Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Diplomatic campaign encourages businesses to withdraw investment from Israeli settlements


By Lien S. - November 03, 2013
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [settlements] [Settlement Expansion] [European Union] [Palestinian Authority]

Over the past month, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) minister of foreign affairs has been sending out letters to 50 countries worldwide. With this new diplomatic campaign, the PA is asking governments to urge companies established on their territory that are involved in the illegal Israeli settlements “to withdraw their investment or freeze their activities.” The 50 countries are home to 504 companies that currently conduct business within settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“The duty of the government is to tell the private sector company, 'Maybe you don’t know you are investing in something illegal,’” Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior economic official and negotiator in the peace talks with Israel, told the Financial Times on 24 October. “We wrote letters to every single country that has national investments in settlements, or countries that have Israeli companies with business in settlements.”

In addition to urging companies to stop operating in the illegal settlements, the campaign also encourages governments to notify nationals of their country residing in the settlements that their presence in the occupied territories is illegal. 

Targeted countries and companies

Several European and Latin American countries received letters, as well as South Africa, Australia, Japan and South Korea. “Some Arab investors” will also be included in the campaign, Mohammad Shtayyeh noted.

G4S is one of the targeted companies. The British-Danish private security company provides services and equipment to Israeli prisons, including Israel’s Ofer Prison in the West Bank, checkpoints, the Apartheid Wall and the Israeli police. In April 2012, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement announced the European Union’s decision not to renew its contract with G4S for the institution’s buildings in Brussels because of pressure exerted by campaigners and European Parliament members. Recently, G4S stated its intent to end important contracts in Israel because of protests against its involvement in the settlements. 

Other targeted companies are Veolia, a French environmental and infrastructure group, and Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, according to the Financial Times report.

A “provocative act”

Israel claims that the PA’s letter violates the Palestinian promise to avoid “provocative acts” as long as the peace talks that resumed in July are running. “No spin can change the fact that they are continuing an anti-Israel campaign despite the talks and despite a clear promise not to do so,” Yigal Palmor, a foreign ministry spokesman told the Financial Times

The renewal of peace negotiations has, however, not prevented Israel from announcing the construction of new settlement housing units in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, against which the Palestinian diplomatic campaign is ultimately directed. Just hours after 26 Palestinian prisoners were released as part of the negotiations early Wednesday morning, Israel announced the construction of 1,500 new housing units in the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo in occupied East Jerusalem. In a similar move, Israel declared its intent to build 2,000 new settler homes after releasing the first batch of 26 prisoners in August. 

Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh condemned Israel’s decision in a statement on Wednesday, saying that Israeli policy “is destructive to the peace process and a message to the international community that Israel does not abide by international law and keeps putting obstacles in the way of the peace process.”

EU and US responsibility

It is not just individual companies who are supporting Israel's occupation and settlement expansion. In a recent article published by +972 Magazine, Noam Sheizaf refers to the United States as the “enabler of the occupation” and argues that the European Union has been focusing on strengthening ties with Israel, regardless of Israeli actions on the Palestinian issue. “Whenever those ties come into conflict with the EU’s stated policy about the West Bank and Gaza, relations with Israel win.”

On July 16, The Guardian reported that the EU would implement new guidelines to prohibit the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships to Israeli institutions, unless a settlement exclusion clause is included in the agreement. Institutions situated in the occupied territories are ineligible to receive funding altogether. The guidelines however only apply to deals between Israel and the European Union itself, not to deals with any of its 28 individual member states. 

It is not just individual companies who are supporting Israel's occupation and settlement expansion.

A wave of pressure by Israel and the United States followed the EU’s decision. On September 8, the Financial Times reported that US secretary of state John Kerry had asked the EU to suspend its new guidelines, to which EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton later assured that Brussels would implement the guidelines “sensitively,” declaring “we of course want to continue to have a strong relationship with Israel.”

The EU softened its stance by stating that the guidelines are not aimed at ending all Israeli activities in the occupied territories; instead, they solely meant to establish the fact that such activities within Israel’s settlements are not funded by European grants or prizes. Receivers of grants and prizes are thus still allowed to be active beyond the Green Line as long as the EU-funded activities take place exclusively inside Israel proper and the company is legally registered inside the 1967 borders. Only receivers of European loans, which constitute less than 10% of EU funding in Israel, will be obliged to declare they are not working in occupied areas. 

“There is no requirement in the guidelines that states that beneficiaries of EU grants not operate in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967,” clarifies an EU statement published on October 12. 

“The bottom line is a consensus view, by political players on both sides of the Atlantic, that seeks to avoid confrontation with Israel at any cost,” Sheizaf concludes. “Europe and the U.S. will continue to try and contain the effect of the Palestinian issue, while setting certain boundaries on human rights abuses, armed operations and Israel’s colonization of the Palestinian territories.”

 

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