The United States has filed a formal brief with the International Court of Justice in The Hague, urging the court to refuse a U.N. General Assembly request for a ruling on barrier in the West Bank. The U.N. body voted overwhelmingly last month to ask the court for an opinion on the legality of the Israeli project.
The Bush administration has repeatedly raised concerns about the Israeli barrier project, which it says among other things could prejudge the borders of a Palestinian state in future peace talks.
But it is urging the court to reject the General Assembly's petition, saying it is a bad precedent and that the way to Middle East peace should not be through litigation but negotiations between the parties under the international "road map" to Middle East peace.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. brief was handed to court officials at The Hague Friday, the deadline for submissions in the case.
He said the document expresses the U.S. view that the General Assembly referral was "inappropriate" and may impede efforts to achieve progress on a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement under the "road map."
"The United States itself has expressed views about the route of the security barrier, and the issues of displacement involved in construction, and the concern that it might, in fact, try to prejudice final-status issues that need to be negotiated," he said. "So the first objection we have to the court trying to step in and make decisions on that is that the issues, some of these issues involved, are in fact issues that need to be negotiated between the parties. It can only really be solved by negotiations between the parties."
Mr. Boucher said the United States also argues in the brief that the advisory role of the U.N. General Assembly should not be allowed to override the right of states to decide for themselves if disputes are to be subject to judicial settlement.
Israel strongly opposed the Arab-backed resolution to refer the issue of the security barrier to the court, which was approved by a 90-8 vote in the General Assembly in early December. Israel, the United States and Australia were among those who voted against the measure and there were 74 abstentions.
A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said it was a "very unusual referral" and that if it was accepted by the court, it could open the way to other spurious complaints. The international court is due to begin oral hearings on the matter February 23.
Only partially built, the security barrier winds through the West Bank near the so-called "Green Line" 1967 boundary with Israel.
Israel insists it is merely designed to prevent terror attacks on its soil. But Palestinians say it juts deeply into territory that should be part of a future Palestinian state, cutting off some villages from the West Bank and splitting farmers away from land they have worked for years.
The United States has made numerous complaints to Israel about the route of the barrier and has said it will reduce loan-guarantee money for Israel approved by Congress because of the project and recent West Bank settlement activity.