Middle East

Switzerland: Palestinians join Geneva Conventions

This photograph released by the Delegation of European Union in Egypt shows European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, April 10, 2014.(AP Photo/Pedro Luis Costa Gomes)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/GENEVA: The Palestinian Authority has signed up formally to the Geneva Conventions, which set down the rules of warfare and humanitarian operations in conflict zones, the treaties’ guardian Switzerland confirmed Friday.

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told AFP that the Palestinian Authority had declared itself party to the conventions on April 2.

This was registered formally by Switzerland Thursday, he added.

The step is part of a new diplomatic drive by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, coming as peace talks with Israel are close to collapse.

Abbas said he had received a letter from the Swiss president confirming the registration and praised it as “a historic day for the Palestinian people,” a senior Palestinian official said.

The Palestinians had pledged to freeze all moves to seek membership in U.N. organizations and international conventions – a stepping stone to recognition of their hoped-for state – during the talks in return for Israel’s release of veteran Arab prisoners.

But after Israel announced plans to expand settlements in occupied Arab East Jerusalem, Abbas turned to the U.N. organizations.

The original Geneva Conventions were crafted in the 19th century under the auspices of the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross, and recast after World War II.

Over subsequent decades, optional protocols were added to take into account the developing realities of war and its impact on civilians.

The Palestinians have also submitted requests to the United Nations to join 13 other international conventions and treaties, and the world body said Thursday that the move was legal.

The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture and an anti-corruption accord.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was facing the threat of his Cabinet falling apart under huge U.S. pressure to salvage the talks.

Israel announced Thursday it would freeze the transfer of taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Several hours later Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met Thursday under the auspices of U.S. envoy Martin Indyk.

Despite the escalations, Israeli media reported a possible deal under which Arab-Israelis would be part of the fourth batch of prisoners still to be freed under commitments made when the U.S. kick-started the peace negotiations last July.

In return, the Palestinians would agree to extend the talks beyond their April 29 deadline and Washington would release American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, the reports said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called speculation over a deal “premature,” and also said no decision had been reached on Pollard.

But Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home Party, threatened to pull his party out of the coalition if such a deal was reached.

“If the government proposes this deal to us, the Jewish Home Party will pull out of the coalition,” he said in a statement after the tripartite meeting.

If Bennett’s party of 12 MPs quit the coalition, Netanyahu would have only 56 seats, four short of the 60 necessary in the 120-seat parliament, forcing either a search for a new coalition partner or fresh elections.

Officials from Netanyahu’s Likud Party dismissed Bennett’s threat, telling media that “nobody is being held in the coalition against their will,” and noting they were already familiar with Bennett’s tactic of “making idle threats he knows will never materialize.”

Journalist and political commentator Yossi Elituv said the only thing that would cause Bennett to leave the coalition would be if he were “kicked out.”

His attitude is “to be in the government, threaten to leave and never quit,” he told AFP.

The real threat comes from within Netanyahu’s own Likud Party.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said a deal including a settlement construction freeze and release of prisoners, after the Palestinians applied to international institutions, “could shock the political system and force Israel into new elections.”

Zehava Galon of the left-wing Meretz Party said Friday that “there was only one thing currently less reliable than Bennett’s threats to leave over the negotiations – the negotiations themselves.”

One way for the prime minister to maintain his coalition if the Jewish Home left would be to ally with the Labor Party, which currently heads the opposition.

Elituv said Netanyahu and Labor leader Issac Herzog “were dying” to form a new coalition, “but it’s not up to them.”

After Israel announced it would be freezing the transfer of taxes it collects for the PA, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat lashed out, calling the move “Israeli hijacking and the theft of the Palestinian people’s money.”

Even as tensions rose, there still appeared to be a determination to continue the peace process, none more so than with Washington, which risked seeing an entire year of intensive work disappear, wrote Sima Kadmon in Israel’s mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

“Despite the evasive games, it is too soon to eulogize the prisoner deal or bury the negotiations, and mainly it is too soon to talk about early elections,” she wrote.





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