Geneva Conventions invoke rights of Palestinians

126 countries urge Israel to halt construction in West Bank and East Jerusalem; US, Canada, and Australia stay away

Palestinian activists place a flag post in E1 east of Jerusalem, lying within area C of the West Bank (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian activists place a flag post in E1 east of Jerusalem, lying within area C of the West Bank (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Much of the international community delivered a stinging rebuke to Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying Wednesday the practice violates its responsibilities as an occupying power.

A declaration adopted by consensus among 126 of the 196 parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention insists that international humanitarian law must be followed in areas affected by the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Geneva Conventions govern the rules of war and military occupation. Nations that took part in a one-day conference in Geneva “emphasize that all serious violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated and that all those responsible should be brought to justice,” according to the 10-point declaration.

Israel and the US didn’t participate, along with Canada and Australia, which had announced Tuesday that they would not attend the conference.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement that “Canada has conveyed its deep concerns and has communicated clearly that it will neither attend this conference nor lend it any credibility.” Australia’s ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma tweeted that his country would also stay away.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry condemned the decision to hold the summit, calling it “a political move whose sole aim is to utilize the important stage of the Geneva Conventions for the sake of denigrating Israel.

Swiss Ambassador Paul Fivat, who chaired the conference, told reporters afterward the declaration is legally binding on all nations that adopted it.

“This is a signal and we can hope that words count,” Fivat said. The declaration emphasizes one aspect of the Geneva Conventions: a prohibition on colonizing occupied land.

Israel contends the prohibition shouldn’t apply to the West Bank and Gaza because their sovereignty is in limbo, with Jordan and Egypt no longer claiming them and the Palestinians never having their own state.

Another concern raised in the declaration is that Israel should “fully and effectively” respect the Fourth Geneva Convention, meant to protect civilians during times of war including in East Jerusalem and other territories under Israeli control.

Switzerland, as the depositary of the Geneva Conventions, said “the state of Palestine” acceded to the conventions effective April 2 — 25 years after Palestinians first sought membership.

Israel opposed the move, arguing there is no universally recognized Palestinian state and it would complicate peace talks.

The UN General Assembly upgraded Palestine to a “non-member observer state” of the world body in 2012.

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