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Middle East peace Israel criticised at Geneva meeting

Construction materials being unloaded at a new housing unit in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Homa

(Keystone)

A total of 126 of 196 parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have met in Geneva and agreed that international humanitarian law must be followed in areas affected by the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

A consensus was reached on Wednesday that settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem violated Israel’s responsibilities as an occupying power.

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

Swiss ambassador Paul Fivat, who chaired the conference, told reporters afterwards that the declaration was legally binding on all nations that adopted it. Israel and the United States didn’t participate.

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

Israeli opposition

For its part, Israel says the prohibition should not 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 had 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 occupied territories.

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

Israel opposed the move, arguing there is no universally recognised 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.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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