concerns the list could be used as the basis for boycotts and other economic pressure against the companies.
In a statement, Netanyahu called the rights council “unimportant.”
“Instead of the organization dealing with human rights, it only tries to disparage Israel. We strongly reject this contemptible effort,” he said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki hailed the list as a “victory for international law and for the diplomatic effort to dry up the sources of the colonial system represented by illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
With broad international backing, the Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem as parts of a future independent state. Israel, which captured both areas in the 1967 Mideast war, has annexed east Jerusalem — a step that is not internationally recognized — and said it has no intention of dismantling any of its West Bank settlements. Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank, in addition to more than 200,000 in east Jerusalem.
In a reflection of how entrenched the settlements have become, the list is dominated by Israeli companies, including leading banks, construction companies, supermarkets and mobile phone operators.
But there also were international companies, including travel firms like Airbnb, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Opodo. Many offer vacation rentals in the settlements.
Other names include consumer food maker General Mills, tech and communications giants Motorola Solutions and Altice Europe, and infrastructure companies like France’s Egis and Alstom, and British company JC Bamford Excavators.