Amid U.N. Security Council Intrigue, U.S. Privately Moves To Block Another Option For International Accountability For Gaza

The Biden administration is finalizing plans to urge Switzerland to reject a request from Palestine and its supporters to hold a conference on violations of the Geneva Conventions.

As bloodshed continues in Gaza, State Department officials are quietly working to stymie an attempt to spur global pressure to end the fighting there.

U.S. diplomats are finalizing a démarche ― a diplomatic initiative ― to their Swiss counterparts that Washington hopes will scuttle plans for a meeting to discuss violations of the Geneva Conventions in the current war between Israel and Hamas, the Gaza-based militant group, according to State Department documents seen by HuffPost.

The revelation comes as the U.S. is simultaneously slow-rolling the most high-profile international attempt to ease suffering in Gaza: a United Nations Security Council resolution that would drastically increase the flow of humanitarian aid into the besieged strip.

The Geneva Conventions are the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law which determine what actions are legal during a war. Every U.N. member state is party to some aspect of them, including the U.S. and Israel. Formal determinations that Israel has violated the conventions in its U.S.-backed offensive in Gaza against Hamas would represent a serious global condemnation of both countries ― and corroborate the claims of human rights groups who have gathered evidence they call proof of such violations.

Historically neutral Switzerland is the depository of the conventions, which means it determines when meetings of the parties involved are held to discuss compliance.

Palestinian diplomats and a significant group of U.N. member states, including some European nations allied with the U.S., are preparing a call for Switzerland to launch such a conference focused on the fighting on Israel-Palestine that would cover Geneva Conventions violations by all parties, according to the State Department documents and a person familiar with the Palestinian effort.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists are supporting the call for an urgent conference.

Such conferences have previously been held in 1999, 2001 and 2014, all of them focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Biden administration wants to ensure 2024 does not see a similar event.

By early January, American diplomats plan to lobby their Swiss counterparts to reject the request from the Palestinians and watchdog organizations.

Internal documents seen by HuffPost direct U.S. officials to convey “serious concern” about the Palestinian effort and make a series of arguments against it. The American diplomats should say the U.N. General Assembly has not since the start of the Gaza war passed a resolution calling for such a conference to be held, and the Conventions do not include directions for the procedure of calling conferences, per the documents.

Also, U.S. representatives should say holding a conference would mean politicizing the Geneva Conventions by creating the impression they are being primarily cited to target Israel, the documents suggest. The materials advise American officials to say that impression would hurt the credibility of both Switzerland and the Conventions themselves.

A State Department spokesperson told HuffPost: “We do not comment on alleged internal Department communications.”

“More generally: We are monitoring the evolving situation in the Middle East and are conferring with partners and counterparts around the world as the situation develops,” the spokesperson continued in an email.

A Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told HuffPost: “We are aware of the Palestinian initiative. We will consider the request once it has been submitted.”

The chief effect of such a conference would be to provide a major international signal about the gravity of the fighting in Israel-Palestine, said Michael Sfard, a well-respected Israeli international human rights lawyer.

“This forum is not a court of law: They can’t rule on whether war crimes have occurred, and it’s not a forum where evidence is being weighed and scrutinized,” he added. “The main importance of such a convening would be political… A convening is a very big deal in the sense that it’s rare.”

Sfard noted that as Israel’s chief foreign ally, the U.S. could also come under scrutiny at such a conference.

“Because America is supporting the Israeli campaign, it will be affected by anything that charges Israel with crimes or demands that Israel adhere to something,” he said.

The U.S. has repeatedly said it is not assessing whether Israel is following international law in its campaign but expects Israelis to do so.

Other world governments say their sympathy for Israel amid its trauma does not excuse what they see as extremely alarming conduct in Gaza.

“While we strongly support Israel and are not ready to accept anything that would jeopardize its security… I don’t see any contradiction between the right to fight against terrorists, including Hamas, and the absolute necessity to stop attacks against civilians,” Nicolas De Rivière, the French ambassador to the U.N., recently told HuffPost. “What is happening now is a massive violation of the Geneva Conventions. It should stop now. Military actions should target exclusively Hamas fighters, period.”

The attack by Hamas and other Palestinian fighters killed 1,200 Israelis. So far, the Israeli retaliation has killed 20,000 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say.

Both sides are suspected of repeatedly violating the Geneva Conventions.


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