UN delivers a blow to Israel’s settlement enterprise, but is it enough?

First published by TRT World on 17/2/2020

The UN database of companies cooperating with illegal settlement activities is not exhaustive or binding, but it is a crucial starting point.

The long-awaited release of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s database of companies complicit in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise made the expected headlines and brought the anticipated reactions from Israel and Palestine.

The question to ask now: will these actions kickstart a process of accountability for Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise?

The database is a list of 112 entities made up of 94 Israeli and 18 non-Israeli companies, banks and other business enterprises that met the criterion set by the UNHRC for inclusion, which essentially indicates that they have a hand in sustaining the illegal colonies.

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

She added: “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, and that it responds appropriately to the Human Rights Council’s request contained in resolution 31/36.”

The resolution Bachelet refers to requested her office to produce a report investigating the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

The resolution defined the parameters of the current report by referencing ten specific activities listed in Paragraph 96 of the fact-finding mission’s report

One of the criteria used to identify complicit companies is, “The supply of equipment and materials facilitating the construction and the expansion of settlements and the wall, and associated infrastructures.” 

One of the companies which supply construction equipment that has been used in construction and demolition activities is Staffordshire-based JC Bamford Excavators Ltd from the UK. The use of its equipment to demolish Palestinian homes and for construction in settlements was highlighted by a War on Want Report, published as far back as 2012. 

Under the criterion of supplying “Banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and the development of businesses,” 9 of Israel’s banks are listed, including Bank Hapoalim BM and Bank Leumi Le-Israel BM.

Several travel-related websites Airbnb, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Booking Holdings, and Opodo, which advertise units in the illegal settlements, are also on the list for another criterion: “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport.”

The list of companies is not exhaustive, and it is expected that other companies will be added in due course. 

The report was welcomed by those that campaigned for the release of the database. The BDS National Committeesaid: “We welcome this long-delayed UN list of complicit companies. Some major firms involved with illegal settlements are not in the database and must be added. All these companies must be held to account.” 

One of the companies they wish to see added is AXA, which invests in a number of Israeli banks. However, they referred to others that are not as yet, and that they believe are complicit, including G4S, Hewlett Packard companies, Elbit Systems, Caterpillar, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Volvo, Heidelberg Cement, and Cemex.

The decision by the UNHRC to release the database is a severe blow to Israel and the United States’ attempt to bypass international law by unilaterally declaring illegally occupied territories as ‘legal.’

It reinforces the last significant UN Security Council resolution 2334 of December 2016, which confirmed the existence of the ‘Green Line’ and that the settlements are not part of Israel.

While the UNHRC has no teeth to implement boycotts on the companies, it is safe to expect that across the world, boards of directors of the companies listed and those that could be added are meeting urgently to assess what they should do to mitigate the potential damage caused to their brands as a result of the listing.

Israel will feel that US companies and others operating in the US will be concerned about rethinking their activities in the settlements in one of 25 states which now have anti-boycott legislation to specifically protect Israel from accountability. 

However, they need to think both ethically and commercially about the wisdom of their continued complicity in what is the illegal Israeli settlement project. Those states and countries which claim to uphold international law but currently have relationships with the complicit companies should also see the database as a tool to avoid by association their complicity too. 

It may be that the start of bringing Israel to account for its crimes has begun. Action by the International Criminal Court on the files it has pending on settlements and Gaza could be next.