The decision was greeted by Palestinian joy, Israeli annoyance and boycott
Israel imposed a boycott on the UN Human Rights Council on February 12, after the council published a long-awaited list of 112 companies that are engaged in activities in Israeli West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
The report came in response to a decision by the Human Rights Council in 2016 to establish “a database of all companies that carry out activities related to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
“We have been working for more than three years for this, which started after the results of a commission of inquiry prepared in 2013 to investigate the facts and effects of settlements in occupied lands,” Omar Awadallah, the head of public administration for UN human rights organizations at the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, told The Media Line. He explained that immediately after the investigation, the ministry moved to form a draft decision to establish a list of all companies that work directly or indirectly with illegal Israeli settlements.
Awadallah explained that the UN’s move had significant importance in terms of the timing, as it restored confidence in the international-law based multilateral system, after some countries had attempted to undermine the system and adopt a unilateral system instead.
“The list is preliminary, while there’s a mandate to update it annually. Therefore, the number [of companies] might increase or decrease,” he said, “which depends on these companies and what they decide – whether to abide by international law or to violate the law.”
Awadallah added that the ministry will continue its work to add violators to the list and hold them accountable.
Michel Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, stressed in a published statement that the issue has been and is still being debated “but the report is based on facts.” She added that the report “expresses serious interest” in this “unprecedented and complex” work.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded to the list’s publication by putting on hold diplomatic ties with the Human Rights Council and ordered its consulates in the US to contact the governors of states that host headquarters of companies listed by the UNHRC. The list included companies such as Airbnb, which is headquartered in California; Expedia, based in Washington; and TripAdvisor, Massachusetts-based company.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, in a statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said, “The publication of a ‘blacklist’ of companies represents the ultimate surrender to pressure exerted by countries and organizations interested in harming Israel. … Israel will not tolerate this discriminatory anti-Israel policy, and will take action to prevent the implementation of these kinds of decisions.”
“This announcement was made despite knowing that the majority of countries around the world declined to join this political pressure campaign,” Katz said, adding, “This decision will have serious implications for our future relations with the council and commissioner.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented on the list’s publication, saying, “Those who want to boycott us will be boycotted.” Netanyahu accused the council of “bias” and said it was “devoid of influence.”
A senior official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, said that the UNHRC list was meaningless as companies that boycott Israel would, in reality, be boycotting themselves, “because most [of the] US states already have laws that anyone boycotting Israel, will themselves be boycotted.”
The official added that Israel isn’t particularly concerned, “but is nonetheless fighting against the calls for boycotts.”
“Israel and the US consider themselves isolated from the world, which reflects Netanyahu’s fascist spirit,” Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party, told The Media Line.
He said that the UN announcement of the list had two sides, one political and the other economic: “There is political significance in releasing the list despite American pressure. The list was ready three years ago. The decision [to release it now] was a revolt against US pressure and a blow to the so-called deal of the century.”
Regarding the economic aspect, he stressed that the UNHRC move gave a huge push to the efforts of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. “The pressure on the companies will come in different forms: some by different peoples around the world, whose impact is very large. Previously, companies had to close their branches in the settlements because of such pressure.”
Barghouti added that the list’s publication could cost Israeli companies millions of dollars in losses, as many international investors would withdraw their investments. “Also, in the Western world in particular, these companies are liable to be sued by international activists for violating international law.”
He also suggested that the UN decision might help repeal the American legitimization of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.