Cooperation agreements with Israeli banks implicate Emirati institutions in human rights violations

London - Cooperation agreements between Israeli and Emirati banks and other institutions may violate the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), warns ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies.

The London-based think tank points to the involvement of Israeli institutions in or with settlements built illegally in the occupied Palestinian territories, adding that any businesses that contract with them are then equally guilty of violating human rights and international humanitarian law.

On 16 September, the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Bank Leumi le Israel BM to offer new opportunities to individuals traveling to and from Israel, as well as companies looking to benefit from new markets.

Days earlier, Bank Leumi had signed two memoranda of understanding with both First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) and the Emirates NBD Bank, the largest in the UAE. In addition, the Israeli bank Hapoalim BM announced it is seeking to enter into similar agreements with Emirati banks.

ImpACT International notes that on 12 February, the United Nations published a blacklist of 112 companies operating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights. The list includes both Hapoalim BM and Bank Leumi Israel BM.

Settlements are located on land illegally seized from Palestinians, with the natural resources exploited by Israel to benefit its companies while undermining the development of Palestinian enterprises. The World Bank estimates that the restrictions on economic growth and construction in Area C alone, which constitutes about 60% of Palestinian land and on which most of the settlements are located, cost the Palestinian economy about $ 3.4 billion, an equivalent of one-third of the Palestinian gross domestic product.

The international community overwhelmingly considers these settlements illegal, based on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits occupying governments from transferring their own residents into controlled territories.Israeli banks that operate in settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territories thus violate international conventions, since they contribute to the construction, purchase and sale of homes on unlawfully confiscated land.

Israeli banks that operate in settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territories violate international conventions, since they contribute to the construction, purchase and sale of homes on unlawfully confiscated land.

In May 2019, Human Rights Watch published the conclusions of an investigation documenting the financing of illegal West Bank settlements by Israeli banks.

"Israel’s largest banks are providing services that support, maintain and expand unlawful settlements by financing their construction in the occupied West Bank, including partnering with developers to build homes on land unlawfully seized from Palestinians," the report reads. "The banks’ involvement is direct and substantial: They acquire a property interest in the development projects and shepherd them through to completion.

“The transfer by the occupier of members of its civilian population into the occupied territory, and the deportation or transfer of members of the population of the territory, are war crimes. The activities of banks finance a critical step in this transfer. The activities of these banks also raise concerns about pillage, due to land seizure policies by the Israeli military that make it difficult to ascertain whether the landowners have freely given their consent.

"In addition to construction projects, banks provide loans to settlement councils (local authorities) and mortgage loans to home-buyers in settlements and operate ATMs and bank branches there. Israeli banks generally do not offer these services to Palestinians, because Palestinian residents of the West Bank are forbidden by military order to enter settlements, except as laborers bearing special permits.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross has previously expressed concern about the possibility that companies will acquire property without the owners’ consent.

ImpACT stresses that banks and other companies must not only respect human rights, but also the principles of international humanitarian law, which protect the property rights of those living under occupation. It also calls on businesses in the UAE to stop any dealings with Israeli institutions involved in activities in the illegal settlements.

In addition, ImpACT states that it is the responsibility of UAE banks and other companies to act proactively to avoid violations of human rights, even if it means no longer doing business with implicated entities. Cooperation agreements between Emirati institutions and Israeli counterparts are examples of business arrangements that should be terminated to avoid wrongdoing.

ImpACT urges the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to follow up on Emerati agreements with blacklisted companies and go public with its concerns.



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