After repeated calls from Palestinians, the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday finally released a list of more than 100 companies operating in Israel's West Bank settlements, saying their activities “raised particular human rights concerns.” The move came after repeated delays in the release of the database which lists companies that promote illegal Israeli settlement expansion.
In a statement, it said it had identified 112 business entities which it has reasonable grounds to conclude have ties with Israeli settlements, 94 domiciled in Israel and 18 in six other states. "While the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them," the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.
Palestinians applauded the release of the companies that includes Airbnb, Expedia and TripAdvisor as a "victory for international law and diplomatic efforts."
The database was created by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March 2016 following a 2013 report that found that such enterprises had "directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.” However, the report was never published. Israel has portrayed the database as a “blacklist,” fearing its publication could have devastating consequences by driving companies away, deterring others from coming and prompting investors to dump shares of Israeli firms. Israel's campaign against the U.N. has received a big boost from the U.S., whose administration has taken a tough line against the U.N., demanding reforms and withdrawing from the cultural agency UNESCO on the basis of alleged anti-Israel bias.
In March 2019, the publication of a U.N. database of companies with business ties to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank was delayed, drawing the ire of activists who have campaigned for it for over three years. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, had already delayed its publication in 2017 before stepping down in August 2018. Palestinian rights groups and trade unions, in a letter dated Feb. 28, 2019, had urged Bachelet to publish the database, saying that further delays would undermine her office and foster what they called an “existing culture of impunity for human rights abuses and internationally recognized crimes in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territory).”
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace. Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, and hundreds of thousands of Jewish-Israelis are now living in the territory, which is claimed by Palestinians for their future state.