A woman pushes a child stroller while walking along the side of Israel's separation barrier in the Palestinian village of al-Ram in the occupied West Bank on February 13, 2020. by the Forward

How support for Israeli settlements is marginalizing America - and helping Palestinians

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Wednesday’s publication of a U.N. database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank signals the growing chasm between US policy toward Israel/Palestine and that of nearly everyone else. But far from undermining the database, forceful American opposition to its publication is likely to further delegitimize American Mideast policy and expand the space for more constructive diplomacy and international mechanisms of accountability for Israel/Palestine.

Israeli settlements violate international humanitarian law. Their creation and expansion constitute a war crime by the Israeli officials who enable Israeli civilians into the occupied West Bank at the expense of three million Palestinians whose rights are denied. And the settlements trigger human rights abuses, including property seizure, restrictions on freedom of movement and discrimination. In order to make life comfortable for 600,000 Jewish settlers, Israel has limited or eliminated Palestinian access to most of the West Bank by building fences and walls, blocking roads with concrete barriers, closing off land and refusing to restrain settler violence that deters Palestinians from accessing their property.

Businesses operating in or with settlements contribute to these human rights abuses by setting up shop on stolen land, providing services to Israelis but not Palestinians and normalizing a two-tiered discriminatory system. In the US, we called a version of this “Jim Crow.” In South Africa, its name was Apartheid.

Despite pressure from Israel and the US, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has finally implemented a 2016 Human Rights Council resolution to publish the names of companies doing business in and with Israeli settlements. The list is a conservative estimate, containing the names of only 18 foreign companies, despite evidence linking many others to settlements.

But the database is meant to be updated regularly, providing people with information they can use to make informed decisions about where to spend their money. And it’s consistent with other moves to treat settlement products differently from products from Israel, including more stringent EU guidelines on labeling and a nearly-final Irish law that would ban settlement imports. It comes just two months after the International Criminal Court prosecutor announced her intention to open an investigation into possible crimes committed in Palestine, with the transfer of Israeli civilians into the occupied territory foremost among them.

Opinion | How support for Israeli settlements is marginalizing America - and helping Palestinians

Threats of retaliation from some US lawmakers, including vows to pass laws that would criminalize refusal to do business in Israeli settlements, will only accelerate an existing trend of sidelining American diplomacy in Israel/Palestine and empowering other actors — especially the EU and the UN — to take a more active and, one hopes, more constructive role.

For more than a half century, US weapons, diplomatic backing and financial assistance have enabled the Israeli government to perpetuate military rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. US hegemony over Israel/Palestine diplomacy had until recently edged out other actors who might have had a more restraining influence on the Israeli authorities, including the United Nations and European countries whose trade ties are important to Israel.

Despite the rhetoric of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations against settlements and in favor of creating a Palestinian state, US diplomacy in the region has facilitated illegal Israeli settlement of the West Bank and domination over Palestinians. Just in the last twenty years, Israel has built a barrier that encloses a tenth of the West Bank on the Israeli side, and fragments the remaining areas; built bypass roads that allow Palestinians to travel under, over or alongside Israeli-only roads; closed the Gaza Strip nearly hermetically and entrenched a legal regime that treats Israelis and Palestinians, living side by side, separately and unequally.

Opinion | How support for Israeli settlements is marginalizing America - and helping Palestinians

All the while, the US was busily proposing multiple peace plans — the 2002 Road Map, the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access and the 2013 Kerry plan. All of these took up space without delivering results.

But the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 has helped to erase the veneer of American diplomatic legitimacy.

Trump appointed an Israel ambassador who has fiercely supported Israeli settlements. He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in the first year of his presidency. He gave right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two elections campaign gifts: first he approved Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights weeks ahead of the April 2019 Israeli elections and then, last month, he approved annexation of at least parts of the West Bank, in advance of more Israeli elections this March.

All this is increasingly out of step with trends elsewhere in the world, such as this week’s publication of the database.

Opinion | How support for Israeli settlements is marginalizing America - and helping Palestinians

As Israeli control over the Palestinian territory looks more and more permanent, the world is slowly moving in the opposite direction of the United States. Even quiescent allies like the EU are finding it increasingly difficult to defend US support for a policy of Israeli hegemony over Palestinians.

Yes, the US can and will continue to veto UN Security Council resolutions and provide Israel with billions of dollars worth of weapons every year. But measures such as grassroots pressure on businesses to pull out of settlements and a possible international criminal investigation may bypass that American military, diplomatic and economic force.

If that trend picks up speed, then the publication of the database is just the beginning.

Sari Bashi is an Israeli human rights lawyer and analyst. She has researched and published reports on human rights violations by businesses operating in Israeli settlements.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

How support for Israeli settlements is marginalizing America - and helping Palestinians


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