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Friday, June 27

France warns citizens: Don't invest in Israeli settlements, Golan Heights
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France's Foreign Ministry says West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights are built on occupied land, which is illegal according to international law.

By Barak Ravid

The French government issued a warning to its citizens not to engage in financial activity or investments in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. The French Foreign Ministry wrote in its warning that the settlements are illegal according to international law, and so doing business with them involves legal risks.
A French diplomat said that the warning is part of a joint act by the five largest countries in the European Union — Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. The United Kingdom and Germany issued such warnings several months ago, and now, in light of the failure of the talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the European protests over the recent wave of construction in the settlements, three more countries joined them. Italy and Spain are expected to publish similar warnings over the next several days.

The warning was published on the French Foreign Ministry’s website as part of a broader document of recommendations for French people traveling to Israel. “Due to the fact that the settlements are illegal in international law, the performance of financial activity in the settlements such as money transfers, investments, acquisition of property, provision of supplies or the performance of any other economic activities that benefit the settlements involves risks,” the statement read in French.
The announcement states that the settlements had been built on occupied land and that the international community did not recognize them as part of Israel. “This could lead to a high likelihood of land disputes or disagreements regarding water, quarries or other natural resources,” the statement read. “This involves risk to the image of those who carry out such economic activity... We call upon citizens or businesspeople who are considering becoming involved in economic activity in the settlements to seek appropriate legal advice before going ahead.”

The French warning and the coordination among the five largest countries in the European Union has taken place against the backdrop of discussions that have been held in recent weeks in EU institutions in Brussels about issuing a general warning of the European Commission to businesspeople throughout the EU not to engage in economic activity in the settlements.

A week ago, Israel’s Foreign Ministry told Israeli ambassadors throughout the EU to contact the foreign ministries of the countries where they were serving and ask that that warnings against conducting financial activity in the settlements not be issued to businesspeople.

One Israeli diplomat said that the ambassadors were asked to say that at the present time, particularly in light of the kidnapping of the three teenage boys in Gush Etzion, issuing such a warning could heighten tensions between Israel and European countries and cause real damage to relations.

But the French did not grant the Israeli ambassadors’ requests. Foreign Ministry officials believe that once the European Commission issues a similar statement, the EU will be flooded with a wave of warnings against financial activity in the settlements throughout all the European countries.

“Our assessment regarding the warnings is that a decision was made [in the European Commission] to publish them very soon,” read a telegram sent from an Israeli embassy in the EU institutions in Brussels to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. “This could happen from this coming Thursday to the next several weeks. Afterward, each country will decide how and when to issue the statement.”

The new warning from the French Foreign Ministry against financial activity in the settlements is non-binding. A French person who conducts financial activity in the settlements will not be breaking the law in France. But similar cases over the past year, similar warnings have led to an increase in boycotts by members of Europe’s private sector of the settlements and of Israeli businesses that operate in the settlements.

For example, after the Dutch government issued a similar warning to its citizens alongside recommendations that products from the settlements sold in supermarkets be marked, the largest water company in The Netherlands announced that it was canceling a contract with Mekorot. At the same time, another Dutch company canceled a contract with the Jerusalem municipality to build a sewage-treatment plant over the Green Line. Also, the largest pension fund in The Netherlands announced that it was divesting from several Israeli banks that operate over the Green Line.

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