France’s Alstom quits building settler railway, Israeli partners say

France’s Alstom quits settler railway, Israeli partners say

Israel having trouble finding global firms willing to expand Jerusalem light rail, which links its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem. (OZinOH)

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Two Israeli companies sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday asking for an urgent extension of the deadline for bids to build the next phase of the Jerusalem light rail.

The Israeli firms, Dan and Electra, asked for the delay after it emerged that French train maker Alstom intends to pull out of their consortium bidding to expand the settler tramway – citing human rights concerns.

This is the latest sign of trouble for Israel’s effort to expand the tramway which links Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to each other and to occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank is a war crime.

Harmful to human rights

“On Friday, we received with astonishment the official position of Alstom, which in effect prevents Electra and Dan from being able to submit a bid in the tender, as the deadline is tomorrow,” the letter states.

“This position is based entirely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the point of departure presented to Electra and Dan is that the tender and the implementation of the project are ostensibly harmful or liable to harm human rights,” the letter adds. “Moreover, Alstom claims that its participation is contrary to French law.”

France, despite its strongly pro-Israel policies, warns companies against doing business in the settlements.

The French foreign ministry states that trade and business “in or benefiting the settlements entails legal and economic risks tied to the fact that Israeli settlements, under international law, are built on occupied territories and are not recognized as part of Israel.”

With the apparent collapse of the bid involving Alstom, another European firm, Barcelona transit operator Moventia, would also be forced out, because it is part of the same consortium.

Stampede for the exit

News of Alstom’s planned withdrawal comes just days after The Electronic Intifada revealed that a rival consortium led by Canadian engineering giant Bombardier had also quit the tender.

Bombardier pulled out after Macquarie, the Australian investment fund, withdrew its support from the consortium.

Another consortium which includes Germany’s Siemens also dropped out of the competition for the massive contract, citing risks related to Israel’s occupation.

This means that the number of consortiums likely to take part has dwindled from an initial eight to no more than 2-4, according to Israeli business publication Calcalist.

But even that may be optimistic, as the remaining bidders face a host of problems.

A consortium bringing together Israeli firm Shafir and Spanish train maker CAF is hampered by the fact that the Spanish firm’s official workers council has voted against participation in the settlement project.

The bid from a Greek-led consortium including contractor GEK Terna and state-owned Athens transit company STASY is also in doubt over financing problems.

Calcalist also says that other bidders include Chinese firms operating in Iran, which could pose a problem “against the background of the sanctions imposed by the US government on Iran, and the American criticism of Chinese companies operating in Israel.”

One of the consortiums still in the running includes Chinese train maker CRRC, which is developing Iran’s high-speed rail network.

The Chinese firm recently dismissed concerns that tightened US sanctions on Iran would affect its work in that country.

The US has been exerting pressure on Israel to limit Chinese investments in the country ostensibly over security and espionage fears.

“Major victory”

Currently the Jerusalem light rail operates a single line, the Red Line.

Under the new project, the Red Line will be extended to penetrate deeper into the occupied West Bank, connecting the settlements of Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaakov, which are part of the ring of colonies Israel is building to isolate Palestinians in Jerusalem from those in the rest of the occupied West Bank.

The entirely new Green Line is planned to run from Mount Scopus in occupied East Jerusalem to the settlement of Gilo, southwest of Jerusalem.

Alstom has until now been willingly complicit in this project, a key part of Israel’s efforts to entrench and expand its colonization of Palestinian land.

Alstom makes the railroad cars for the existing light rail line, and its wholly owned subsidiary Citadis Israel has the contract for maintenance for 22 years, monitoring group Who Profits notes.

In 2013, Alstom sold its 20 percent stake in CityPass, the consortium that currently operates the tramway, to an Israeli buyer.

“However, Alstom, along with the Ashtrom Group, remains the engineering and construction contractor for the project,” Who Profits states.

In 2015, after a years-long campaign by human rights activists, French firm Veolia also sold its stake in CityPass.

That Alstom is now reconsidering any further involvement in the Jerusalem light rail shows the impact of the growing legal and human rights consensus that doing business with Israel’s settlements involves unavoidable complicity in major human rights abuses, including war crimes, and that such trade should be banned.

Palestinian campaigners certainly see it that way.

“Alstom’s exit would be a major victory for human rights activists in France, Palestine and several other countries where BDS campaigns have denied the company lucrative contracts and hurt its reputation,” the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) said on Sunday.

“Pressure on Alstom must continue until it confirms its withdrawal from the project.”

“Palestinian victims of the Jerusalem light rail, like all other Israeli projects that violate international law, are entitled to reparations for damages incurred to their livelihoods and property,” the BNC added.

“Corporate involvement in the crimes of Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people is not just morally reprehensible and a legal liability. It hurts business too.”

Alstom spokespersons have not responded to requests for comment from The Electronic Intifada.

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