Geneva Convention Meet Expected to Slam Settlements

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Construction at the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, near Jerusalem, Sept. 16, 2014.Credit: AP

The conference of signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention, set to convene on Wednesday, December 17, is expected to result in harsh criticism on Israeli construction in the settlements. According to a version of the summary resolution of the conference that has been obtained by Haaretz, the signatories will call on Israel to desist from any activity that changes the demographic balance in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The conference is also expected to result in criticism of Hamas and other terrorist organizations for their widespread use of human shields.

On Wednesday, the Swiss government sent officially invited all 188 countries signatory countries to the convention. The invitation, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, states that after five months of consultations with many countries around the world, the Swiss government reached the conclusion last Tuesday, December 9, that a multiregional critical mass of support for such a conference exists.

In the invitation, the Swiss government emphasized that the summary of the conference was drafted and revised entirely on the basis of comments made by the signatory countries. The Swiss admitted, however, that several countries expressed opposition to the principles of such a conference. Senior officials in Jerusalem mentioned that these countries are Israel, the United States, Canada and Australia, which are expected to boycott the conference.

The 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention focuses on protection of civilian populations in conflict zones or in occupied areas. The convention forbids causing harm to those who are not involved in the fighting including civilians as well as captive or wounded soldiers. In the event of a prolonged occupation, like that in the West Bank, the convention states that the occupying power must preserve the human rights of the occupied civilian population as well as its property property and enable a routine lifestyle for the occupied population.

The conference, which will take place at the headquarters of the International Meteorological Organization in Geneva, will be relatively short, lasting for only three hours. It will be attended by ambassadors, and will include only a few speeches. Journalists will not be allowed to attend, and media coverage will be limited to the summary resolution to be distributed at the conclusion. The conference is not expected to make practical and binding decisions, but is liable to increase international criticism of Israeli policy in the West Bank.

The summary resolution is expected to include a great deal of criticism against Israeli policy on the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip. In the draft obtained by Haaretz, Israel is not mentioned by name, rather described as "the occupying power." The resolution expressed "deep concern" about the effect of the continued occupation on the occupied Palestinian territories and notes that the construction of the separation barrier, insofar as it deviates from the Green Line, and the closure of the Gaza Strip, are contrary to international law.

A central part of the resolution is devoted to construction in the settlements. "The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention reaffirm the illegality of the settlements in the said territory and of the expansion thereof and of related unlawful seizure of property."

The summary resolution emphasizes that Israel is obligated
"to administer the Occupied Palestinian Territory in a way which fully takes into account the needs of the civilian population while safeguarding its own security, and notably preserve its demographic characteristics." This is a call to the Israel government to stop encouraging Israeli citizens to make their homes beyond the Green Line.

The Geneva Convention forbids the transfer of civilians from the occupying power into the occupied area by force or with the encouragement of the government, for example in the Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Although Israel signed the convention after its establishment and the government even ratified it, it is not anchored in law by the Knesset. Israel claims that the convention does not apply in the West Bank and East Jerusalem because they are disputed, rather than occupied territory. Therefore, Israel does not believe that construction in the settlements is a violation of the convention.

The summary resolution also criticizes the Palestinian terror organizations, led by Hamas, but without mentioning their names specifically. Hamas and the other organizations are described as "non-State actors."

Referring obliquely to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the announcement stated that "the location of military objectives in the vicinity of civilians and civilian objects, when it would be avoidable and the use of civilians as human shields" is forbidden.

In an indirect reference to the nature of Israeli activity during the war in Gaza, the summary resolution said that all the parties to the conflict, including "non-State actors," are forbidden to carry out "indiscriminate attacks of any kind, including attacks which are not directed at specific military objectives, and the employment of a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective , [and] disproportionate attacks of any kind, including excessive destruction of civilian infrastructure."

The summary resolution concludes:

"The participating High Contracting Parties express their deep concern about recurring violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, and as such also by non-State actors, including in the context of military operations and attacks directed against and emanating from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

"The participating High Contracting Parties emphasize that no violation of international humanitarian law by any party to a conflict can relieve the other party from its own obligations under international humanitarian law."

Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention Final draft Declaration.

Invitation to the conference.

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