US blasts European banks’ decision to blacklist Israeli firms

Boycotting groups that operate in West Bank will not help resolve conflict, says State Department

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Bank Hapoalim cash machine. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Bank Hapoalim cash machine. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The US does not believe boycotts directed against Israel will help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday in response to a recent decision by two European banks to end cooperation with Israeli banks that have operations in the West Bank.

“Boycotts directed against Israel are unhelpful, and we oppose them,” she said.

Two weeks ago, two of Europe’s largest financial service institutions announced they would terminate all joint operations with Israeli banks who deal with Jewish settlements in the West Bank, deemed by the European Union to be illegal under international law.

Sweden’s Nordea Bank and Denmark’s Danske Bank, both the largest banks in their respective countries, are considered to be two of Europe’s most important financial institutions, serving together over 16 million customers across the continent. The banks hold billions of dollars’ worth of assets.

According to Walla, Danske Bank recently updated its list of companies with which it does not engage on ethical grounds to include Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, which has several branches in settlements across the Green Line and has invested in numerous projects throughout the West Bank.

Nordea Bank, meanwhile, demanded of Israeli banks Leumi and Mizrahi-Tefahot to immediately make public their operations in the West Bank.

An official statement released by the Swedish bank two weeks ago cited concern over “possible violations of international norms” that the Israeli banks might have committed.

EU guidelines published in July mandate a denial of European funding to, and cooperation with, Israeli institutions based or operating over the Green Line, and a requirement that all future agreements between Israel and the EU include a clause in which Israel accepts the position that none of the territory over the Green Line belongs to the Jewish state.

In December, Dutch water company Vitens, which provides water to 5.4 million people in the Netherlands, announced that it would discontinue all joint ventures with Israel’s national water supplier Mekorot, in protest against the Israeli company’s operations in the West Bank

“The company concluded that it would be very difficult to develop joint ventures together, considering the fact that they cannot be seen as divorced from their political context,” a company statement said. ”We follow international law.”

Earlier in December, the UK Trade and Investment agency discouraged British firms from entering into business deals with companies located in or associated with West Bank settlements.

The agency warned businesses of the “clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements,” which are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible.”

The report urged firms contemplating economic or financial involvement in settlements to seek legal counsel on the matter, and also addressed the “potential reputational implications” that could result from dealing with businesses beyond the Green Line, as well as “possible abuses of the rights of individuals.”

Yifa Yaakov contributed to this report

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