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UN General Assembly Condemns Israeli Security Barrier in Near-Unanimous Vote - 2003-10-22

The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning Israel's construction of a security barrier that swerves deep into Palestinian territory. The vote was 144 to four, with 12 abstentions. The United States was the only major country to join Israel in opposing the measure.

The vote came after a day of intense diplomatic wrangling, that saw an Arab-sponsored draft resolution transformed -- through a process of negotiation -- into a European-sponsored measure. The result was somewhat more moderate than the original proposal, but still a staunch condemnation of Israel's security barrier.

It was also a further rebuff to the United States, which stood diplomatically isolated after its veto blocked a similar resolution last week in the Security Council. The only countries standing with the United States and Israel were Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, both tiny Pacific Island nations.

As finally crafted, the resolution demands a halt to construction of the security barrier -- calling it a violation of international law. But, in an attempt at balance, the European sponsors added a paragraph condemning the intensification of suicide bombings in Israel. It mentioned in particular the recent attack that killed more than 20 people in Haifa.

The Israeli delegation walked out of the assembly hall shortly after the vote. But, before he left, Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman expressed his contempt for the proceedings, calling it a humiliating farce. Without mentioning the European Union by name, he lashed out at the EU for agreeing to sponsor the compromise resolution. "We would like to express our disappointment with the role played by certain states who seek or claim a role as promoters of the peace process," he said. "And yet, in the United Nations, seem unable to remain committed to a moral position that, at the least, will not pretend that Israeli security measures are far more serious than murders perpetrated by Palestinian terrorist groups."

As Ambassador Gillerman headed for the exit, Palestinian observer Nasser al-Kidwa made a brief statement, thanking the resolution's supporters. His comments included only one sentence response to the Israeli ambassador. "Insolence and arrogance only become occupiers and colonialists."

Adoption of the measure marks the second time in a month the world body has issued a stern rebuke to Israel. And, just as last month, the General Assembly took up the issue after the United States vetoed a similar Security Council resolution.

General Assembly votes are largely symbolic and cannot be vetoed. They do not carry the legal force of a Security Council resolution. But they are seen as an indication of Washington's diplomatic isolation in its support of Israel. Just as last month, only two tiny island nations stood with the United States and Israel.