A symbolic but important victory: Palestinians welcome UN blacklist of companies operating in Israeli settlements
Many activists, pro-Palestinians and anti-Israeli occupation see it as a victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Read also: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel: What is BDS and why should you care?
The report was finally published on February 12 after many delays due to Israeli and American pressure. The database was collected based on a mandate by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2016.
The blacklist includes some international companies such as Airbnb, Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Coca Cola among others.
Last November, home-renting company Airbnb said it would remove listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a move that Israel called a "wretched capitulation" to boycotters and Palestinians.
There was uproar in Israel as a result of what officials described as an "anti-Israeli approach". Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the publication of the report stating that boycotting Israeli companies does not advance the cause of peace and does not build confidence between the sides – Israelis and Palestinians.
Below is the full list of companies active in Israeli settlements:
1 Afikim Public Transportation Ltd. (Israel)
"I am proud to give these businesses a platform. Proud to be Israeli. I am proud that these are Israeli businesses, patriots who contribute to Israeli society, to economy and to peace. Although we do not promote private businesses here in this house, when Israeli businesses are under the threat of boycott, we will stand with them. We call on our friends around the world to speak out against this shameful initiative which reminds of dark periods in our history," Rivlin said.
For his part, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said, "The UN Commissioner's announcement regarding the publication of a 'blacklist' of companies represents the ultimate surrender to pressure exerted by countries and organisations interested in harming Israel."
Read also: The history of Israeli settlements since 1967
The United States – Israel's closest ally, which left the UNHRC in 2018 citing hostility against Israeli agenda – has also condemned the publication of the report describing it as promotion of an anti-Israeli agenda.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his outrage over the blacklist saying that it only confirms the unrelenting anti-Israel bias so prevalent at the United Nations, as he put it.
"The United States has not provided, and will never provide, any information to the Office of the High Commissioner to support compilation of these lists and expresses support for US companies referenced.
"We call upon all UN member states to join us in rejecting this effort, which facilitates the discriminatory Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and delegitimises Israel," Pompeo stated.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights responded to the harsh criticism saying, "I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious. The findings had been subject to an extensive and meticulous review process and the report reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate."
Human rights groups welcome the report
Bruno Stagno, Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy at Human Rights Watch said, "The UN's top rights body should ensure that the database is regularly updated to assist companies in complying with their international legal obligations.
"The long awaited release of the UN settlement business database should put all companies on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes," Stagno stated.
Amnesty International praised the UN document, saying it is an important step towards accountability.
"The publication of this list is a timely reminder that settlements are illegal. Naming the businesses which profit in the context of this illegal situation sends a clear message from the international community that settlements must never be normalised. These companies are profiting from and contributing to systematic violations against Palestinians," Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International's Middle East Deputy Director said.
Palestinians: Doing illegal business in West Bank settlements has to stop
Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) welcomed the report, describing it as a victory for international law.
Read also: Wake up Israel, wake up America': Saeb Erekat leads Palestinian pushback against US plan
He elaborated about the step that will be taken next.
"Official letters will be delivered to those companies with ties to Israeli settlements asking them to close their office and branches. In the event that these companies do not respond to our demands, they will be prosecuted in the international courts to demand compensation for their exploitation of the Palestinian resources and land," he explained.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, hailed the report and called for companies to shutter their operations in the settlements.
"We will demand compensation for illegally using our occupied lands and for engaging in economic activity in our lands without submitting to Palestinian laws and paying taxes," Shtayyeh said.
For Palestinians, this database is the first concrete step towards holding Israel responsible for its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise in over half a century.
Israel has been facilitating the work of international companies and investment projects across the settlements in the occupied West Bank. Assurances to do business without legal consequences in the settlement were given, thanks to a few rules and incentives.
The report which was published a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered his speech at the UNSC, rejecting the US Middle East peace plan known as the "Deal of the Century," is considered a symbolic victory for Palestinians and a hope to re-establish faith in the credibility of international institutions and bodies.
The settlements built on occupied Palestinian lands annexed in 1967 are regarded as illegal under international law; however a de facto situation has become a reality in which about 650,000 Israeli settlers live in over 250 illegal settlements and outposts throughout the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.
Israel's justification is that the West Bank settlements are disputed territories, ignoring the many UN resolutions in upholding Palestinian rights.
The stance of UNHRC might lift up the morale and sprit of Palestinians in their ongoing diplomatic fight to restore their inalienable rights and boost their determination to continue their struggle to attain justice.
Israel is already boycotting the International Criminal Court and numerous other multilateral organisations and now the UNHRC has been added to the list as a counter measure to the publication of the international database.
In other words, Israel will do everything possible to isolate Palestinians and eradicate any support for their just cause. Such reports are problematic for Tel Aviv and many do not rule out the possibility that one day the slogan of anti-Semitism would be used and directed against those UN bodies for daring to be on the side of justice and inalienable Palestinian rights, even if belatedly.
Yousef Alhelou is a Palestinian journalist and political analyst from Gaza, based in London. He is a United Nations fellow and alumni, and served as a Reuters journalist fellow at the University of Oxford.
Follow him on Twitter: @YousefAlhelou