Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Switzerland Decides Not to Judge Plo’s Request on Genev a Conventions

September 15, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Swiss government adroitly sidestepped a major international controversy Wednesday by declining to act on an application by the Palestine Liberation Organization to sign the 1949 Geneva Conventions as a “Palestinian state.”

Instead, the decision was left to the 165 signatory states, which were informed of the Swiss decision Wednesday night.

Switzerland, historically a neutral nation, is the international guardian and administrator of the conventions, which are a series of agreements governing the conduct of war, the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians in wartime and in occupied areas.

Israel and the United States expressed great satisfaction with the government’s announcement in Bern that “it was not its role to decide on the Palestinian request.”

Blaise Godet, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s legal division on international rights, noted that only sovereign states can be signatories to the conventions.

Godet explained that in view of “the lack of international consensus as to the existence or not of the Palestine state, the Swiss cannot make the decision.

“Switzerland does not recognize as such the Palestinian state, and in this case, as it acts as guardian (of the conventions), it considers that as long as the question of the Palestinian state is not resolved in an appropriate frame, it cannot make a decision,” Godet said.

The Foreign Ministry official pointed out that the conventions do not provide a special procedure for the acceptance of new adherents.


Switzerland is required by the rules to advise all signatory states in writing of new applications. After that, acceptance is automatic.

Since the PLO controls neither population nor territory, two prerequisite qualifications of statehood, it will be up to the other signatories to decide, and until they do, the issue will be moot.

According to the World Jewish Congress, the Swiss Federal Council was responding to a WJC legal brief arguing against making the PLO a party to the Geneva Conventions.

It was conveyed to the council by Michael Kohn, president of the Swiss Jewish community, the WJC said.

For Israel, the Swiss decision was very good news, Yehuda Horam, Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israel had been exerting considerable diplomatic pressure on the Swiss. But until the last minute, it did not know how they would act, Horam said, especially since the influential Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross supported the PLO’s bid.

Morris Abram, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told JTA, “We feel the Swiss government acted properly as a neutral state.”

Ambassador Avraham Milo, deputy chief of the Israeli mission to the United Nations here, said, “We consider the Swiss position positive as we believe that a terror organization such as the PLO has no place amongst countries that adhere to the Geneva Conventions.”

ICRC spokesman Carlos Bauverd said the ICRC does not comment on government decisions.

But television commentator Jurg Bisseger observed that if the Swiss decision had been different, Israel would have announced that the Geneva Conventions no longer apply in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, making it impossible for the ICRC to continue to function there.

PLO adherence to the Geneva Conventions would have no practical consequences, apart from being a political victory for the PLO, which Israel is determined to prevent.

Israel, with powerful assistance from the United States, has succeeded so far in blocking the PLO’s admission to U.N. agencies in Geneva and Paris.

Recommended from JTA