UN ‘blacklist’ on Israeli settlements boosts boycott movement

UN ‘blacklist’ on Israeli settlements boosts boycott movement

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Israel and the US wasted no time in denouncing last week’s release of a much-delayed report by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) listing 112 Israeli and international companies doing business with or operating in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The UNHRC commissioned the report/database, which Palestinians and rights group were quick to term a “blacklist,” in 2016.

The timing of the report’s release, two weeks after President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan for the Middle East, has left Israeli and US officials fuming. Under the US leader’s plan Israel would have the right to annex more than 150 illegal settlements in the West Bank; a clear violation of international law. The UNHRC’s report refocuses attention on the illegality of these settlements and on the fact that companies doing business with them could face penalties under international or even domestic laws in some countries.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by saying that his government would not furnish any information for a database of companies operating in Jewish settlements. He added that “its publication only confirms the unrelenting anti-Israel bias so prevalent at the UN.” Last year Pompeo asserted that such settlements were not in violation of international law — departing from decades-old US policy.

In December 2016, under President Barack Obama, the US stood by as the UN Security Council passed a resolution that considered the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem illegal and demanded a halt to their expansion.

In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the UNHRC in protest at what it perceived as an entrenched bias against Israel. And in reaction to the release of the latest report, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced last week that it was severing all contacts with the UN body.

The timing of the UNHRC Israeli settlement report’s release, two weeks after President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan for the Middle East, has left Israeli and US officials fuming.

Osama Al-Sharif

While the release of the database was seen as a victory for the Palestinians, in particular, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at large, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), which compiled and published the report, commented last week that the list had no judicial or legal status, adding that it was not a blacklist.

BDS has become a global grassroots movement campaigning to boycott products made in Jewish settlements and any company doing business there. It had gained supporters all over the world, in particular in Western countries, including the US.

The release of the report had dampened Israeli celebrations of the “asymmetrical” Trump plan that was rejected by the Palestinians, Arab and Muslim states. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu reacted by saying that “whoever boycotts us will be boycotted,” adding that the UNHRC was “a biased body that is devoid of influence.” His election rival, Benny Gantz, also condemned the publication of the report.

There is no doubt that the report has rattled the Israeli establishment, which supports settlement annexation in the West Bank.

The real fear is that the list could harm the Israeli economy if individuals and states begin to take punitive measures, including boycott and legal action, against the 112 companies that include Motorola Solutions, Expedia and Airbnb, all of which have large business interests across the globe. As Israeli law already applies to all settlements, the challenge is that it is almost impossible to draw a line separating the economy of Israel from that of its illegal outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In 2015, the EU published guidelines for labeling Israeli settlement products, and pressure is mounting to ban imports of such products altogether, although this is unlikely to succeed. Six Norwegian cities, including Oslo, have already banned settlement goods and services. BDS and other rights groups are actively involved in consumer awareness campaigns in Europe, Canada and the US. It is fair to say that BDS today poses the most serious threat to Israel — much more than Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. This is why Israel has put pressure on its US and European allies to pass laws that criminalize the boycott of Israel or, as is the case in the US, France and Germany, even criticizing Israeli policies, equating that with anti-Semitism. US Congressional Republicans are working to pass an anti-BDS bill.

The irony here is that Israel and the US continue to use the weapon of economic boycott to pressure, intimidate and subjugate the Palestinians. Last week Israel stopped Palestinians from exporting their produce through Jordan while confiscating taxes levied on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The US has suspended all aid to UNRWA, the PA and to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

The UN report proves that international law is on the Palestinians’ side as they battle Israel’s violations and war crimes. It is a long and arduous journey ahead, but the PA should pursue all legal options to make Israel accountable before the international community.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman
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