The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) been sharply criticised for the behaviour of British diplomats in Geneva last week, who tried to pressure the Palestinians to water down a resolution on Israel’s illegal settlements.
On March 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted four resolutions pertaining to Palestinian rights and Israeli violations of international law. But it was the fourth and last resolution to be adopted, establishing “a database of all business enterprises involved” in settlement activities, which was the centre of a small diplomatic storm.
According to various reports ahead of last Thursday’s session in Geneva, “intense diplomatic efforts” were being made by Israel and the U.S. to prevent the inclusion of the paragraph establishing the database, part of a broader resolution on Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.
The UK also lobbied hard on Israel’s behalf, as an unnamed Palestinian official told The Guardian, including threats that a failure to remove the paragraph could affect both “aid to the Palestinian Authority and bilateral ties.”
When the paragraph remained, and the resolution was carried, the UK abstained, describing such a database of companies involved in settlement activities as “inappropriate”, and stating that the UK would not cooperate with the process.
In addition, when demands for the paragraph to be removed came to nothing, the UK decided as a “punitive” measure – in the words of a source in Geneva – to additionally abstain on the immediately preceding resolution concerning accountability and international law in the OPT.
Labour shadow human rights minister Andy Slaughter described the decision to abstain “on issues as basic as these” as “both depressing and hypocritical”, given that the government “has hitherto been clear and consistent on the illegality of settlements and the increasing damage their expansion has caused to any hopes of a resumption of negotiations.”
This “unwillingness to censure or put pressure on the Israeli Government for breaches of international law”, the MP for Hammersmith continued, “simply gives the green light to Netanyahu to continue the build-up of settlements on Palestinian land, entrenching the occupation and removing the basis for agreement.”
Others were also dismayed by last week’s events in Geneva. According to Sara Apps, interim director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, “the UK is being left behind by much of the rest of the world when it comes to supporting the rights of Palestinian people.”
“The UK says that it supports Palestinian rights and that it is recognises that settlements are illegal and a barrier to peace. Yet the UK Government seems determined to take no action and to discourage others from holding international law.”
Apps said that attempts by the FCO “through pressure at best and blackmail at worst” to “discourage Palestinian representatives from seeking support and assistance from the international community shames all British people who believe in justice.”
For Chris Doyle, Director of Caabu (Council for Arab-British Understanding), “either we support accountability or we do not. This should never have happened.”
“The government appears to be pulling back from anything that looks like taking any form of action against settlements themselves; there is a self-imposed redline that they will not go beyond issuing pro forma condemnations of settlements.”
The third resolution, on “ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law” in the OPT, was adopted by a vote of in 32 favour, none against with 15 abstentions (Albania, Botswana, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, India, Latvia, Netherlands, Paraguay, Republic of Korea, Togo, and UK).
The fourth resolution on settlements was similar adopted by 32 votes in favour, none against, with 15 abstentions (Albania, Belgium, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Latvia, Netherlands, Paraguay, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Macedonia, Togo, and UK).
The resolution notes with concern that “some business enterprises have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
It also notes that “products wholly or partially produced in settlements have been labelled as originating from Israel”, and that “private individuals, associations and charities in third States” are “involved in providing funding to Israeli settlements and settlement-based entities, contributing to the maintenance and expansion of settlements.”
As well as the database, the draft text urges all states to “provide guidance to individuals and businesses on the financial, reputational and legal risks, including the possibility of liability for corporate involvement in gross human rights abuses as well as the abuses of the rights of individuals, of becoming involved in settlement-related activities.”