The U.N. General Assembly will ask for an international court opinion on whether Israel should be required to tear down its security barrier. A resolution to that effect passed Monday, with 90 of the Assembly's 191-members voting in favor. Both Israel and the resolution's sponsors declared victory after the vote.
As it often is when the Middle East is discussed, it was a day of harsh rhetoric flying back and forth on the General Assembly floor. At issue was a Palestinian-initiated resolution asking the International Court of Justice whether Israel is legally obligated to remove its security fence that juts deep into Palestinian territory.
Palestinian representative Nasser Al-Kidwa described the wall as a war crime that exposes Israel's expansionist designs. "What is happening is the enslavement of the whole Palestinian people on the way to being confined to cantons by the Israeli fascist colonial occupier. It is the shame of century, the shame of the 21st century that screams for serious action to erase it," he said.
In his defense, Israeli representative Dan Gillerman described the resolution as an abuse of the General Assembly. He blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for initiating the terrorist attacks that prompted construction of the security barrier. "This is the Arafat fence. This is the fence that Arafat built. His terrorism initiated it, and made its construction inevitable. If there had been no Arafat, there would be no need for a fence," he said.
In the end, the request for an international court opinion was approved by a vote of 90-8, with 74 abstentions. The United States, Australia, Ethiopia and a handful of Pacific Island countries joined in voting against the measure. The entire 25 member European bloc and most Latin American countries abstained.
Afterward, both sides claimed victory. Israeli ambassador Gillerman pointed out that fewer than half the U.N. member countries had voted in favor of the resolution. "This is a moral victory for the enlightened civilized democratic world over the dark forces of tyranny and corruption," he said.
The debate dragged on for more than two hours, with each side demanding the right of reply to rebut the other's verbal slings and arrows.
Arab nations asked for the International Court of Justice opinion after Secretary General Kofi Annan reported that the security barrier was causing harm to Palestinians.
The resolution is non-binding and does not require the Hague-based court to make a ruling. But experts say it does add to the diplomatic pressure on Israel to remove the fence which, when finished, could run nearly 500 kilometers, and is 25 meters high in some places.