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In the News
Last Updated: 02/11/2004Divided worlds, divided opinions
News editor Joe Schumacher looks at the new wall that divides Palestine and Israel and breeds divisions around the world.
West Bank wall divides UN
New York - A divided United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to examine Israel's construction of a barrier that juts into the West Bank.
The vote was 90 in favour, eight opposed with 74 abstentions, reflecting uneasiness in many nations on referring the issue to the world court, based in The Hague, Netherlands. The resolution asks the court to urgently issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the barrier.
In October, the General Assembly voted overwhelming for a resolution calling for the dismantling of the barrier, a 150km network of fences, walls, razor wire and trenches. But several nations said they didn't want the court brought in, and noted that its opinion would not be legally binding.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his government would co-operate with the court's expected investigation of the contentious barrier.
The United States and Israel strongly opposed what they called a biased resolution, arguing that it would "politicise" the court and undermine efforts to reach a Mideast peace settlement. Israel insists the barrier is needed to prevent suicide attacks and its construction is purely for security.
Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman called the vote "a moral victory," saying "most of the world's enlightened democracies" were among the large number of countries that didn't support the resolution while those who voted "yes" were "mostly tyrannical dictatorships, corrupt and human rights-defying regimes."
Arab nations argued that going to the court was the only action available to try to stop construction of the barrier.
Palestinian UN observer Nasser Al-Kidwa started pushing for the resolution after Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a November 28 report declaring that Israel had failed to comply with the General Assembly demand to halt construction of the barrier.
He welcomed the resolution's adoption, saying 90 nations voted for "international law and for what is right - in spite of the immense pressures, and even threats ... to which member states were subjected" not to support the resolution.
"For us, any negotiations are meaningless without first stopping the wall," he said. "For us, it is either the wall or the road map. If Israel continues building the wall, this will be the end of the road map."
Gillerman called the barrier "the Arafat fence," after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"His terrorism initiated it, and made its construction inevitable," Gillerman said. "If there were no Arafat, there would be no fence."
He insisted the barrier was not an obstacle to a two-state solution but warned that attempting to involve the International Court "is especially counterproductive" at a time when there is hope for renewing negotiations.
"It will severely complicate, undermine and delay, if not halt altogether, current efforts to restart the implementation of the road map," Gillerman said.
Israel may re-route wall to help Palestinians
JERUSALEM - Israeli state lawyers say the route of a barrier designed to stop suicide bombers, which cuts deep into the occupied West Bank, will probably be revised to ease Palestinian hardship.
"The fence route will probably be moved, and a change of policy in the seam-line area is being considered to ease as much as possible the lives of the Palestinians living in it," lawyer Michael Blass told a Supreme Court hearing yesterday.
Completed parts of the barrier have restricted Palestinians' access to fields, schools and neighbouring villages and two Israeli civil rights groups had petitioned the court to declare illegal the barrier's planned route, looping deep into the West Bank to encircle Jewish settlements.
It was not clear when the judges would rule. The World Court in The Hague is to look at the same issue this month.
The petitioners pursued the case despite signals from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office that Israel intended to shorten the route, making it follow the pre-1967 war boundary with the West Bank more closely in a bid to secure US support.
Parliamentary allies opposed to Sharon's plan to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip dealt him an embarrassing blow by abstaining in a confidence motion.
He survived the second such vote in a week with only a few more votes than the opposition.
Israel has so far built 150km of the planned 728km barrier of wire fences and cement walls.
In court, Israel said the barrier had stopped suicide bombers from reaching its cities, where hundreds have died in attacks since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.
"The basic reason for the barrier is the duty the Government has to protect the right to life of its citizens," Blass said.
The International Court of Justice is to open hearings in The Hague on February 23 at the behest of the United Nations. Its opinion will not be binding.
In a separate challenge to Israel, Palestinian leaders were considering whether to declare a state unilaterally in the West Bank and Gaza.
A senior Palestinian official said it could counter an Israeli threat to give up on efforts to negotiate a peace and take go-it-alone steps to disengage from the conflict.
Unilateral moves could wreck the peace roadmap, which calls for an end to violence and negotiations leading to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Israel's Supreme Court opened hearings yesterday into the legality of a West Bank barrier the Government says stops suicide bombers but which critics say encroaches on land Palestinians want for a future state and violates Palestinian human rights.
* Barrier planned to extend for 728km. A first section of 150km was completed in July and work continues on the second and third sections. The cost is $2 million a km.
* About 20km of the barrier is concrete wall designed to stop shooting attacks. The rest consists of fences with electronic detectors and ditches to stop vehicles.
* Its route approximates the "Green Line" that was the boundary before the 1967 Middle East war, but it is designed to loop deep into the West Bank around major Jewish settlements.
The story behind the story
Arab civil society gets a hearing in Alexandria
Can democracy find a home in the Arab world? While few would predict a major thrust toward democracy in the foreseeable future, the glimmerings of civil society undeniably glow more brightly these days.
Mona Makram-Ebeid, a former member of the Egyptian Parliament, is a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR
Israel Hems In a Sacred City
By John Ward Anderson
JERUSALEM -- Israel is close to finishing a decades-long effort to surround Jerusalem with Jewish settlements, walls, fences and roads that will severely restrict Palestinian access to the city and could reduce the chance of its becoming the capital of a Palestinian state, according to documents, maps and interviews with Israelis, Palestinians and foreign diplomats.
The status of Jerusalem -- a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians -- is one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim Jerusalem as their religious and political capital, but most countries do not officially recognize it as such, and the United States and others keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. Under past Israeli-Palestinian accords, neither side is supposed to take any action to change the city's status, which is to be resolved through negotiation.
Projects to cut off access to Jerusalem to Palestinians living in the West Bank, which borders the city on three sides, have accelerated since the start of the current Palestinian uprising in September 2000. Today, Jewish settlements outside the city have been integrated with the urban core, redrawing the map of Jerusalem and complicating any negotiations over its future and the future of West Bank settlements, Israeli and Palestinian experts say.
The web of projects includes 13 settlements to the north of the city that are being linked with each other and with Jerusalem by access roads that act as physical barriers to Palestinian communities. To the east, Israel has approved expansion of the West Bank's largest settlement, Maleh Adumim, to absorb a swath of Palestinian land between the community and East Jerusalem. To the south, access and bypass roads and Jewish settlements have carved Palestinian lands into a checkerboard.
At the same time, a new barrier combining trenches, walls, electronic sensors and steel fences is being built around Jerusalem. The project, part of a large fence that is designed to cordon off the West Bank, has split some Palestinian neighborhoods and separated many Palestinians from their schools, jobs, families and lands.
Israeli officials say that several of the measures are designed to deter the movement of Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank into Israel and that others are aimed at increasing the proportion of Jews in Jerusalem. Palestinians describe the measures as an attempt to break their religious, economic, political and cultural ties to the city and preempt negotiations over its final status.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, denied that Israeli actions around Jerusalem were an attempt to predetermine the city's future or to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. Many projects, particularly the fence, are temporary measures to stop terrorist attacks, he said, adding, "We are not establishing facts that are irreversible."
"Jerusalem is not going to be a Palestinian capital -- that's the position of this government," Gissin said. "But as far as access and movement, all this could come back when the Palestinians remove terrorism from the agenda."
Avraham Duvdevani, head of the settlement unit of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which implements the Israeli government's settlement program in the West Bank, said that the aim was to consolidate the capital of the Jewish state.
"It's been the formal policy of all governments in Israel that Jerusalem will not be discussed or divided -- Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, to stay undivided forever," Duvdevani said. "Because of that, it was very easy to get permission from the minister of defense and the governments to build settlements that strengthened Jerusalem as the capital and the Jewish majority in Jerusalem and that blocked the option of the Palestinians to build in and near Jerusalem."
To Hatam Abdul Qader, a member of the Palestinian parliament from Jerusalem, such an approach "will make it impossible to create an independent and viable Palestinian state."
"Jerusalem is the most visible example of Israel's settlement policy of besieging and caging Palestinian communities and controlling their exits and entrances with settlements and roads and fences, which are dividing Palestinian neighborhoods and separating Jerusalem from the West Bank," Qader said.
Under the agreements that ended British rule in Palestine in 1948 and divided the region into Arab and Jewish areas, Jerusalem was to be an international city. But Israel's war for independence ended the following year with Israel in possession of the western part of the city, while Jordan retained the eastern section, as well as the West Bank of the Jordan River. In the 1967 Middle East war, Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and shortly thereafter annexed East Jerusalem and the lands around it -- 27 square miles in all.
Fueled by religious conviction, security concerns and economic pressures -- and encouraged and subsidized by the Israeli government -- Israeli Jews began establishing settlements around the city and throughout the West Bank. Today, there are approximately 175,000 Jewish residents in the parts of Jerusalem annexed in 1967, according to Israeli human rights groups, and another 224,000 in the West Bank, according to Israel's Interior Ministry.
Israeli Court to Rule Quickly on Barrier
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's Supreme Court promised a speedy ruling on a petition filed by human rights groups to halt work on the West Bank barrier, a case seen as a dress rehearsal for a world court hearing on the contentious project.
On Monday, Chief Justice Aharon Barak indicated his ruling might come before the Feb. 23 hearing in The Hague, Netherlands.
Responding to international criticism and the threat of the court cases, Israeli officials have said they would change the route of the barrier to ease some of the hardships on the Palestinians.
The barrier is one-quarter completed. Its planned route cuts deep into the West Bank in several places and encircles some Palestinian towns and villages, cutting off tens of thousands of people from their farmland, schools and social services.
Palestinians charge that the barrier is a thinly disguised land grab aimed at leaving Israel in control of large parts of the West Bank.
On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia was in Dublin, Ireland, trying to drum up European Union opposition to the Israelis' planned barrier. Ireland holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation EU.
"If they want to build it within the Israeli territory, they are welcome," Qureia said. "But not one single inch on our territory - that's it."
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern reiterated the EU's position that building the barrier in Palestinian territory is "in contradiction to international law."
The barrier is part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan of unilateral steps that he says he will take if peace efforts fail. These steps, which he says are meant to reduce friction with the Palestinians, also include a proposed withdrawal from most of Gaza.
Israel's military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, warned parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could be perceived by militant groups as a "victory." But he also said a pullout could put great pressure on militants to halt "terrorist activities," the army said.
Zeevi-Farkash did not take a clear position on Sharon's plan, saying the army is still reviewing it. He added that Israel would probably not see a change in the number of militant attacks.
In Gaza, meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of gunmen firing in the air, protested the arrests of four Palestinian men on charges of planting explosives that may have ripped apart a U.S. diplomatic convoy in October.
The suspects' indictment in a Palestinian military court this weekend was met with skepticism by many Palestinians and in Washington. The charges were announced days after the United States publicized a $5 million reward for information about the attackers. The bombing killed three American security guards.
U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer was quoted Tuesday as questioning the latest arrests.
"We are frankly not satisfied to date that we have seen enough results," Kurtzer told a conference of conservative rabbis. His comments were reported by The Jerusalem Post.
In court Monday, the Center for the Defense of the Individual argued that the barrier - a network of walls, razor wire and trenches - infringes human rights and is a breach of international law.
It said that if Israel wants a barrier, it should be built on territory it held before seizing the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.
Those arguments are also expected to be made by Palestinian representatives at the Hague hearings, which begin Feb. 23. Israel does not recognize the old cease-fire line as a border.
Israel will tell the international tribunal that the 440-mile barrier is essential to stop Palestinian attacks on Israel, as state attorney Michael Blass told the court. During three years of violence, more than 400 Israelis have been killed in suicide bombings that originated in the West Bank.
"It is not we who unleashed the demon of terror," Blass said.
Barak, heading a three-judge panel, noted the approaching world court hearing and said he would render a decision "as soon as possible."
Israel has challenged the world court's right to rule on the barrier, arguing that the issue should be resolved through negotiations.
Several other groups also filed objections about aspects of the barrier. Human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman, representing one of the petitioners, said the world court case should be an incentive for the Israeli court to make an exhaustive examination of the facts.
Other lawyers said a full-scale Israeli judicial review could provide useful ammunition to Israeli advocates at the Hague, while demonstrating the Israeli court's own competence.
In new violence, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said it had killed a 50-year-old taxi driver in the West Bank suspected of collaborating with Israel.
The militant group, loosely affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, said the man, Tahsin Abu Arqub, had confessed to aiding Israeli forces in killing and arresting wanted militants.
The US Media and the Wall: Thomas Friedman and 60 Minutes
Why do Americans understand so little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the damage created by Israel's colossal West Bank Wall?
European Union opposes world court case against Israeli barrier
PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer
The European Union has written to the world court to express its opposition to the opening of legal action against the West Bank security barrier that Israel is building, diplomats said Monday.
Although the EU repeated its criticism of the barrier, the 15-nation bloc believes the problem needs a political, rather than legal, solution and fears the court case could further harm peace efforts.
The EU message was delivered Friday to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, by the Irish government, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, ahead of a court deadline for such submissions, officials said on condition of anonymity.
The court is to begin hearings on the barrier project Feb. 23. In accordance with court rules, the EU's letter was not made public, diplomats said.
Despite the move, EU officials repeated their criticism of the barrier itself.
"You very well know our position on the wall -- it does not contribute to peace," Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy representative, told reporters.
EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said, "There is, I think, no doubt between the (EU) member states about the damage which the security fence is doing to the prospects for a solution."
Israel says the 440 miles of fences, walls and trenches are needed to protect against suicide bombers. The Palestinians say the structure amounts to seizure of their land because parts of it cut into the West Bank.
With Palestinian backing, the U.N. General Assembly has sent the case to the court for an advisory opinion. Israel argues that the world court is not the proper forum for the issue. The United States also opposes the court action.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat criticized nations supporting Israel's position.
"They don't respect international law ... but rather follow in this mentality, the mentality of racist actions," Arafat said after a meeting of Christian leaders from Jerusalem.
Although the court's decision would be nonbinding, Israel and the Palestinians see the case as an important battleground for determining the project's fate.
Solana met Monday with the Israeli and Palestinian authors of an informal Middle East peace plan. He voiced EU support for the so-called "Geneva Accord" drawn up in December by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, his Palestinian negotiating partner.
"The initiative ... is timely, is important, and we would like to help them as much as possible," Solana said.
Propaganda war heats up in countdown to ICJ hearing on West Bank barrier
JERUSALEM (AFP) - The propaganda war ahead of a world court hearing on the West Bank separation barrier intensified as pro-Israel groups planned a mass rally to commemorate hundreds of "victims of terrorism".
Palestinian premier Ahmed Qorei, meanwhile, tried to drum up European opposition to the project.
The top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said that Israeli and Jewish students from the United States and Europe would take part in a march through The Hague (news - web sites) on February 23, brandishing photos of the both civilian and military victims of Palestinian attacks, to coincide with the start of the hearing in Holland.
The marchers will file past the International Court of Justice building and the bombed-out skeleton of a bus which was wrecked in a Palestinian sucide attack in Jerusalem late last month.
The bus is being flown out to The Hague by Zaka, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish service which recovers bodies from attack scenes.
The initiatives are designed to ram home Israel's argument that the barrier is essential to its security needs while the Palestinians argue that it is being used to pre-empt the borders of their promised future state.
The world court case will come after an expected ruling in the next few days by Israel's supreme court into two petitions filed by Israeli human rights groups against the barrier.
Nearly 900 Israelis have been killed since the start of the intifada in September 2000, according to an AFP count. More than 2,800 Palestinians have also been killed.
Palestinian premier Qorei is currently trying to build up European opposition to the barrier on a brief tour of the continent.
After talks with his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern on Monday, Qorei told reporters in Dublin that the barrier would "kill the choice" of a two-state solution for the region.
The barrier was also expected to feature prominently in talks with Italian officials when Qorei travelled to Rome on Tuesday.
He was scheduled to have dinner with Silvio Berlusconi after the Italian prime minister's return from holding talks in Tripoli with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
Meanwhile in events on the ground, the Israeli army said it had arrested 10 wanted Palestinians overnight in the West Bank. Five were members of armed groups linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (news - web sites)'s mainstream Fatah (news - web sites) movement, a spokesman said.
An armed offshoot of Fatah claimed responsibility Tuesday for the killing of a Palestinian suspected of collaborating with Israel in the Ramallah region of the West Bank.
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said in a statement that a group of their activists had shot dead Tahsin Arqub, 52, for "participating with Israeli special forces in the murder or capture of wanted Palestinians."
Witnesses said that Arqub, who worked as a taxi-driver, had been abducted by a group of armed men on Monday evening. His bullet-holed body was later recovered in a suburb of Ramallah.