UN reviews 206 companies over links to Israeli settlements

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The U.N. human rights office said Wednesday that 206 companies — mostly Israeli and American — are facing a review of their business practices involving Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

In the long-awaited report, the office said more resources were needed to handle the complex and unprecedented task of compiling what some critics call an unfair "blacklist" and a sign of alleged anti-Israel bias at the U.N.

Proponents insist companies must be held accountable for their activities in the settlements, arguing that those activities can contribute to injustices against Palestinians.

The move delays a specific naming-and-shaming of companies and says the rights office still has work to do.

The 16-page report released Wednesday does not cite companies by name. It says the rights office has contacted 64 companies, but that it would not release any names until all 206 companies had been contacted — and possibly not at all. Of those companies, 143 are based in Israel or the settlements, and 22 in the United States. Of the 19 other countries linked to such companies, Germany is home to seven and the Netherlands to five.

"The violations of human rights associated with the settlements are pervasive and devastating, reaching every facet of Palestinian life," the report said, citing restrictions on movement, freedom of religion, education and land ownership faced by Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. "Businesses play a central role in furthering the establishment, maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements."

"Business enterprises may need to consider whether it is possible to engage in such an environment in a manner that respects human rights," it said.

A total of 115 companies were eliminated from the process after an initial review.

Israel and the United States have been sharply critical of the resolution passed by the 47-member Human Rights Council in March 2016 that paved the way for the review — the first of its kind. The resolution called on the rights office to create "database" of companies found to engage in any of 10 activities, either explicitly linked to the settlements or supportive of them.

"I urge all sides to avoid misrepresenting the contents of this report, which has been produced in good faith on the basis of the mandate laid down by the Human Rights Council," said Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He said he hopes the database "will assist states and businesses in complying with their obligations and responsibilities under international law."