Dec 7, 2022 - World

Scoop: U.S. presses UN not to update list of companies operating in Israeli settlements

A general view of the Israeli settlement Kokhav Yaakov in the occupied West Bank in 2017. Photo: Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

A general view of the Israeli settlement Kokhav Yaakov in the occupied West Bank in 2017. Photo: Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is pressing UN human rights chief Volker Türk not to expand the list of companies that operate in the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli officials and an Israeli Foreign Ministry cable.

Why it matters: While the U.S. had a long-standing position of giving Israeli diplomatic backing in UN institutions and has opposed the blacklist in the past, it is unusual that the Biden administration is helping Israel on the issue given U.S. opposition to settlements in the West Bank.

Flashback: In February 2020, the UN human rights commission published a list of 112 companies that operate in the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. Ninety-four were Israeli companies and the rest were from six other countries.

  • Five companies on the list were from the U.S., including Booking, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and General Mills. Since then, Booking published a travel warning about the settlements. Airbnb announced it will stop allowing listings in settlements on its platform but then backtracked under Israeli pressure.

Driving the news: Türk must decide by the end of the year whether to update the list, according to Israeli officials.

  • Israeli officials told Axios they are concerned that if the list is updated, it will lead more international companies to stop doing business in the settlements and more broadly in Israel.

Behind the scenes: In early November, the Israeli ambassador to the UN institutions in Geneva met with Michele Sison, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, and Michèle Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council.

  • According to an Israeli Foreign Ministry cable about the meeting, the U.S. officials briefed the Israeli diplomat that Taylor met with the UN human rights chief and told him the Biden administration opposes any update of the blacklist.
  • Türk told the U.S. ambassador he hasn't decided what to do yet but might do a "low-key" update without formally announcing it, according to the sources.

What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson told Axios the U.S. diplomats in Geneva meet routinely with a wide range of interlocutors including civil society, diplomatic partners and UN staff, including the high commissioner for Human Rights.

  • “We deeply value these candid exchanges which allow us to discuss a wide range of human rights issues,” the State Department spokesperson said.
  • "We would refer you to previous U.S. statements expressing our opposition to it and to the disproportionate and biased treatment of Israel by the UN Human Rights Council," the State Department spokesperson said.
  • Türk's office did not respond to a request for comment.

What to watch: The UN General Assembly is expected to vote next week on a resolution asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue a legal opinion on whether the Israeli occupation of the West Bank constitutes a de-facto annexation.

  • The U.S. has been actively helping Israel in recent weeks to lobby countries around the world to vote against the resolution or at least abstain, Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios.
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