On December 5, 2001, Switzerland convened a meeting of the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention to discuss alleged Israeli violations of the Convention in its treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The United States, Israel and Australia boycotted the meeting, because, as Israel warned in a statement announcing the decision, the meeting would be used "as a blunt tool for political attacks" against Israel.
As expected, at the two-hour meeting, the assembled High Contracting Parties adopted a resolution censuring Israel for alleged violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention in its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While scheduled months earlier, the meeting was held in the shadow of deadly campaign of Palestinian suicide terrorism, which killed at least 25 Israelis. While some speakers did address Palestinian terrorism, the absurdity of the one-sided focus on alleged Israeli violations resonated.
Equally troubling was the scene at a meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) organized in Geneva on December 4 to coincide with the meeting of the High Contracting Parties. The NGO meeting extended the singling out of Israel, to the singling out of Jews. In a chilling replay of the anti-Jewish incitement at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, Jewish NGOs were forced out of a "Civil Society Parallel Conference" convened by two Palestinian groups. Organizers told the Jewish representatives, who were the only participants removed from the meeting, that they had not properly pre-registered for the event. Unfortunately, the international human rights and civil society community again remained silent in the face of incendiary incitement against Israel and Jews, as Jewish representatives were excluded from the meeting itself.
The Fourth Geneva Convention on Rules of War was adopted in 1949 by the international community in response to Nazi atrocities during World War II. The international treaty governs the treatment of civilians during wartime, including hostages, diplomats, spies, bystanders and civilians in territory under military occupation. The convention outlaws torture, collective punishment and the resettlement by an occupying power of its own civilians on territory under its military control. In the years since its adoption, the Fourth Geneva Convention was convened only to discuss Israel, and never met to deal with world atrocities including those in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Sudan, Congo, Tibet, etc.
Switzerland is the Depository for the Fourth Geneva Convention. This means that the Swiss are technically responsible for organizing and convening a meeting of the signatory nations. However, the Swiss may only convene the meeting if a majority of the signatory nations agree to do so.
Arab Efforts to Call Meeting
Since 1997, the Arab group at the United Nations has been trying to invoke the Fourth Geneva Convention against Israel, claiming that it applies to settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as to Israeli building projects in East Jerusalem. The U.N. General Assembly has adopted a number of non-binding resolutions condemning Israeli settlements, and calling for a convening of the signatory nations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In February 1999 the GA adopted a resolution calling for a special U.N. session in Geneva to examine "persistent violations" by Israel. International efforts led by the United States were successful in scaling down a special U.N. meeting held in Geneva on July 15, 1999. The closed-door meeting lasted a mere 45 minutes. However, a resolution was unanimously passed stating that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply to Israeli settlements in the "occupied territories."
With the outbreak of Palestinian violence in the territories in September 2000, the Arab group renewed its demand for a full reconvening of the High Contracting Parties. In response, Switzerland reportedly set up informal consultations with a number of countries and drafted a declaration that was critical of Israel, but was far more moderate than the draft document submitted by the Organization of Islamic Conference. Switzerland set the December 5 date for a half-day meeting of the High Contracting Parties.
Political Manipulation of a Humanitarian Treaty
Before the December 2001 meeting, ADL appealed to key European ambassadors whose countries were set to attend, saying that a reconvening the Fourth Geneva Convention would be extremely counterproductive and harmful to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. ADL maintained that this highly political meeting, whose entire reconvening demonstrates an existing predisposition against Israel, would undoubtedly serve to undermine the United States' initiative to end the violence in the region and renew negotiations - an initiative that has the support of the international community.
Unfortunately, this reconvening served to legitimize the Palestinian tactic of using the international community, and the U.N. in particular, as a forum for airing grievances against Israel, rather than resolving such matters through bilateral negotiations. Such an effort was clearly evident at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, last summer, where important issues of racism and prejudice were ignored in favor of highly politicized and inflammatory anti-Israel and anti-Jewish resolutions.
Moreover, the reconvening of High Contracting Parties to discuss these issues dangerously politicized and violated the spirit of the Geneva Convention and its important humanitarian purpose.
At this crucial time, the international community should play a constructive role by encouraging an end to Palestinian violence and terrorism followed by a resumption of negotiations, rather than participating in forums organized solely for the purpose of singling out Israel for criticism.
(ADL, Backgrounder: Israel and the Fourth Geneva Convention )