Lots of intense last minute diplomatic shuffling will be going on during these next few days over a high stakes Palestinian draft-resolution that Jordan circulated to United Nations Security Council members last month seeking to put a deadline on ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine by November 2016.
Secretary of State John Kerry has scheduled back to back meetings, in Rome tomorrow with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu followed up by a meeting with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and a delegation of foreign ministers representing the Arab League on Tuesday. Sandwiched in between – a meeting with European officials in Paris who are trying to come up with an alternate proposal to the resolution.
Simultaneously, there’s a highly contested summit of The United Nation Human Rights Council of the Fourth Geneva Convention signatory states scheduled to convene in Geneva on Wednesday, December 17, to discuss Israel’s occupation of Palestine as it pertains to international humanitarian law. Provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention include the treatment of civilians during wartime, obligations on occupying powers, civilians in territory under military occupation, prisoners, torture, collective punishment, as well as the illegality of an occupying power transferring their own civilians on territory under its military control.
Israel and the US have been pressuring EU states to boycott the summit. They especially requested Switzerland, the Depository of the Fourth Geneva Convention, not to host the summit. However, last Thursday, the day after the Swiss foreign ministry expressed “profound dismay” at the death of Palestinian cabinet member Ziad Abu Ein (“the ministry praised the commitment of Abu Ein, a member of the Geneva Initiative, to working towards a ‘fair and durable peace’ in the Middle East.”), Israel got the “bad news“– Switzerland announced that the summit would convene as scheduled. A flurry of news reports appeared reporting Israel “blasting Switzerland“.
This will be only the third time the signatories have convened. There are 189 High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel is a signatory as is the US though both are expected to boycott the conference as well as Australia and Canada.
After the negotiations broke down last spring, because Israel refused to turn over prisoners as per agreement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international conventions, one of them the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinian authorities formally requested Switzerland convene the signatories shortly thereafter, reportedly “to discuss the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its harming of civilians in the Gaza Strip.” AFP cited the Swiss foreign ministry as saying that a “trans-regional critical mass of state parties expressed their support” for the conference last July, presumably after Israel began slaughtering civilians in Gaza that month, and that “Swiss President Didier Burkhalter told local media he expected ‘very large participation’ in the conference and that consultations had been ongoing for weeks.”
“Even if Israel and the United States boycott the meeting, the international community must speak on the issue. There is no denigration of Israel planned” from Switzerland, he [President Burkhalter] said.
In calling the meeting, Switzerland is responding to a recommendation from the U.N. General Assembly at the request of Palestinian authorities.
Is Netanyahu feeling the heat yet? Without mentioning Wednesday’s summit in Geneva at his cabinet meeting on Sunday he referenced the Palestinian draft resolution to the Security Council members as a “diplomatic assault” and that any attempt by the U.N. to force a timetable on Israel to end the occupation, withdraw to the 67 lines, would be rejected forcefully (video):
“This will lead to Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem. We will not allow this. We will strongly and responsibly rebuff this. Let there be no doubt, this will be rejected.”
The Jewish Press called it a “UN ambush“.
The US doesn’t want to be stuck having to veto another resolution on behalf of Israel (as it did in 2011), so these last ditch efforts, which include the participation of several EU states (Britain, France, Germany), are perhaps an attempt to water down the Palestinian draft-resolution or influence the European alternate proposal, possibly suggesting another (fruitless) round of negotiations “concluding peace talks in two years.”
The US is issuing vague and somewhat coy statements. Reuters reports “a senior U.S. official said it was too early to say” whether it would veto a resolution and “the United States had not been asked to take a position” regarding the European proposal. Kerry, it is said, scheduled these meetings merely to “defuse tensions during the talks.” How likely is that? Does it mean there is a possibility the U.S. is considering abstaining from the vote? Last month, Al Hayat journalist Mohammed Younis reported that a foreign diplomatic source revealed the Obama Administration was preparing an initiative to restart negotiations and “considering abstaining, for the first time, from using its veto to prevent the passage of the resolution which the Palestinians presented to the Security Council calling for an end to the occupation in a defined time period.”
That would certainly be a game changer.
Either way, the U.S. is likely to boycott the summit in Switzerland on Wednesday. And even though Kerry’s hastily planned meetings over an alternate draft proposal were scheduled directly after Switzerland announced it was moving forward with the summit, no mention of the summit as being a factor in Kerry’s meetings with European officials has been made and nary a word about it at the Sunday cabinet meeting. Interestingly, it was just announced Sunday that Jordan, a temporary member of the UN Security Council, will be submitting the draft resolution to the Security Council also on Wednesday.
Israel signed the convention when it was adopted, and the government ratified it, making it a party to the convention. However, the convention was never affirmed in law by the Knesset. Israel claims that the convention does not apply to the West Bank or East Jerusalem because they are not occupied territories but disputed territories. Therefore, Israel does not believe that the settlements violate the convention.
Crunch time. Palestinians are ready to move forward. They don’t want to push this down the road for a few more years, they want a definitive resolution passed by the end of the year. Will the U.S. be a part of that, or a hindrance?