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.
Meanwhile the Israeli government will stop transferring tax money to the Palestinians in retaliation for their recent drive for further United Nations recognition, an Israeli official said Thursday, putting at risk hundreds of millions of dollars needed to run their government.
The move marks Israel’s toughest sanction yet since U.S.-brokered peace talks have faltered.
Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger said that the Palestinian Authority had declared itself party to the conventions on April 2.
This was registered formally by Switzerland on Thursday, he added.
The step is part of a new diplomatic drive by Palestinian president Mahmud 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 “an historic day for the Palestinian people”, a senior Palestinian official said.
The Palestinians had pledged to freeze all moves to seek membership in UN 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.
Israel has meanwhile made a new bid to expand settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
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 the 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.
Israel Planning to Sanction Palestinians
Under interim peace accords, Israel collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinians and transfers about $100 million a month. Without it, the Palestinian Authority likely couldn’t pay the salaries of its tens of thousands of employees.
Reacting to the announcement, Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmad Majdalani called the Israeli decision illegal and a political, rather than economic, move. He said the Palestinian Authority owes the Israel electric company alone some $400 million.
The decision is part of an escalating back-and-forth campaign since the talks helmed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry floundered. Under the peace talks’ terms, Israel promised to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners in four groups. At the same time, the Palestinians said they would suspend a campaign to sign up Palestine, recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a non-member observer state, for as many as 63 U.N. agencies, treaties and conventions.
Israel last week failed to release the fourth group of prisoners and renewed a push to build homes in an Israeli settlement in east Jerusalem — the area of the holy city sought by the Palestinians for their future capital. In response, Abbas signed letters of accession for 15 international conventions. Israel then called off the final prisoner release.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also ordered his ministers to cut off contact with their Palestinian counterparts, while Israeli officials have prevented Palestinian mobile phone company Wataniya from transferring equipment to Gaza.
The move looks to deepen the crisis between the sides as the U.S. seeks to save peace talks that are supposed to conclude by the end of the month. The U.S is hoping to extend them to the end of the year.