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UN lists firms linked to illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank

The United Nations human rights office has issued a report on companies it said have business ties to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a long-delayed move likely to draw the ire of Israel and its main ally, the United States. In a statement on Wednesday, the UN body said it identified 112…

UN lists firms linked to illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank

The United Nations human rights office has issued a report on companies it said have business ties to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a long-delayed move likely to draw the ire of Israel and its main ally, the United States.
In a statement on Wednesday, the UN body said it identified 112 business entities which it has reasonable grounds to conclude have ties with Israeli settlements – 94 domiciled in Israel and 18 in six other countries.
It identified companies listed in the US, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Among these was the US-based home-sharing company, Airbnb.
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In its report, the UN office said the companies’ activities “raised particular human rights concerns”.
“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.
But she added that the findings had been subject to an “extensive and meticulous review process” and the report “reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate”.
Her office said the report “does not provide a legal characterisation of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them”.
Airbnb said in November 2018 that it would remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
But it said the following April that it would not implement the planned delisting and would donate proceeds from any bookings in the territory to international humanitarian aid organisations.
Other companies include travel sites Expedia and TripAdvisor, tech giant Motorola, consumer food maker General Mills and construction and infrastructure companies including France’s Egis Rail and British company, JC Bamford Excavators.
Commenting on the report, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed the decision, calling a “victory for international law”.
“Publishing this list of companies and entities operating in the settlements is a victory for international law and diplomatic efforts,” Malki said in a statement.
He urged UN member states and the UN Human Rights Council to “issue recommendations and instructions to these companies to end their work immediately with the settlements”.
Companies put ‘on notice’
The UN report comes in response to a 2016 UNHRC resolution calling for a “database for all businesses engaged in specific activities related to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory”.
The rights council, which is made up of 47 governments, had never before requested such a list scrutinising corporate activities.
The UN agency said compiling the database had been a “complex process” involving “widespread discussions” with states, think-tanks, academics and the companies themselves.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh threatened to take international legal action against the companies named in the report, demanding they “immediately close their headquarters and branches inside illegal Israeli settlements because their presence contradicts international and UN resolutions”.
“We will pursue companies listed in the report legally through international legal institutions and in courts in their countries for taking part in human rights violations in Palestine,” Shtayyeh said in a Facebook post.
He added Palestinians would also “demand compensation” for what he called “their use of our occupied land illegally.”
Human Rights Watch’s deputy advocacy chief Bruno Stagno welcomed the publication of the database.
This “should put all companies on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes”, he said.
Al Jazeera’s Stephanie Dekker, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the report highlights the international community’s stance, that these settlements in the West Bank are “illegal under international law”.
“It doesn’t have any legality in terms of implementing consequences for these companies, but it does open them to the potential for any Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement,” she said.      
Wednesday’s report, however, stressed that companies do not have to remain on the database forever.
“Where there are reasonable grounds to believe that … the business enterprise is ceasing or no longer involved in the relevant activity, the business enterprise would be removed from the database,” it said.
The report recommended that the database be updated annually, and urged the Human Rights Council to appoint a group of independent experts to handle this task.
Trump’s plan
Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community. Its settlements are deemed illegal under international law and widely seen as a sticking point in peace negotiations.
Some 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem among about 2.9 million Palestinians.
In an initial reaction, Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, called the publication of the list a “shameful surrender” to countries and organisations that want to hurt Israel.
Later on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the UN rights council was a “biased and uninfluential body”.
“Instead of dealing with human rights this body is trying to blacken Israel’s name. We reject any such attempt in the strongest terms and with disgust,” he said. 
In recent weeks, Netanyahu has pledged to annex Israel’s more than 100 settlements in the West Bank, a move that he US signalled would greenlight.
The UN report comes a day after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN Security Council, rejecting US President Donald Trump’s so-called Middle East plan.
The plan envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel and favours Israel on key contentious issues including borders, the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements.
The proposal was made without the input of Palestinians, who broke off ties with the Trump administration after it controversially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in late 2017.
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Lira firms against dollar as Turkey searches for foreign funds

The recently embattled Turkish lira edged up on Friday and held gains from late Thursday following reports that officials held talks with counterparts in Tokyo, London and elsewhere over new possible foreign funding. The lira, which hit a record low of 7.269 last week, stood at 6.917 against the dollar at 08:47 GMT, after data showed that…

Lira firms against dollar as Turkey searches for foreign funds

The recently embattled Turkish lira edged up on Friday and held gains from late Thursday following reports that officials held talks with counterparts in Tokyo, London and elsewhere over new possible foreign funding.
The lira, which hit a record low of 7.269 last week, stood at 6.917 against the dollar at 08:47 GMT, after data showed that measures taken to curb the coronavirus pandemic weighed heavily on the fiscal budget and on housing sales
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Treasury and central bank officials have held bilateral talks in recent days with counterparts from Japan and the United Kingdom on setting up currency swap lines, and with Qatar and China on expanding existing facilities, Reuters news agency reported on Thursday, citing officials. 
Cevdet Yilmaz, the ruling AK Party’s deputy chairman for foreign affairs, confirmed that Turkey is seeking swap agreements.
“We are having negotiations with different central banks for swap opportunities,” he told a panel discussion on Thursday, adding: “It is not only the US, there are also other countries.” He did not elaborate further on details.
The push comes after the lira has fallen under severe pressure, limiting Ankara’s capacity to address concerns over its depleted foreign reserves and hefty debt obligations.
An official told Reuters that Turkey was feeling confident after the talks. But it was unclear how close it may be to securing any deals as the coronavirus pandemic stretches governments and central banks like never before.

A merchant counts Turkish lira banknotes at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Currency spiral risk
Turkey’s Treasury ministry, Japan’s finance ministry and the Bank of England declined to comment.
The People’s Bank of China did not respond to Reuters’ faxed request for comment. Qatar’s government media office did not respond to a Reuters query about expanding the swaps with Ankara.
If Turkey cannot secure tens of billions of dollars in funding, analysts say it risks a currency spiral similar to 2018, when the lira briefly shed half its value in a crisis that shook emerging markets.
The government has said its forex buffer is adequate. This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the lira’s fall on “those who think they can destroy our economy, put shackles on our feet, corner us by using financial institutions abroad”.
The diplomatic effort comes as the coronavirus pandemic is expected to trigger a recession.
It suggests Turkey is looking beyond its preferred source of funding, the US Federal Reserve, and may have to consider tougher decisions on interest rates or options it has dismissed, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance or capital controls, investors say.
“Talks are in a better position especially with Qatar, China and Britain,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity. “I am optimistic that a certain amount of resources will be provided” and an agreement should “not take too long”.
Two other officials said Turkey reached out to Japanese representatives about possible funding, with one adding that talks need to speed up if a swap line is to be secured.
The Turkish central bank’s net foreign currency reserves have dropped to $26bn from $40bn this year. Bankers say that was largely due to state lenders selling some $30bn in FX markets to support the lira, which has nonetheless fallen 15 percent this year.
The country’s 12-month foreign debt obligations are $168bn, with about half due by August, while disappearing tourism income has inflated its monthly current account deficit to nearly $5bn.
“I don’t really see how Turkey can navigate this period, especially considering their external vulnerabilities,” said Shamaila Khan, director of emerging markets debt at AllianceBernstein in New York.

Turkish lira banknotes are pictured at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

‘Monitoring the lira’
Turkey has underestimated its risks “unfortunately for months now” said Khan, who was among hundreds of investors on a conference call with the finance and treasury minister, Berat Albayrak, last week.
Albayrak said reserves are adequate and he was optimistic about negotiating new funding with fellow G20 nations and trade partners, according to participants and a brief ministry summary.
He singled out countries with whom Turkey has large trade deficits and promised an update to existing swap lines, one investor said. Turkey has currency swap facilities worth $1.7bn with China and $5bn with Qatar.
A Japanese government official said Tokyo has no plan for now beyond monitoring the lira, but added the Group of Seven (G7) countries or the International Monetary Fund would rescue Turkey “if it morphs into a real crisis”.
Any significant weakening of the lira beyond 7 per dollar, where it has stabilised, could erode support for Erdogan, whose party lost local elections last year on the heels of the 2018 crisis that sent inflation and unemployment soaring.
His government has imposed tighter limits on local bank FX trading and opened investigations into global firms UBS, Citigroup and BNP Paribas.
Investors and bankers say it would need to act quickly to restore confidence if companies begin missing foreign debt payments or Turks start withdrawing deposits.
They say rate hikes are one avenue, followed by IMF funding – an option both Erdogan and Albayrak have dismissed.
“This feels like a rerun of the last lira crisis,” said Win Thin, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. “Surprisingly little has changed fundamentally in the nearly two years that have passed (except policies) that make it even harder to invest in Turkey.”
Some investors and bankers said only in a worst-case scenario would Turkey adopt capital controls, such as limits on transfers or withdrawals, which would harm its market credibility.
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