JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli banks are helping build West Bank settlements in violation of international law by providing financial services to home buyers and local councils, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published Tuesday.
The report said that bank activities in or with settlements have helped encourage settlement growth and “contribute to rights abuses” against Palestinians. It added that Israeli banks, and international banks doing business with them, may be engaging in pillage, by acquiring ownership interests in housing projects on seized land.
Because of an Israeli law limiting the amount of money developers can collect from buyers in advance, banks often become direct partners in settlement projects, Human Rights Watch says.
“Most Israeli banks finance or ‘accompany’ construction projects in the settlements by becoming partners in settlement expansion, supervising each stage of construction, holding the buyers’ money in escrow, and taking ownership of the project in case of default by the construction company,” the report said.
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Israel captured the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. West Bank settlements are now home to around 400,000 Israelis. An additional 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in a move that is not recognized internationally. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Most of the international community considers settlements illegal and an impediment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Israel says the fate of the settlements must be resolved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Human Rights Watch said Israeli banks didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Association of Banks in Israel, an umbrella group representing major Israeli banks, declined to comment on the report.
HRW called on Israeli banks to stop providing services to housing in settlements and close their branches there.
Eugene Kontorovich, head of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Jerusalem think tank, accused Human Rights Watch of unfairly singling out Israel.
“Banks and multinationals legally do business in occupied territories all over the world. Strangely it’s only considered a human rights issue when connected to the Jewish state,” he said. “This isn’t about human rights, but about a special rule to punish Jewish banks.”