JVP Welcomes HRW Report: Businesses and States are Obligated to End Complicity with International Law Violations in Illegal Israeli Settlements

January 19, 2016 – Following an investigation into businesses operating in illegal Israeli settlements, Human Rights Watch stated in a report released today that “Businesses should stop operating in, financing, servicing, or trading with Israeli settlements in order to comply with their human rights responsibilities.”  Jewish Voice for Peace welcomes this groundbreaking report and pledges to continue working to put pressure on companies to hold such companies accountable.

According to Human Rights Watch, businesses are obligated, under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to respect human rights and identify and mitigate any adverse human rights impact their operations may cause.

Jewish Voice for Peace welcomes the growing recognition that companies that operate in the occupied Palestinian territories are complicit in violations of human rights and international law.  Just last week the pension fund of the United Methodist Church divested from and barred investment in 5 Israeli banks and Elbit Systems after identifying them as companies operating in “‘high-risk’ countries and areas that demonstrate a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses.”

The Human Rights Watch report also makes clear that third-party states have a duty “not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories.”  This includes “requiring exporters to accurately label goods produced in settlements as such.” However, a recently introduced resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.Res. 567, directly contradicts this clear obligation of third-party states. The resolution opposes the recent announcement by the European Union to enforce their existing laws and require that products produced in Israeli settlements are correctly labeled as originating in the settlements rather than the State of Israel. As the EU recently clarified, labeling goods produced in Israeli settlements as such is not equivalent to a boycott, though it does provide the consumer with the information necessary to avoid settlement products. Jewish Voice for Peace supports the EU’s enforcement of labeling practices and opposes H. Res. 567.

H.Res. 567 threatens to reverse longstanding U.S. policy, which is that the settlements are illegitimate and illegal. By conflating Israel and its occupied territories this resolution seeks to extend U.S. protection of Israel to the illegal Israeli settlements. Upon passage of related language tucked into trade legislation last summer, the State Department clarified that the U.S. will not defend or support Israeli settlements. Yet by its failure to take any real steps to put pressure on the Israeli government to reverse its settlement policies, the U.S. allows violations of international law to continue.

As former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer wrote for Foreign Affairs recently, the U.S. has opposed Israeli settlements for nearly 4 decades with periodic condemnations, and yet has offered “no actions to back up its words.” This month, when Israel announced yet another expansion of settlements, the U.S. State Department offered merely yet another weak condemnation.

H.Res. 567 was introduced to condemn the European Union’s decision to label products that originate in illegal Israeli settlements. Labeling such products as “made in the Israeli settlements,” as the Foundation for Middle East Policy’s Mitchell Plitnick outlines, is consistent with the European Union’s own longstanding policy of differentiating between State of Israel within the pre-1967 line, often referred to as the Green Line, and Israeli settlements built in the territories occupied in the 1967 war. As Josh Ruebner of the US Campaign to end the Israeli Occupation noted in The Hill last month, labeling products made in the occupied territories is US policy as well.

In addition to correctly labeling products that originate in the illegal Israeli settlements, the Human Rights Watch report recommends that third party states “avoid offsetting the costs of Israeli government expenditures on settlements by withholding funding given to the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank.”  Jewish Voice for Peace supports these recommendations and suggests that as a first step, the United States reject Israel’s reported request for $50 billion dollars in US military aid over the next 10 years. A U.S. delegation is traveling to Israel next week to finalize the details of the next memorandum of understanding on US military aid to Israel, which is expected to be raised to around $4.1 billion dollars a year.

A recent public opinion poll by the Brookings Institution found that 37% of Americans — and half of all Democrats — favor imposing economic sanctions or taking more “serious action” to oppose Israeli settlements. Were the U.S. to take actual steps to censure Israel for its settlement policies, there would be significant public support.

While Human Rights Watch does not take a position on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, their report makes very clear that under international law, businesses and third-party states are obligated to take action to end their complicity in the settlement economy. Individuals and organizations can look to their report as a resource for advocating that companies and governments boycott and divest from businesses who continue to profit from occupation.

Businesses are obligated to end their complicity in the settlement economy, and the U.S. government is obligated to implement their own laws by differentiating between Israel and its illegal settlements.

There is no reason to wait any longer, it is well past time for there to be consequences for decades of defying international law.

Recommended Readings:
Haaretz: The New Frontier for BDS: Settler Businesses Must Shut Up Shop (January 19, 2016)
The Nation: Human Rights Watch Calls on Businesses to Withdraw From Israeli Settlements (January 19, 2015)
Foreign Affairs: Real Talk on Israeli Settlements (January 13, 2016)
Foundation for Middle East Peace: Correcting the Record on Settlement Labeling (January 12, 2016)
Politico: The EU Helps Israel Oppress Palestinians (November 12, 2015)


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