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27 Nov, 2014 12:29

US helping Israel boycott Geneva summit on occupied territories – diplomatic sources

US helping Israel boycott Geneva summit on occupied territories – diplomatic sources

Switzerland is under diplomatic pressure from Israel, the US, Canada and Australia, which are trying to prevent an international conference in Geneva from taking place in mid-December on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, Haaretz reports.

Delegations from nearly 200 countries are expected to head to Geneva to discuss the situation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Yet, according to Haaretz, Israeli and Western diplomats are ready to go for broke to prevent the gathering from taking place.

Switzerland, as the main sponsor of the summit, is bearing the brunt of diplomatic pressure from all sides.

Israeli authorities told the media outlet that Palestinians and Arab states are also pressing Swiss officials to send out letters of invitation to the conference within a matter of days, the Israeli daily reported on Wednesday.

It was in early April when Israel announced plans of constructing 700 new houses in occupied East Jerusalem, a move that pushed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ask 15 international conventions to join them in the name of the Palestinian state.

A section of the controversial Israeli barrier cuts beneath the West Bank refugee camp of Shuafat, October 31, 2014. (Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)

One of those was the Fourth Geneva Convention (signed 1949, came into force 1950), which specifically addresses protection of civilians in war zones and territories under military occupation.

Washington finally accepted that its efforts to extend peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been torpedoed. Several weeks later, Palestinians and the Arab League sent an official request to Switzerland to hold an international conference of the Fourth Geneva Convention signatory states on the issues of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, together with the damage caused by Israel’s IDF armed forces to civilians in Gaza.

The last time the signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention gathered in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in 2001, after the outbreak of the second intifada. That conference was boycotted by Israel and the United States.

After that summit there have been four fruitless attempts to gather the Fourth Geneva Convention on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Even the bloody Israeli military Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009 failed to raise broad international support for holding such a conference, according to the Swiss Foreign Ministry at the time.

The necessity to call the new conference has been not evident this time, too, so Swiss diplomats asked every Fourth Geneva Convention signatory separately whether the time had come to hold a summit.

Palestinians suit outside the ruins of the home they lost during the 22-day Israeli offensive "Operation Cast Lead", in Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip on February 4, 2009. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

What the Swiss diplomats have proposed is a three-hour conference at an ambassadorial level, no discussions and no media coverage except for a final press statement. The conference is set to be focused on implementation of the international humanitarian law in troubled Israeli-Palestinian relations.

“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,” a Swiss diplomat said.

However small the scale of the proposed event is, Israel strongly objected to it. Israeli diplomats reportedly conducted negotiations in Bern and Geneva, trying to persuade Swiss counterparts to call off the initiative and threatening to boycott it anyway.

“They told us that holding the conference would help a one-sided Palestinian move intended to make Israel look bad and attack it in an international forum,” the Swiss diplomat said.

The US and Canada told Switzerland they are going to boycott the conference, too.

“We strongly oppose the convening of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions and have made our opposition unmistakably clear,” a spokesman for the US State Department, Edgar Vasquez, told Haaretz.

It is true that the conference will have no authority to make any binding decisions, yet its work could engender further international criticism of Israel’s settlement policy on the occupied Palestinian territories.

Besides that, once Israeli diplomats received an updated draft of the conference’s proposed contents, they found out that the updated draft text had been phrased in a politicized way, directly naming Israel and going into detail on the issue of West Bank settlements.

Israeli Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has reportedly been ringing colleagues around the globe, attempting to talk them into declaring a boycott to the conference. Part of this work has been delegated to Israeli ambassadors worldwide.

With all due support on the part of the US, Canada and Australia, these efforts are likely to be in vain, and the Swiss diplomacy is decisive to go on with the plan and announce the conference officially soon.

The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits harming those uninvolved in a conflict, be they civilians, wounded soldiers or POWs, as well as obliging the occupying side to maintain human rights and decent living conditions of an occupied civilian population.

Israel joined the convention, but has never ratified it legislatively. Israeli government regards the West Bank and East Jerusalem as ‘disputed’, not occupied, areas, therefore considering Israeli settlements as not violating the treaty.