- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Israel has asked the State Department to postpone its annual human rights report for fear it could be used by the International Court of Justice against the security barrier the Israelis are building.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Israeli request was under consideration.

Department spokesman Richard Boucher, when asked about an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz disclosing the request, said he was “not aware of anything like that.”

Mr. Boucher also said the department intended to present the report on time, at the end of February.

Another U.S. official said Israel worried contentions that its security barrier interfered with the lives of Palestinians might be reflected in the human rights report and influence the court in The Hague.

Last week, the United States backed Israel in opposing the court’s consideration of the case.

It was brought by the U.N. General Assembly, with a request for an opinion, not a decision.

Still, the State Department told the court that cases can be brought only by states, not by the General Assembly, and that intervention could hurt prospects for negotiating a settlement of the issue.

The European Union last Friday also opposed the court’s involvement. The 15-nation European Union repeated its criticism of the project, but it told the court a political solution, not a legal one, was needed .

The court is expected to begin hearings on the security barrier Feb. 23 with the backing of the Palestinians. It was not known when the court might issue an opinion.

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, said nations that supported Israel’s position “don’t respect international law … but rather follow in this mentality, the mentality of racist actions.”

President Bush and other senior U.S. officials have invoked Israel’s right of self-defense in rebuffing Palestinian and Arab demands that the administration oppose the project outright.

However, Mr. Bush and the other officials have strongly objected to parts of the construction plan on grounds that the combination of trenches, fences, walls, razor wire and electronic sensors would interfere with Palestinians’ daily lives.

The administration also believes the barrier could prejudge the outcome of negotiations over West Bank territory that eventually would be part of a Palestinian state.

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