UN ‘blacklist’ on Israeli settlements boosts boycott movement

UN ‘blacklist’ on Israeli settlements boosts boycott movement

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Israel and the US wasted no time in denouncing last week’s release of a much-delayed report by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) listing 112 Israeli and international companies doing business with or operating in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The UNHRC commissioned the report/database, which Palestinians and rights group were quick to term a “blacklist,” in 2016.

The timing of the report’s release, two weeks after President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan for the Middle East, has left Israeli and US officials fuming. Under the US leader’s plan Israel would have the right to annex more than 150 illegal settlements in the West Bank; a clear violation of international law. The UNHRC’s report refocuses attention on the illegality of these settlements and on the fact that companies doing business with them could face penalties under international or even domestic laws in some countries.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by saying that his government would not furnish any information for a database of companies operating in Jewish settlements. He added that “its publication only confirms the unrelenting anti-Israel bias so prevalent at the UN.” Last year Pompeo asserted that such settlements were not in violation of international law — departing from decades-old US policy.

In December 2016, under President Barack Obama, the US stood by as the UN Security Council passed a resolution that considered the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem illegal and demanded a halt to their expansion.

In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the UNHRC in protest at what it perceived as an entrenched bias against Israel. And in reaction to the release of the latest report, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced last week that it was severing all contacts with the UN body.

The timing of the UNHRC Israeli settlement report’s release, two weeks after President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan for the Middle East, has left Israeli and US officials fuming.

Osama Al-Sharif

While the release of the database was seen as a victory for the Palestinians, in particular, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at large, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), which compiled and published the report, commented last week that the list had no judicial or legal status, adding that it was not a blacklist.

BDS has become a global grassroots movement campaigning to boycott products made in Jewish settlements and any company doing business there. It had gained supporters all over the world, in particular in Western countries, including the US.

The release of the report had dampened Israeli celebrations of the “asymmetrical” Trump plan that was rejected by the Palestinians, Arab and Muslim states. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu reacted by saying that “whoever boycotts us will be boycotted,” adding that the UNHRC was “a biased body that is devoid of influence.” His election rival, Benny Gantz, also condemned the publication of the report.

There is no doubt that the report has rattled the Israeli establishment, which supports settlement annexation in the West Bank.

The real fear is that the list could harm the Israeli economy if individuals and states begin to take punitive measures, including boycott and legal action, against the 112 companies that include Motorola Solutions, Expedia and Airbnb, all of which have large business interests across the globe. As Israeli law already applies to all settlements, the challenge is that it is almost impossible to draw a line separating the economy of Israel from that of its illegal outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In 2015, the EU published guidelines for labeling Israeli settlement products, and pressure is mounting to ban imports of such products altogether, although this is unlikely to succeed. Six Norwegian cities, including Oslo, have already banned settlement goods and services. BDS and other rights groups are actively involved in consumer awareness campaigns in Europe, Canada and the US. It is fair to say that BDS today poses the most serious threat to Israel — much more than Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. This is why Israel has put pressure on its US and European allies to pass laws that criminalize the boycott of Israel or, as is the case in the US, France and Germany, even criticizing Israeli policies, equating that with anti-Semitism. US Congressional Republicans are working to pass an anti-BDS bill.

The irony here is that Israel and the US continue to use the weapon of economic boycott to pressure, intimidate and subjugate the Palestinians. Last week Israel stopped Palestinians from exporting their produce through Jordan while confiscating taxes levied on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The US has suspended all aid to UNRWA, the PA and to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

The UN report proves that international law is on the Palestinians’ side as they battle Israel’s violations and war crimes. It is a long and arduous journey ahead, but the PA should pursue all legal options to make Israel accountable before the international community.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Israel readies for third election in less than a year

Ballot-weary Israelis have shown limited enthusiasm ahead of the March 2 election, with some grudgingly accepting the possibility of a fourth run before the year ends. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Israel readies for third election in less than a year

  • Ballot-weary Israelis have shown limited enthusiasm ahead of the March 2 election
  • Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, has become the first to be indicted while in office

JERUSALEM: Israel is bracing for an unprecedented third election in under a year, with voters eyeing an end to the deadlock but polls indicating another tight race despite criminal charges against the prime minister.
Two previous votes in April and September last year failed to produce a clear winner between right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party.
Ballot-weary Israelis have shown limited enthusiasm ahead of the March 2 election, with some grudgingly accepting the possibility of a fourth run before the year ends.
But there have been significant developments since Israelis last went to the polls.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, has become the first to be indicted while in office.
Charges unveiled in November and filed in court last month accuse him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The prime minister denies wrongdoing in the case that involves multiple alleged offenses.
The most serious allegation is that Netanyahu offered mogul Shaul Elovitch regulatory changes worth millions of dollars to his telecoms giant Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage on Elovitch’s Walla! news website.
The trial starts on March 17.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Since the last election, US President Donald Trump has unveiled his controversial plan to end the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump’s terms have been rejected by the Palestinians as a capitulation to Israeli objectives.
Netanyahu, who was standing next to Trump at the White House as the initiative was announced last month, cheered it as an “historic” opportunity for the Jewish state.
He has also portrayed the deal as a product of his personal bond with Trump that can only be implemented if he is re-elected prime minister.
But neither the criminal indictments, nor the pro-Israel Trump initiative have moved the polls.
Recent surveys indicate that Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White will both fall short of the 61 seats required for a majority in parliament, the Knesset.
Status quo in the polls could be good news for the prime minister, said Gideon Rahat, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“He is not attracting more voters, but he is not losing voters either,” despite the indictments, Rahat said.
Gantz, a former military chief, has sought to convince Israelis that the prime minister’s legal woes will distract him from governing.
“Netanyahu is going to court ... he won’t be able to look after the needs of Israeli citizens,” he said this week.
Meanwhile, Israeli prosecutors are probing whether a cyber-security firm formerly chaired by Gantz, Fifth Dimension, inappropriately received public funds.
But the attorney general has confirmed that Gantz is not personally implicated in the investigation.
Netanyahu has, ahead of past elections, been accused of making last-minute campaign pledges as a play for vital nationalist, right-wing support.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post on Friday, he repeated his warning that Gantz cannot form a government without support from the mainly Arab Joint List, and its leader Ahmad Tibi.
Joint List won a surprising 13 seats in the last election, making it the third-largest bloc in parliament.
“If Likud doesn’t win, there will be either a fourth election or a left-wing government headed by Gantz and dependent on Ahmad Tibi and the Joint List,” Netanyahu told the paper.
The prime minister this week also announced thousands of new Jewish settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, construction projects considered illegal by most of the international community.
Palestinian leaders blasted the settlement announcement as a blatant play by Netanyahu to energize his right-wing base.
Facing static polls, both leading parties have grown increasingly concerned about turnout, Rahat said.
“Anywhere else in the world, when you have three elections really close together you would see declining turnout” due to voter apathy, he said.
But turnout ticked up marginally in September compared with April.
“In Israel, you never know,” Rahat said.

Global rights groups condemn deadly attack on Yemen jail

Updated 06 April 2020

Global rights groups condemn deadly attack on Yemen jail

  • Internationally-recognized government has accused Iranian-backed Houthi militia of carrying out the attack

LONDON: Two international rights groups on Monday condemned an attack on a prison in Yemen’s besieged city of Taiz that left six women and a child dead.

The internationally-recognized government has accused Iranian-backed Houthi militia of carrying out Sunday’s attack.

The Houthis targeted the female section of the prison with mortar shells, according to the government’s Saba news agency.

“This is a criminal and bloodthirsty gang that has long targeted civilian gatherings and residential areas. In addition to the carnage in the prison, they gunned down today two children in eastern Taiz, killing one and leaving the other in critical condition,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni army spokesman in Taiz, told Arab News, adding that the prison is almost 12km from the nearest battlefield.

“They targeted the prison with a Katyusha rocket followed by five mortal shells which show that they deliberately sought to kill civilians.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said its hospital in Taiz received the casualties.

“MSF-supported Al-Thawra Hospital in Taiz city received the bodies of six women and one child who were killed in an attack on the central prison in Taiz,” it said on Twitter.

The government said 28 other female prisoners were wounded.

“Taiz citizens continue to suffer from the ongoing violence in the sixth year of the protracted conflict in Yemen,” MSF said.

“These attacks on civilians, whether indiscriminate or targeted, are unjustifiable breaches of international humanitarian law.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said attacks on prisons were banned under international law.

“The ICRC deplores yesterday’s attack on Taiz central prison that left women and children dead and injured,” the ICRC said on Twitter.

“Prisons and their inmates are protected under international humanitarian law and can not be a targeted, it said.

Taiz, a city of 600,000 people in southwest Yemen, is under government control but has been under siege by Houthi militia for the past six years.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed in more than five years of fighting.

Yemen’s health care system has so far recorded no case of the COVID-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic. The country is already gripped by what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

(With AFP)