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Could UNHRC's settlement report put the ‘S’ back in BDS?

The last paragraph of the UN Human Rights Council-sanctioned report on Israeli settlements may lay the legal and practical foundations for a new, untried regime of economic and trade sanctions against Israel, or at least provide new tools to those already advocating BDS.

JVP Boston activists protest the Veolia transportation company for operating bus lines serving settlements in the West Bank. November 14, 2012. (Tess Scheflan/ Activestills.org)

The UNHRC-sanctioned International Fact Finding Mission’s report on Israeli settlements is by no means the harshest UN document on Israel. But its last paragraph introduces one element that previously existed only in small pro-Palestinian and human rights activist circles. Namely, it puts the “S” back in BDS.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has had mixed, but limited, success since its official launch in its current iteration nearly seven years ago. Divestment and boycott campaigns have claimed small victories after targeting educational and labor pension investment funds, transportation companies serving Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories, academic conferences and musical and cultural events. But many “big-picture” observers will admit that its successes have led to little if any change in Israeli policy, and subsequently, in the Palestinian reality.

While former international officials have called for limited sanctions against Israel should it fail to cease its settlement enterprise, and current officials have hinted at limited travel sanctions against violent settlers, the notion of sanctions against Israel has largely taken a back seat to the more constricted and arguably less impactful boycott and divestment campaigns.

Last week’s UN report, however, advanced the prospects of – and possibly laid the beginnings of a legal groundwork for – economic sanctions against Israel for its continued settlement enterprise, which is viewed as illegal under international law in every corner of the globe.

The last paragraph of the report’s recommendations reads (emphasis added):

Private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps – including by terminating their business interests in the settlements – to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian People in conformity with international law as well as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Mission calls upon all Member States to take appropriate measures to ensure that business enterprises domiciled in their territory and/or under their jurisdiction, including those owned or controlled by them, that conduct activities in or related to the settlements respect human rights throughout their operations.

If and when the UN report is finalized and adopted by the UNHRC and then the UN General Assembly (GA), the first possible legal – but more significantly, practical – foundations for sanctions will have been laid.

General Assembly resolutions do not carry the legally binding and obligatory weight of Security Council resolutions, and any likely GA measure will merely call on the Security Council to implement its recommendations. Furthermore, it would not be the first time the General Assembly passed a resolution calling for sanctions against Israel. But the Security Council never adopted those resolutions (UNGA Resolution 3414 and UNGA Resolution 31/61), primarily because they were blocked by Washington’s perennially loyal veto. There is no reason to believe the United States will act any differently in the future.

But there is something about those previous resolutions of great relevance: Resolutions 3414 and 31/61 called for an end to military and economic aid to Israel, which is provided almost exclusively by the United States.

Any future resolution based on the UNHRC report could – explicitly or implicitly – call on states to take measures to regulate private businesses that operate in settlements in the Palestinian territories, in line with the report’s recommendations.

By addressing private business and economic interests instead of state-to-state aid, such a resolution would be actionable – regardless of legal obligation – by a much larger number of countries whose citizens do business in Israel, and many times by natural extension, in the settlements.

This is not to say that the UN report or its possible adoption by the General Assembly will inevitably lead to sanctions against Israel, or in a more limited sense, against its settlement activities. Even if such momentum were to transpire, the near-consensus requirement of EU trade policy (Israel’s largest trade partner) makes radical and sweeping economic sanctions all the less likely.

But in a time when the BDS movement is gaining momentum, putting the onus of action against Israeli settlement and human rights violations on states – instead of private student and ecumenical groups – holds the potential to ratchet up pressure to levels unseen since the Arab Oil Boycott. Furthermore, and perhaps most consequently, it could serve as an important tool to those calling for BDS-inspired actions and campaigns against Israel.

Without addressing the legitimacy of sanctions in general, or the ability of BDS-type campaigns to end Israeli settlement, the occupation and human and civil rights abuses against Palestinians, the final two sentences of the UN report could be the start of a diplomatic and economic regime of pressure against Israel. If that takes place, it might force Israel to begin reconciling itself with the consequences of its actions, and more tangibly, reconsidering the policy decisions that put it at odds with much of the world.

UN Human Rights Council: Settlement issue could end up in the International Criminal Court

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    1. rsgengland

      When the misnamed UNHRC begins to treat the rest of the world with the same vigour and intensity as it does Israel, this organization may be looked at in something less than the ‘hypocritical bully/racist’ it is.
      China invaded and totally subsumed Tibet. Tens of thousands of Tibetians have been killed/murdered. Chinese civilians have been moved in. YET NOT A WORD. ONLY AGAINST ISRAEL.
      Turkey invaded and occupied North Cyprus, and still controls and maintains forces there. YET NOT A WORD. ONLY AGAINST ISRAEL.
      The list continues ad infinitum.
      Israel is the only country that is a permenant item on the agenda, out of 192 member states.
      More resolutions and motions are passed about Israel than the rest of the world combined.
      One has to sometimes wonder if this obsessive fixation on Israel is not driven by some form of common but hidden agenda.
      Israel is perceived as being part of the Western/White world, so it could be anti white racism.
      Or it could also be that many of the worlds most extreme ‘Human Rights Abusers’ have banded together against Israel, to deflect attention from their actions.
      Or is it that Israel is the Nation State of the Jews and its just pure old anti-Semitism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Giora Me'ir

        That’s like a burglar saying he shouldn’t be punished for stealing where because there are criminals getting away with murder. That others are doing worse things doesn’t absolve Israel from sanction.

        Moreover, the UN has a direct interest in the I/P dispute because it was its partition resolution that created the State of Israel. And Israel has time and time again ignored its resolutions.

        And I guess Iran could comply why it is subject to sanctions and Israel is not, even though Israel has the bomb.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >That’s like a burglar saying he shouldn’t be punished for stealing where because there are criminals getting away with murder. That others are doing worse things doesn’t absolve Israel from sanction.

          A system in which a burglar is punished while murderers go free is not legitimate.

          Try to carefully think it over.

          Carefully so not to cause yourself a stroke or something.

          Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            But this is a system in which a Burglar desperately claims that he is part of the “civilized” world while the Murderers operate in isolation.
            Israel should get out of OECD, UEFA, and just become the pariah state that you so desperately want.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >But this is a system in which a Burglar desperately claims that he is part of the “civilized” world while the Murderers operate in isolation.

            More nonsense.
            Just try to list “murderers” countries which operate in isolation.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      Ok, but who is going to put the B or the D back in BDS? They certainly don’t appear to be there at the moment. It is beyond me why anyone would support an initiative whose goal is to destroy a country on the basis of ‘humanitarian principles’.

      This biased report will be consumed and shared by those obsessed with a hatred for Israel and everyone else will ignore it.

      Reply to Comment
      • directrob

        I give you a recent “D”.

        Unilever moves Pretzel factory from Ariel (no reason given):


        In general in the EU the West Bank products do NOT fall under treaties for reduced import duties (Israel and the EU cannot make a treaty for a third country). There is a chance that in future the current “steath” imports will be forbidden. It is simply risky for European companies to do long term investments in the West Bank settlements.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Yeah. Your ‘recent’ D is from 4 years ago. They fired all their Palestinian labor and moved the factory to Tzfat in northern Israel. According to Unilever this had nothing to do with politics, but who knows? Total loss to the Israeli economy? Zero.

          Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            I give you more D’s:


            The Unilever thing was from the end of 2012 (the start of the move was reported at 972mag in 2010)

            In these cases it is about the West Bank, not about Israel and although the net result is Zero, Ron Nachman does not like it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Veolia has taken hits across Europe because of BDS. They are haemorrhaging waste management contracts in Britain, and their involvement with the Jerusalem light rail caused something of a PR crisis for them. Ahava lost their flagship store in Covent Garden nearly two years ago, in large part due to BDS pressure. No, these things won’t have any impact whatsoever on the Israeli economy – but that isn’t the point, any more than hitting the South African economy was the objective of the initial BDS campaign. More significant are all the leaflets that found their way into the hands of Covent Garden shoppers every weekend, telling them about what’s happening in the Jordan Valley. More significant is the fact that Veolia can’t bid for a waste management contract on any UK council without a discussion of occupation and apartheid springing up. When Habima Theatre came to London, and there were protests at the performance, one journalist observed that the dominant question in public discourse is no longer, “Do Israeli policies warrant BDS?” but, “Will BDS be effective in ending those policies?” There has been a distinct change in climate, which I started to notice in the aftermath of Cast Lead. I hear some Israelis saying that BDS doesn’t work, but I think you should remember that it took almost thirty years for the South African BDS campaign to really take hold. Only seven years have passed since the Palestinian campaign was initiated, and it has achieved a lot more in that time than its SA prototype did (thanks in no small measure to support from South African activists, now including an official endorsement from the ANC). I wouldn’t be so complacent if I were you.

            Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        why does wanting Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories make one “obsessed with a hatred for Israel”?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          You maybe not. Those promoting the BDS initiative do so out of a desire to destroy Israel. Those obsessed with Israel above all other global issues which are objectively more critical from a humanitarian point of view operate out of a hatred for Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Giora Me'ir

            What would you suggest doing with Israel continuing to expand the settlement and uprooting Palestinians? Other than doing nothing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            No, we’re obsessed with dismantling the segregationist ethnocratic regime. If this is what Israel is to you then go find somewhere else to live.

            Reply to Comment
          • Rauna

            K9, the sole purpose of BDS is meant to get you out of OPT and nothing else. You’re just manipulating “obsessed with a hatred for Israel” as an excuse for land grab.

            Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Ridiculous. It’s very telling that Zionists conceive of reforming Israel as “destroying.” As if Israel can’t exist without its evil.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Oh, so that’s what Nazis were doing in the 40’s – reforming.

          Nicely put.

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Wow – time-traveling Nazis! X reaches a new height in ridiculousness!

            Reply to Comment
    3. Icarus Verum

      As an American Jew – I am happy to see any support or focus on the BDS movement.

      Israel deserves its comeuppance. They can not simply continue to ignore international law, steal land, maintain an apartheid state and then think that somehow they’re going to get away with this.

      Granted – the support in America is very solid. But what most don’t seem to see … is a growing and rather fast buildup of animosity towards Israel from Americans.

      8 years ago – George W. Bush won largely because of state initiatives to block gay marriage. There were a majority against it. In 2012 – a solid majority now support it.

      That took 8 years. What do you think will happen over the next 8 with opinion on Israel considering the current trends?

      If Israelis keep electing people like Netanyahu – they won’t continue to have America to protect them. Were it not for America – Israel wouldn’t exist.

      I wish they would remember that when they bully, kill and steal from the Palestinian people.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >Were it not for America – Israel wouldn’t exist.

        America dis, America dat.

        America won the WWII, created Israel and launched the first man into low earth orbit. Not.

        Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        As an American Jew, you need to do everything you can to convince your fellow American Jews that BDS is a useful method of pressure, and you also need to work on making support for Palestinian Rights no longer politically toxic.
        In a way, you have more power than I do here. All I can do here in Israel is smuggle Palestinians through checkpoints and upper-deck toilets in settlement community centers.

        Reply to Comment
    4. A request, or demand, for sanctions is not the same thing as sanctions themselves. The 2004 ICJ advisory on the wall told the nations that it was their duty — all of them — to force Israel to remove the wall. And nothing happened. all the nations — pretty much — have signed the Fourth Geneva Convention which obliges them to “ensure respect” for the convention under all circumstances, the convention makes settlements illegal– and nothing happens.

      As matters stand, Israelis who treasure their immunity need have no fear.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >The 2004 ICJ advisory on the wall told the nations that it was their duty — all of them — to force Israel to remove the wall.


        You really should read full opinions of ICJ judges.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Masoud Jazayeri

      This is a magnificant article that should put the zionists to shame

      Reply to Comment
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