UN lists 112 businesses linked to Israeli settlements

Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem (11 February 2020) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this

The UN human rights office has issued a long-awaited report on companies linked to Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The report names 112 business entities the office says it has reasonable grounds to conclude have been involved in activities related to settlements.

They include Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Motorola Solutions.

The Palestinians said the report was a “victory for international law”, but Israel called it “shameful”.

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.

The Palestinians have long called for the removal of the settlements, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWhy Trump’s Middle East plan is so divisive

Last month, US President Donald Trump unveiled a peace plan that may pave the way for Israel annexing the settlements.

In an address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his rejection of Mr Trump’s plan, describing the proposed Palestinian state as looking “like a Swiss cheese”.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “the best plan that exists for the Middle East… and for the State of Israel and for the Palestinians, too”.

What does the report say?

In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council mandated the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to produce a database of companies involved in specific activities relating to settlements. The activities included:

  • Supplying equipment and materials facilitating the construction and expansion of settlements and Israel’s West Bank barrier
  • Supplying equipment for the demolition of housing and property, and the destruction of farms, greenhouses, olive groves and crops
  • Providing services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport
  • Banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and businesses

Following what it said was a thorough review and assessment of all information available, the OHCHR presented a report on Wednesday identifying 112 business entities that it said, there were reasonable grounds to conclude, had been involved in one or more of those activities.

Of the entities listed, 94 are domiciled in Israel and 18 in six other states – the United States, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Thailand and the UK.

“The report makes clear that the reference to these business entities is not, and does not purport to be, a judicial or quasi-judicial process,” the OHCHR 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,” it added.

Any further steps will be a matter for Human Rights Council member states.

“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” said Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What has been the reaction?

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, said: “The publication of the list of companies and parties operating in settlements is a victory for international law.”

He also called on the Human Rights Council member states to “issue recommendations and instructions to these companies to end their work immediately with the settlements”.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Palestinians have protested against President Donald Trump’s peace plan

Mr Netanyahu suggested his country would retaliate, saying on Twitter: “Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted. We strongly reject this contemptible effort.”

The main body representing Jewish settlers, the Yesha Council, said the list had “clear anti-Semitic features” and insisted the companies were “working to strengthen the economy in the area and are contributing to peace more than the UN has done in all its years of operation”.

Human Rights Watch said the list “should put all companies on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”

There were no immediate comments from the companies named on the list.