(Digital Journal) – A number of countries including the U.S., Israel, Canada, and Australia are trying to dissuade Switzerland from hosting a special session in mid-December on conditions in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.
The Fourth Geneva Convention adopted in 1949 deals with protection of civilians in areas of armed conflict or under occupation by a military force. The treaty forbids harming any persons not involved in conflict including not only civilians but captured soldiers. During a prolonged occupation as in the West Bank the occupying power must uphold the human rights of civilians in the occupied territory. The Israeli settlements could be regarded as violating the Convention: The treaty also forbids any and all movement of civilian population from within the borders of the occupying power into the areas under military rule – such as the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
At present the are 196 countries who have signed on to the Convention. As well as the settlement issue Israel no doubt violates other aspects of the Convention including punishment involving those not guilty of a crime as when families of those committed of a crime have their houses destroyed:” Reprisals against persons and their property are prohibited.No persons may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”
The Swiss government is under pressure from Palestinians and Arab countries to hold the conference. The Swiss are attempting to make the conference short and low key to try to mitigate the objections coming from some countries. After the failure of peace talks with the Israelis and their expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, signed on to 15 international conventions in the name of Palestine with one being the Fourth Geneva Convention. Only weeks later, the Palestinians together with the Arab League requested Switzerland to convene a meeting that would discuss ” the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the damage Israel caused civilians in Gaza.”
There have been four attempts to convene meetings under the Fourth Convention, all to discuss the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In 2001, with the outbreak of second intifada there was a conference but Israel and the US refused to attend. In 2009 after Operation Cast Lead, countries opposed to a meeting were able to block it.
The Swiss are reluctant to call the conference on their own so they are consulting other states to determine if there is sufficient support to hold the conference. The Swiss are proposing just a three hour meeting at the ambassadorial level. The only media coverage would be a statement at he end of the conference. One Swiss diplomat maintained: “We made it clear we didn’t want a political event or debate club, or a conference that would blame or criticize one of the sides.” Despite the low profile Israel strongly objects to holding the conference at all.
An updated draft of the conference showed that Israel will be mentioned by name unlike an earlier draft and the West Bank settlements are specifically mentioned. Both the United States and Canada have said that they would boycott the conference if it is actually held. Israel is hard at work trying to convince other countries to boycott the conference as well. However, with Palestinians and the Arab League pushing for the conference it is expected that Swiss authorities will announce when it will be held within a few days.
Although Israel signed the convention, it has never been legislated as part of Israeli law. Israel also claims that the treaty does not apply to the West Bank or East Jerusalem since it does not regard these areas as under occupation. This allows Israel to claim that the settlements are not violations of the treaty.