UN Human Rights Council votes to ‘blacklist’ companies operating in Israeli settlements

March 24, 2016

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a draft resolution proposed by the Palestinian Authority, Arab states to form a blacklist of companies that operate in settlements. 32 countries voted in favor and 15 abstained. No country voted against.

Despite intense pressure by the United States, Israel and several European countries, the Palestinians refused to withdraw an initiative to advance a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council that would obligate the organization to draw up a list of all Israeli and international firms operating directly or indirectly in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

In the afternoon U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Abbas in a last-minute attempt to block the resolution or at least soften its wording.

A senior Palestinian official in Ramallah told Haaretz that Abbas clarified to Kerry that he had no intention of removing the problematic article from the resolution. The Palestinian official also noted that Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who met with Abbas in Ramallah today also raised this issue, and was told that the Palestinian leadership has no intention of backing down.

The resolution was a Palestinian initiative being advanced with the help of Egypt, Pakistan and other Arab and Muslim countries. The resolution includes a condemnation of the Israeli West Bank settlements, stating that they are illegal under international law, and calls on the world’s countries to refrain from providing any assistance of any kind to the settlements and to warn companies and businesses against entering into business transactions in the settlements so as not to risk being involved in human rights violations. The resolution also calls on international companies to avoid direct or indirect transactions with the settlements.

But what’s even more worrisome to the Israeli government is Article 17 of the resolution, in which the UNHRC asks the UN high commissioner for human rights “to produce a database of all business enterprises [both Israeli and international] involved in the activities in the settlements,” that would be updated once a year.

The activities detailed in the resolution are not just settlement construction but even the supply of construction materials or equipment, the supply of monitoring equipment for the separation barrier, the supply of equipment used in home demolitions, supplying security services or equipment to the settlements or supplying financial or banking services that aid the settlements, including loans and home mortgages.

Israel over the past several weeks has been trying to scuttle the entire resolution or at the very least get Article 17 removed. Israeli ambassadors in various capitals around the world were instructed to convey to the highest echelons that Israel was asking them to oppose the resolution. A senior Israeli official noted that the United States has been helping Israel and has made its objections to the resolution known to the UNHRC’s member countries.

The senior official said that Jerusalem hopes that because there is a consensus among European Union members against the “blacklist” clause, and in light of the opposition by the United States, Panama, Paraguay, and possibly some African countries, that the Palestinians would prefer to remove the problematic section and make do with a more symbolic and declarative resolution that contains no practical measures.

A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz, however, that despite the pressure from the United States and the U.K. to remove Article 17, the Palestinians were determined not to give in.

“There’s an order from President Mahmoud Abbas and PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat to the Palestinian delegation to the UN institutions in Geneva to insist that the resolution be put to a vote as is,” the official said. “Based on our data, in its current version, even without the Europeans, the resolution will win a majority and pass.”

The senior Palestinian official said the Palestinians ascribe great importance to this resolution and the fact that it will produce a UN list of all companies that have direct or indirect connections to the Israeli settlement enterprise. They believe that such a list bearing the UN “stamp of approval” will influence many international companies to cut off their business dealings with the settlements or with Israeli companies that operate in the settlements.

Welcoming the news, Riya Hassan, Europe Campaigns Officer for the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the broadest coalition of Palestinian organisations that leads and supports the BDS movement, said:

“By voting to establish this database, this resolution supports the view of the the BDS movement that companies must be held to account for their participation in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and international law.”

“Just as at the height of the boycott of South Africa, the BDS movement is successfully persuading international companies to end their support for Israel’s crimes and we are starting to notice a domino effect.”