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Israel Speeds Up Construction of West Bank Barrier

Israeli soldiers scuffle with a Palestinian demonstrator during a protest at the construction site of a section of Israel's separation barrier in Immeizil
Israel is speeding up construction of its controversial West Bank barrier. The Palestinians say it's a land grab

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered quicker work to complete construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier, especially in the area of Jerusalem. Israel began building the nearly 700 kilometer long barrier two years ago, but only a third has been completed. Israeli officials say that's way too slow.

"Let's just get it done," said Cabinet Minister and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "This is a security fence, it is not a political border, it is not meant to keep people in like the Berlin Wall, it is meant to keep terrorists out."

It is not clear how the government will speed up construction of the barrier in light of previous rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court. In the past, the Court has ruled that the government is illegally confiscating West Bank land and creating hardship for Palestinians.

Israeli analyst Dan Schueftan told VOA that many Israelis believe the court is favoring the Palestinians over Israeli security.

"And the more they take decisions in this direction, the more Israelis will question the wisdom of the Supreme Court."

So by ordering rapid construction of the barrier, Mr. Sharon is responding to public opinion. But the Palestinians say it's a land grab.

"The only thing that's growing on the ground now is more Israeli settlements, more walls, and more dictations and more harming of the Palestinian people," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled last year that the barrier is illegal and must be torn down. But after more than a hundred suicide bombings during the past four-and-a-half years of conflict, Israel is determined to build the barrier as quickly as possible.