The French Ambassador to the U.S., (and formerly Israel), defended the Orange CEO’s statement on Twitter:‘
“4th Geneva convention : settlement policy in occupied territories is illegal. It is illegal to contribute to it in any way.”
That statement is entirely baseless. Even if settlements are illegal, there is no ban on business in the territories, or with settlers. Certainly there is no tertiary obligation to not do business with businesses that have some tangential business in such territory. All this is demonstrated extensively in my new paper, some of which I tried to share with Amb. Araud.
Perhaps the most instructive aspect of this was the reaction of Amb. Araud, when I pointed out to him that his legal claim is baseless, and squarely contradicted by France’s own courts in recent decisions involving Israel, which held the Geneva Conventions flatly inapplicable to private companies. It is also contradicted by the opinions the U.N. Security Council Legal Advisor, the EU Parliament’s legal advisor, and the U.K. Supreme Court, and more. (All these are described at length in my new paper.)
The Orange incident, and the Ambassador’s legal claim, are also bad news for a number of French companies, like the oil giant Total, which is active in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara against the vociferous protests of the indigenous Sawahari people. (There are many other examples, like Michelin in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.) The French government has never criticized any of these controversial activities in any way. But if the Ambassador’s legal claim is right, he has provided the basis for war crimes prosecutions of France’s leading executives.
Amb. Araud responded to my question by revealing that he had no idea one of his country’s largest companies was engaged in an major project that, by his account, is a war crime.
The Ambassador, after blocking me, revealed that his international law claims are not really about international law:
I speak of one occupied territory. I am answered on other territories. I conclude that everybody agrees on what I say on the former.
In other words, no fairs to cite precedents and practice. But of course, if you are talking about international law, “other territories” are entirely relevant. First, for something to be law, it has to be a rule that applies to similar situations. And for it to be international, well, those situations will involve different countries.
What the French apparently want is, to paraphrase Stalin, international law for one country. Ok. But don’t call it international. And don’t call it law.
Orange’s legal advice has been bad not just on the international legal front. The CEO apparently is unaware that his statement could make it impossible for at least one major state’s pension funds to have holdings in his firm. Illinois’ pensions have recently had about $1.3 million in Orange shares (it sold them in June for unrelated reasons), and as more states pass anti-BDS laws, Orange will have to seek more of its capital in the places it has built up “trust.”