GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations’ human rights office on Wednesday named 112 companies it said have business ties to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, angering Israel and prompting a Palestinian threat of legal action against the firms.
A long-delayed report issued in Geneva said 94 of the companies were domiciled in Israel and 18 were listed in six other countries -- the United States, Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Thailand and France.
A spokesman for Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the report was not a “blacklist” and was not intended to qualify any of the companies’ business activities as illegal.
But it is a sensitive issue as companies named could be targeted for boycotts or divestment intended to put pressure on Israel over its settlements. Despite the spokesman’s remarks, they could now also face legal battles.
“We demand the companies immediately close their headquarters and branches inside illegal Israeli settlements because their presence contradicts international and U.N. resolutions,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh wrote on his Facebook page.
He said companies would be pursued through “international legal institutions and in courts in their countries for taking part in human rights violations in Palestine”. Palestinians could also demand compensation for “use of our occupied land illegally,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the report as the work of a “biased and uninfluential body.”
“Instead of dealing with human rights, this body is trying to blacken Israel’s name. We reject any such attempt in the strongest terms and with disgust,” he said in a statement.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called the report a “shameful capitulation” to anti-Israel groups.
Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war. Palestinians and much of the world view the settlements as illegal under international law, but the United States and Israel dispute this.
The United States in effect backed Israel’s right to build settlements on Nov. 18 last year by abandoning its long-held position that they were “inconsistent with international law”.
A Middle East peace plan announced last month by U.S. President Donald Trump proposed allowing Israel to keep control of the West Bank settlements though the plan would also create a Palestinian state.
Several hours after the report was issued, there was no reaction from the U.S. government.
The report was issued on the eve of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s main annual session opening in Geneva from Feb 24. Neither Israel nor the United States are members of the forum which both accuse of a bias against Israel.
“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Her office said the report “does not provide a legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them.”
One of the businesses named in the report, home-rental company Airbnb, had already acknowledged having listings in settlements and said last April that it would donate proceeds from any bookings in the territory to international humanitarian aid organizations.
Another, Cheerios maker General Mills Inc, said it was listed because of a manufacturing facility that “uses natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes”.
About 50% of the workers are Palestinians who enjoy full social benefits and “the facility has a history of continuing employment and employee satisfaction”, a General Mills spokesman said.
Other businesses listed for inclusion in a database included travel firms and a steel producer. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller and Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, and by Uday Sampath Kumar; Editing by Timothy Heritage
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