Yesterday during remarks at the AIPAC annual conference, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the recent publication by the UN Human Rights Office of a database of companies that operate in the West Bank. Pompeo defined the report as “a real threat” that “only serves to facilitate the BDS movement and delegitimize Israel.” Pompeo declared that the United States will take actions on behalf of the “members of our business community that are being threatened by this release.”
The UN Human Rights Office on Feb. 12 published a database of 112 companies that operate in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The vast majority of the listed companies provide basic goods and services to the people living in these disputed territories.
The database was originally slated to be released in March. However, it appears the United Nations released it early as part of its effort to counter the Trump administration’s new Middle East peace plan. The plan seeks to legalize Israel’s control over some of the territory it conquered in the 1967 Six Day War and has controlled ever since.
As Pompeo pointed out, the release of the database is also designed to do one more thing: to give a boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that seeks to wage an economic war against Israel. The database is deliberately designed to assist their efforts to deter businesses from working with Israel.
The best evidence that the UN Human Rights Council does not seek to act against foreign occupation of lands, but against Israel, is the fact that the database collects information on activities only in territories controlled by Israel, and not all territories regarded by the United Nations as under occupation. Indeed, the list does not include companies operating in Russia’s occupations in five regions in neighboring countries. Nor does it include businesses in Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, to name just a few. The list immediately lacks credibility because it ignores these conflicts.
The UN’s selective outrage and discrimination is best exemplified in their blacklist of leading international tourism services companies, such as Airbnb, booking.com, and TripAdvisor. These same companies offer services in other disputed territories and areas under occupation, but are subject to no UN condemnation for this activity.
Here the contrast in the UN’s policies is extraordinary: these same companies offer services in the settlement projects of other disputed and occupied territories but are subject to no condemnation for this activity. Most of Israel’s settlements are on public lands, and the tourism services are offered there for new homes built after Israel’s conquest of the territory. However, in contrast, in other conflict zones Airbnb, booking.com, TripAdvisor openly advertise homes and services in the homes of actual refugees.
In fact, these sites advertise specific dwellings that belonged to Azerbaijani refugees driven from their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory under Armenian occupation since the early 1990s. Some of the original property owners have identified their homes in advertisements placed by Armenian settlers on Airbnb and other tourism sites.
Armenia has an extensive settlement project in its territories of Azerbaijan that it occupies. However, in contrast to Israel’s control of the West Bank, where the Palestinian population has been able to stay in their homes, Armenia expelled over 700,000 Azerbaijanis when it invaded the territories. This happened in 1992-1994, not generations ago. Armenia’s expulsion of the Azerbaijanis is the largest population expulsion in Europe since the end of World War II, yet is hardly known in the international system.
If the UN Human Right Office indeed wants to promote peace and be taken seriously as such, it should include in in the UN Human Rights Office database the business activity of all occupied territories and protracted conflicts. This would be a sign that it is truly interested in solving territorial disputes everywhere, not just one.
In fact, when it issued its blacklist, the UN Human Rights Office may have inadvertently opened the flood gates. In today’s interconnected world, aggrieved parties are keenly aware of developments in other protracted conflicts. They will want to know why the world’s most prominent multilateral organization is willing to apply sanctions in one protracted conflict, but not others. The UN Human Rights Office must now be prepared to explain why some occupations are inconsequential, but only Israel’s control of the West Bank is deserving of a blacklist.
Brenda Shaffer, a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Svante Cornell is the director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council. Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president at FDD, which recently published a monograph titled, “Occupied Elsewhere: Selective policies on Occupations, Protracted Conflicts and Territorial Disputes.” The views expressed are the authors' own.