Published on Friday, November 28, 2003 by Reuters
UN Says Israel Fails to Meet Demand to Halt Wall
by Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported on Friday that Israel has failed to comply with a General Assembly demand that it halt construction of a barrier cutting deep into Palestinian West Bank lands.
The official finding lays the groundwork for the Palestinians to return to the 191-nation assembly next week to seek further action against Israel.
"I have concluded that Israel is not in compliance with the assembly's demand that it 'stop and reverse the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,"' said the report, requested by the assembly in an Oct. 21 resolution.
Annan acknowledged Israel's "right and duty to protect its people against terrorist attacks."
But doing so by building what Israel calls a "security fence" that veers as much as 13 miles from its 1967 border with the West Bank would violate international law and increase Palestinian suffering, he said.
It also "could damage the longer-term prospects for peace by making the creation of an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state more difficult," his report concluded.
The General Assembly voted 144-4 with 12 abstentions last month to adopt a resolution demanding that Israel halt construction of the barrier. Only the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia voted "no."
Palestinian envoy Nasser al-Kidwa said he would seek an emergency General Assembly meeting next week to take up a second resolution asking the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on whether the barrier was illegal.
The court, a branch of the United Nations based in the Netherlands, judges disputes between countries.
Annan's report "vindicated everything we have said on this matter," al-Kidwa told Reuters.
But Israeli Deputy Ambassador Arye Mekel said his government "strongly disputes the report's findings."
The General Assembly had been "cynically exploited" as its actions had been used to reward "those who seek to use terrorism in order to advance their political goals," he said.
'DEEPLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE ACT'
U.S. diplomats and some European Union states oppose bringing the U.N. court into the dispute, arguing this could further politicize the Middle East peace process and prejudge issues better left to later negotiations.
But Annan called building the wall "a deeply counterproductive act" at a time Israel and the Palestinians were being asked to follow the "road map" peace plan.
Israel says it needs the barrier of concrete, razor wire, ditches and electric fences to stop suicide attacks that have killed more than 450 people in three years.
Palestinians call it a bid to annex land taken in the 1967 Middle East war and say the Israelis must stop construction if they are serious about the road map.
Washington, Israel's closest ally, cut nearly $290 million this week from a multibillion-dollar package of loan guarantees after President Bush said the Jewish state should not prejudice peace talks with "walls and fences."
But Israeli officials brushed off the gesture as symbolic.
Annan's report said the barrier would cut off 16.6 percent of West Bank land, home to 220,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem and 17,000 in the rest of the West Bank. "If the full route is completed, another 160,000 Palestinians will live in enclaves, areas where the barrier almost completely encircles communities and tracts of land."
© Copyright Reuters 2003