The UK Government has said it does not encourage or support those operating in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – despite a new UN report accusing British firms of being complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights.
The Government has denied any future UK-Israel free trade deal will include settlements in the occupied West Bank, just days after British companies were named on a list of businesses accused of being complicit in violating Palestinian human rights by operating in those territories.
After countless delays, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published the highly anticipated database of companies that operate in Israel’s hundreds of illegal settlements.
The list included British construction giant JCB, travel company Opodo and coatings manufacturer Greenkote – business enterprises involved as licensors or franchisers in those areas.
The Who Profits Research Centre has documented how JCB’s tools are used in the construction of settlements, settlement industrial zones and infrastructure projects on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land.
As the the world’s third largest construction equipment manufacturer, loaders and excavators have also been used in the construction of housing projects and house demolitions were executed using the company’s equipment. JCB also supplies military engineering tools to the Israeli army.
Of the 112 business enterprises named in total, 94 were Israeli and 18 international. The OHCHR describes a range of activities that include the destruction of agricultural farms and crops, banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, and the use of natural resources, in particular, water and land for business purposes.
“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” said Michelle Bachelet, the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“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 and that it responds appropriately to the Human Rights Council’s request contained in resolution 31/36.”
The Government objected to the creation of the list and a Foreign Office spokesperson said that it “neither encourages nor offers support to individuals or companies who operate in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
However, as trade negotiations between the two countries continue, reports in an Israeli newspaper suggest that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Eli Cohen have both appealed to the UK Government to include settlements in any new free trade agreement between Jerusalem and London.
In a letter obtained by Israel Hayom, Cohen wrote: “I seek to raise an issue that is of personal importance to me. Most of Israel’s free trade agreements, such as the agreement with the United States, apply to the State of Israel, which is wherever the law applies. Meanwhile, the EU makes territorial distinctions as to what it considers the State of Israel. Given the friendly relationship between the countries, I would like to suggest that we adopt the wording that applies to most of Israel’s trade agreements, rather than the wording of the agreement with the EU.”
Asked to clarify the Government’s position, the Department for International Trade (DIT) stated that the UK does not recognise the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including settlements, as part of Israel.
The settlements are not covered by the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which currently governs trade with Israel, nor the UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement, which will govern UK-Israeli trade relations at the end of the transition period.
what the papers don’t say
Stay up to date with news from the Byline Times Team
It has been the position of the UK Government since 1967 that the Occupied Palestinian Territories – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza – are not lawfully part of the State of Israel.
The DIT added: “We will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those agreed by the parties.”
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement released a statement praising the release of the list as a “first significant and concrete step by any UN entity towards holding to account Israeli and international corporations that enable and profit from Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian rights”.
It also called out a number of companies and banks that were left off the list such as multinational insurance giant AXA, which as Byline Times reported last year, invests in Israeli companies that make arms and finance illegal Israeli settlement expansion.
“No international or Israeli company that is complicit in enabling, facilitating and profiting from Israel’s regime of oppression should enjoy impunity,” added the BDS movement.
“It is high time for all public institutions, city councils, churches, trade unions, cultural organisations, universities, investment funds and others to stop contracting, procuring from or investing in any of the companies on the UN list of shame, to avoid complicity in Israel’s settlement enterprise.”