Quarterly Updates for (16 Aug 2017 — 15 Nov 2017)


As the quarter opened, it had been more than a year since the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution calling for the creation of a database, or “blacklist,” of companies that operate in Israel’s settlements (see JPS 45 [4]). UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein had already delayed publication of the so-called blacklist once in 2017, in part due to U.S. pressure, according to Western diplomats (Washington Post, 8/21), but he was reportedly intent on publishing it by the end of the year. In preparation, Al Hussein sent out a draft list to the govts. of countries where listed companies were based in 8/2017, seeking their comments by 9/1. According to a report in Haaretz on 9/28, Al Hussein sent similar letters to the listed companies themselves in mid-9/2017. Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats said (9/28) that 150 companies were contacted, including approximately 30 based in the U.S. and 75 in Israel, including global firms such as Caterpillar, Priceline.com, TripAdvisor, and Airbnb.

As the end-of-year publication deadline approached, both the U.S. and Israel ramped up their efforts to scuttle the project.

They were likely motivated by the fact that the blacklist was already having an effect. Senior Israeli officials said (9/28) that the Office of Strategic Affairs at Israel’s Ministry for Economic Affairs had learned that several of the companies included on the draft list had already informed Al Hussein of their intentions not to renew contracts or sign new ones in Israel. “Foreign companies will not invest in something that reeks of political problems,” one Israeli official said (9/28). “This could snowball.”


At the end of the previous quarter, on 8/14, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced an indefinite suspension of intakes of new patients for ear, nose, and throat treatments, cold ailments, and childbirths at its hospital in Qalqilya, pending an investigation into the recent death of a Palestinian child at the facility. “Intense efforts to reform the Qalqilya hospital have not been successful in the past years and the Agency is no longer able to ensure that medical services provided in the hospital meet the required health care standards,” an 8/14 statement from UNRWA read. The PA Ministry of Health strongly condemned the suspension of services, calling (8/14) on UNRWA to keep the hospital open “as required by international laws and resolutions.” The suspension also sparked a wave of protests from the Palestinian public. For weeks after it went into effect on 8/21, Palestinians gathered outside the hospital for sit-ins and other demonstrations. Although UNRWA had not reversed its decision by quarter’s end, the agency repeatedly reaffirmed (8/21) its commitment to “delivering health and other services to Palestine refugees . . . including those residing in Qalqilya.”


The Israeli effort to undermine Hezbollah in the diplomatic arena took on a new dimension this quarter. Israeli officials were already calling for international attention to Hezbollah’s alleged arms stockpiling and its construction of a new weapons production facility in s. Lebanon, allegedly with Iranian support. In 8/2017, Israeli and U.S. leaders cited these issues in a campaign to alter the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), giving the 10,500-strong peacekeeping force more authority to police Hezbollah.

As the 8/31 UNSC deadline to renew UNIFIL’s annual mandate approached, UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Michael Beary rejected (8/23) the allegations that Hezbollah was stockpiling weapons, explaining that his troops had not come across any evidence to support the claims. In response, U.S. amb. to the UN Haley accused (8/25) Beary of ignoring the problem, and Israeli PM Netanyahu raised the issue of Hezbollah with UN secy.-gen. Guterres during a meeting on 8/28.

The UNSC ultimately renewed (8/30) UNIFIL’s mandate for another year with new language authorizing more joint border patrols with Lebanese armed forces and requiring UNIFIL to file “prompt and detailed” reports whenever its troops encounter Hezbollah roadblocks. Israel’s amb. to the UN Danny Danon welcomed (8/30) the decision, and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanked the Trump admin. for its “leadership” in pushing for the change. It was later reported (9/5) that Russian diplomats were instrumental in countering the U.S. and Israeli efforts. They reportedly secured the removal of large portions of Israel- and U.S.-proposed text that would have expanded UNIFIL’s mission further.


On 10/12, a State Dept. spokesperson announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The announcement came 6 years after U.S. pres. Obama had presided over an indefinite suspension in U.S. support for the organization, triggered by a U.S. law barring support for UN agencies and bodies that admit Palestine as a mbr. (UNESCO voted to admit Palestine in 10/2011; see JPS 41 [2]). Explaining the withdrawal, the spokesperson cited (10/12) the $550 m. that the U.S. owed in unpaid dues and UNESCO’s alleged anti-Israel bias. Shortly after the announcement, Netanyahu praised (10/12) the move as “brave and moral” and pledged to withdraw Israel from UNESCO as well.

World Tourism Organization

The UN’s World Tourism Organization (WTO) announced (9/13) that a vote on the Palestinian bid for membership, which was submitted in 9/2016 and on the agenda for the WTO’s 9/2017 general assembly in Chengdu, was being delayed until the next WTO meeting due to be held in 2019. According to senior Israeli and U.S. officials on 9/13, the Palestinians decided to suspend their bid after U.S. officials insisted that it violated PA pres. Abbas’s pledge to refrain from unilateral moves at international forums (see “The PalestinianIsraeli Conflict” above).