Accessibility links

Israel to Cooperate with World Court Over Security Barrier - 2003-12-09

Israel says it will cooperate with the International Court of Justice, popularly known as the World Court, despite its opposition to the court's expected investigation into the construction of Israel's security barrier. The reaction follows a vote in the U.N. General Assembly Monday asking the court to look into the legality of the security barrier.

Israeli officials condemned Monday's General Assembly vote as cynical manipulation, and an attempt to politicize the International Court of Justice.

But Ranaan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the government will cooperate, if the Court decides to take on the case. "We are going to argue our case in the court. We're not afraid of the international court. We have a solid case of our inherent inalienable right of self-defense," he said. "I suspect that the reason that this happened is because underlying this challenge to Israel's right of self-defense, is a more basic challenge to the very existence of the Jewish state."

The barrier, which is part barbed wire fence, part concrete wall with trenches and lookout posts has been under construction for over a year. In some areas it runs along the so-called Green Line, which marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank land it captured during the 1967 Middle East war. But, it also dips deeply into Palestinian land in many areas, to include Jewish settlements.

While Israel says the security barrier is vital to keep out Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers, Palestinians say it's an attempt by Israel to grab as much land as possible, isolate Palestinians inside barbed wire enclaves and pre-empt any negotiated settlement with a new de-facto situation on the ground.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia welcomed Monday's U.N. vote as a clear message from the international community to Israel to halt the barrier.

In October, the U.N. General Assembly passed an initial resolution calling on Israel to halt construction of the barrier and dismantle some parts of the already completed portion. Now, the General Assembly has voted to turn the issue over to the International Court of Justice for a possible ruling on its legality. Ninety nations voted for, eight against and 74 abstained.

Even though the United States was among the countries voting against the resolution, Washington has criticized the security barrier. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, told Israel Radio that the American concerns are quite clear. "We do support Israel's right to defend itself and we allow, in our own minds, that Israel is going to make its own decisions on how to do that. When we noticed that perhaps considerations other than security were going into the route of the fence, that's when the United States began to express a viewpoint to the government of Israel," he said.

In part Israel has downplayed the importance of Monday's General Assembly vote. Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations even spoke of a moral victory, saying that those who voted against the resolution or abstained were the vast majority of the world's democracies while those who voted for the resolution were dictatorships and supporters of terrorism.

But, the vote adds to the already existing pressure on the Sharon government, including from a key minister. Justice Minister Yosef Lapid of the secular, centrist Shinui Party has called for a new debate on the route of the security barrier and the issue is expected to be taken up at next Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting.