US applies pressure on UN not to blacklist firms profiting from Jewish settlements

Palestinians gather in the Beit Dajan village, near Nablus, to stage a demonstration against the construction of Jewish settlements in the region (Nedal Eshtayah - Anadolu Agency)

Middle East Monitor  /  December 8, 2022

A week in which the Biden administration has been rebuked for having “no red lines on Israel”, the US is applying pressure on the UN not to update its database of the list of companies operating in illegal Jewish-only settlements.

UN Human Rights Chief, Volker Turk, is expected to update the database by the end of the year and is likely to add several more firms to the list. 112 companies were blacklisted two years ago, when the UN launched its plan to name and shame firms that are doing business with the Apartheid State.

Israeli officials told Axios they are concerned that, if the list is updated, it will lead more international companies to stop doing business in illegal Jewish settlements and, more broadly, in Israel. There have been speculations that the wall-to-wall consensus amongst major human rights group about Israel’s practice of apartheid could spark a South Africa style boycott.

US officials are said to be working behind the scenes in applying pressure on Turk. Axios reported that the US Ambassador to the UN met with Turk and told him that the Biden administration opposes any update of the blacklist. The UN Human Rights Chief is said to be undecided on what to do and that he may opt for a “low-key” update of the database, without formally announcing it.

The report has been met with condemnation. “Wow, just wow,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the human rights group, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). “The one thing the Obama admin did was not veto the UNSC Resolution reaffirming illegality of settlements and set up mechanism to at least list businesses illegally operating there – and even that you have to undo,” Whitson added, referring to the former President Barack Obama.

The queasiness of the Biden administration over an issue that is universally condemned as a war crime comes as questions are being asked if Washington has any “red-lines” when it comes to Israel. The Apartheid State has elected the most far-right government in history, with some of the most extreme politicians in the country given senior ministerial positions.

Last week’s appearance by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, at the conference of the more progressive J Street campaign group was seen by some as a message that Washington is prepared to take a more balanced approach to Israel in response to an Israeli government of far-right extremists.

While many castigated Benjamin Netanyahu, Bezalel Smotrich, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, Blinken declared that America’s “security assistance to Israel is sacrosanct”. He further boasted that “at the United Nations, we have consistently and vigorously pushed back against unjust anti-Israel bias.”