Follow the Soapbox
Fourth Geneva Convention signatories to meet December 17; Israel and the U.S. expected to boycott the summit.
Haaretz--By Barak Ravid | Dec. 11, 2014 | 12:38 AM
Despite pressure exerted by the United States and Israel, the Swiss government has decided to convene on December 17 the states that are party to the Fourth Geneva Convention to discuss the situation on the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

A senior official in Jerusalem said that Israel is expected to boycott the conference, and apparently the United States, Canada, and Australia will, as well. In the days left until the conference, Israel will try to lobby EU states to get as many as possible to boycott the conference.

The Swiss plan to conduct a relatively short, three-hour conference, at the ambassadorial level, with few speeches and without the presence of journalists or any media coverage other than a communiqué to be issued at the end. In addition, the draft of the summary resolution has been softened and will not include a decision to establish an international mechanism to monitor implementation of the Geneva Convention in the occupied territories.

The conference is not expected to make any operative or binding decisions, but may intensify international criticism of Israeli policy in the territories, particularly with regard to the settlements.

At the beginning of April, in response to Israel’s delaying the release of the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners and the announcement of construction plans for 700 new homes in East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to sign, on behalf of the state of Palestine, 15 international conventions and asked to join them. One of those conventions was the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with protecting civilian populations in war zones or occupied territories.

The move was the culmination of the crisis that led to the final breakdown of the American efforts to extend the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. A few weeks later the Palestinians and representatives of the Arab League made an official request of Switzerland to urgently convene the convention signatories to discuss the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its harming of civilians in the Gaza Strip. At the same time as the Palestinian appeal there was also a decision on the issue by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

To date there have been four attempts to convene the signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention, all of them focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most recent attempt was in 2009, following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. At the end of consultations held by the Swiss Foreign Ministry at the time, it was decided that there wasn’t sufficient international support to convene a conference. In 2001, however, after the outbreak of the second intifada, there was such a conference, which was boycotted by the United States and Israel.

Israel has opposed this move by Switzerland despite the low profile it is according the event. Senior Israeli diplomats have traveled several times to Bern and Geneva in an effort to persuade the Swiss Foreign Ministry not to hold the conference, making it clear that Israel would boycott the event if it was held. The United States also exerted pressure, but to no avail.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 deals with protecting civilian populations in combat zones or in areas under occupation. The convention prohibits harming noncombatants – whether civilians, prisoners of war, or wounded soldiers.

In a state of prolonged occupation, as exists on the West Bank, the convention states that the occupying power must preserve the civil rights and the property of the occupied civilian population, and enable them to go about their daily lives. It prohibits the settlement of the occupying power’s citizens in the occupied areas, either by force or by offering incentives.

Israel signed the convention when it was adopted, and the government ratified it, making it a party to the convention. However, the convention was never affirmed in law by the Knesset. Israel claims that the convention does not apply to the West Bank or East Jerusalem because they are not occupied territories but disputed territories. Therefore, Israel does not believe that the settlements violate the convention. 



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