Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dutch pensionfund PGGM withdraws investments from five Israeli banks

Bank Leumi branch | Oranit Settlement | May 2011 | Photographed by Who ProfitsBank Leumi office in settlement Oranit. (Photo Who Profits)

A new achievement for BDS: the Dutch pension fund company PGGM, one of the largest such companies in the Netherlands with an invested capital of about 150 billion euro, has withdrawn its investments from Israel’s five largest banks because they have branches in the West Bank and are involved in financing construction in the settlements, Haaretz reports. Over the past few months, PGGM contacted Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, the First International Bank of Israel and Israel Discount Bank and informed them that their ties with the settlements created a problem in view of the opinion issued in 2004 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague about the building of ´´The Wall´´ on the West Bank. In this opinion the Court judged that the settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal and violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as this article states that the occupying power is not allowed ´´to deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The Israeli banks responded that Israeli law doesn’t allow them to cease providing service to entities connected to the settlements. Nor, given the daily reality in which the banks operate, would this even be feasible, according to Haaretz.
PGGM’s investments in Israeli banks amount to only a few tens of millions of euros. But its decision is liable to damage the banks’ image, and could lead other business concerns in Europe to follow suit. As far as I´m concerned what is also important in this case, is that the banks in their exchange with PGGM made it clear that even if they wanted to sever their ties with the settlements, they are not allowed to do so, and apart from that aren´t even able to do so as their activities are too much intertwined with activities that in one way or other have to do with the settlement enterprise. It illustrates, if anything, that taking measures against produce from the settlements or companies that provide services to the settlements is futile, as the settlement economy in fact is since long an integral part of the total Israeli economy.
However, PGGM´s decision is an important one. It is also the third of its kind by Dutch firms in a rather short period. Last month, the Dutch water company Vitens announced that it was suspending cooperation with Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, as Mekorot extracts large amounts of water from the occupied territories at the expense of the Palestinian population. A few weeks earlier, another Dutch company, Royal HasKoningDHV canceled a contract to build a sewage treatment plant that it had signed with Jerusalem’s water company, Hagihon, because the plant was located in East-Jerusalem and because the Palestinian Authority was against it. Haaretz writes that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is worried by the trend in the Netherlands, which it blames on the present Dutch government which advises commercial enterprises to avoid business dealings with the settlements.

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