Swiss Propose a Package of Two Measures regarding the Fourth Geneva Convention

On 29 May 1998, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs sent identical diplomatic notes to the Palestinian and Israeli sides, with reference to the recommendations made by the Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly to the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and to the Government of Switzerland, in its capacity as the depository of the Convention (Resolutions ES-10/3, ES-10/4, ES-10/5). The notes explained considerations taken by the Swiss Government and indicated that the Government had decided to propose a package of two measures, which are intended to be mutually complementary.

On the one hand, Switzerland invited representatives, at an expert level, of both Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, with the presence of representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to a meeting in camera, which could be repeated if necessary. The meeting, chaired by Switzerland, would aim at examining measures and mechanisms that would contribute to the effective application of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including the territories annexed without recognition by the international community. The High Contracting Parties and the Secretary-General of the United Nations would then be informed by Switzerland of the holding of this meeting. The note proposed that the meeting take place from 9 to 11 June 1998.

On the other hand, and in an effort to complement the first measure, in early July 1998 Switzerland would propose to the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention a meeting, to be held not later than early autumn 1998, which would analyze the general problems concerning the Fourth Geneva Convention and seek possible remedies which would contribute to the respect of the Convention (in general, and in particular in occupied territories), in the tradition of the Geneva meetings on international humanitarian law.

The Palestinian side, based on a genuine desire to cooperate with the Swiss Government, indicated readiness to deal positively with the Swiss proposal. It did, however, also note that the proposed meetings did not meet the target dates in resolution ES-10/5 and that the main goal should remain the implementation of the recommendation of the Assembly for the convening of a conference of High Contracting Parties on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. The Palestinian side also maintained that the real issue during any meetings held should remain the acceptance by Israel, the occupying Power, of the de jure applicability of the Convention to all the territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and that legally and politically no negotiated selective amelioration should be sought.

In response to the Swiss invitation, Israeli and Palestinian representatives did indeed meet from 9 to 11 June 1998 at Sarasin Villa near Geneva. The meeting was chaired by Switzerland and held in the presence of the ICRC. The President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr. Flavio Cotti, met with the delegations and expressed the support of the Swiss Government for the ongoing efforts with regard to this important issue.

Main issues regarding the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention were raised at the meeting. As noted in the press release, issued jointly by the parties, significant conceptual differences emerged concerning the implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, its relation with the peace process in the Middle East and the security environment. The Israeli and Palestinian representatives did agree, however, to follow the three principles proposed by Switzerland for meetings on this issue: 1. Contribute to a real improvement in the respect of international humanitarian law on the ground; 2. Avoid any politicization of international humanitarian law; 3. Support the peace process in the Middle East.

Further, the parties exchanged views on the feasibility of establishing mechanisms and taking concrete measures to implement the Fourth Geneva Convention and reaffirmed that the Geneva Conventions are a core value of international law and have to be respected. With a view to continuing the dialogue, the parties agreed to meet again to take into consideration ideas and suggestions that can foster respect of the Fourth Geneva Convention.