United Nations releases database of 112 firms linked to Israeli settlements

Israeli Minister of Transportation and Intelligence Yisrael Katz

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz

The United Nations human rights office has released a list of more than 100 companies linked to the Jewish-only settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which are illegal under global law.

NGO Monitor, an Israeli group that is highly critical of the rights council, called the list "defamatory" and an endorsement of the anti-Israel boycott movement.

Despite objections by the United States in 2016, the UNHRC instructed the UN Human Rights Office to create an anti-Semitic "database" of firms linked to or in any way "supportive" of Jewish communities in post-1967 territories, which are considered illegal by many in the worldwide community.

The vast majority of the companies are Israeli, including banks and construction firms.

A long-delayed report issued in Geneva said 94 of the companies were domiciled in Israel and 18 were listed in six other countries - the United States, Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Thailand and France.

Citing the belief that "the inclusion of Israeli companies in the UN Human Rights Council's blacklist might expose those companies to legal procedures, prompting worldwide corporations to pull out of their investments in Israel".

"I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious", United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet said. "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".

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war - for an independent state and the removal of numerous more than 700,000 Israeli settlers from these parts.

In November, the US said it did not consider settlements illegal.

But the release prompted a Palestinian threat of legal action against the firms, and raised concerns that the companies could be targets of boycotts or divestment to pressure Israel over its settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear he considered the United States government's position on settlements under President Donald Trump as more important than the views of UN organisations.

The list's publication after repeated delays escalated a looming showdown between Israel and the worldwide community over its more than half-century policy of building settlements in the West Bank.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was "the best plan that exists for the Middle East. and for the State of Israel and for the Palestinians, too".

The Palestinians have rejected Trump's plan, and other countries have expressed little support for it while remaining opposed to the settlements.

This warm USA embrace could cause trouble for Israel.

But the final report published Wednesday cited 112 business entities that the office had "reasonable grounds to conclude have been involved in one or more of the specific activities referenced" in the 2016 resolution.

The report recommended that the database be updated annually, and urged the Human Rights Council to appoint a group of independent experts to handle this task. The report said its authors had communicated directly with the companies to allow them to defend themselves or say whether they had changed their operations in the settlements.

Human Rights Watch's deputy advocacy chief Bruno Stagno celebrated the publication of the database. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, though, has denounced the plan as a gift to Israel that will lead to violence.

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