Toss the Travaux? Application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Middle East Conflict—A Modern (Re)Assessment
David John Ball
The Israeli-Arab conflict remains one of the longest running disputes in history. The cycle of battle and negotiation has strewn the landscape with failed attempts at peace and generated decades of discussion. Much of this discussion has focused on the concern over human rights violations, overshadowing analysis of potential political and legal resolutions to the conflict. At the center of the human rights discussion stands the Fourth Geneva Convention, an international agreement codifying certain rules of war designed to protect civilians caught in the midst of conflict. The bulk of the literature calls for Israel’s application of the Fourth Geneva Convention and hones in on methods for Convention enforcement. In this Note, however, David John Ball argues that the Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference from the drafting of the Fourth Geneva Convention, or the travaux prdparatoires, makes clear that the Convention does not apply to nonstates. The Note undertakes a close reading of the travaux and finds that the widely accepted interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention contained in the Pictet Commentary cannot justify its application in the Middle East context. Specifically, the travaux reflects that the drafting states’ concerns over sovereign rights following World War II led to a disconnect between the Convention’s allegedly humanitarian aim of protecting civilians above all else and its capability to do so in all situations. Instead, the drafting states neither intended nor created a treaty capable of application to the complex situation existing in the Middle East. The unique history and prolonged occupation of the region, given the statements contained in the travaux, reveals that the Fourth Geneva Convention is not applicable to the conflict between Israel and the nonstate entity commonly known as “Palestine.” This Note concludes that eliminating incorrect assumptions about the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention is crucial to making progress toward political and legal resolutions to the conflict.