- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

JERUSALEM — Israel will change the route of its West Bank separation barrier to cause less hardship for the Palestinians and gain U.S. support against legal challenges, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday.

The barrier faces two court fights. Today, Israel’s Supreme Court will hear petitions from two civil rights groups, including a request to declare the barrier’s route illegal.

Later this month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague will review the legality of the barrier. The U.N. General Assembly, with the backing of the Palestinians, has asked the court for a nonbinding advisory opinion.

Israel says the barrier is meant to block Palestinian suicide bombers, but the Palestinians condemn it as a land grab.

Israel has argued that the world court has no authority over the barrier dispute, saying it should be resolved through negotiations. Nonetheless, it is taking the case before the court seriously.

Many countries, including the United States, agree with Israel that the international court is not the proper venue for the case, but they object to the barrier’s planned route, which dips deeply into the West Bank in some places.

Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Mr. Sharon, said Israel is concerned that the dispute could eventually reach the U.N. Security Council, where decisions are legally binding, though the United States could use its veto there to protect Israel.

“We want as much as possible to draw a line with the Americans,” Mr. Shoval said, adding that the changes would be presented to U.S. Middle East envoys who are expected in Israel this week.

Paul Patin, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, declined to comment on the possible changes in the barrier’s route.

He said the United States has no problem with the concept of a security barrier, but Washington objects to its planned route because of the disruption it has caused to Palestinians.

The barrier, which is about one-quarter built, reaches deeply into the West Bank in some areas, restricting Palestinian movement and preventing residents from reaching jobs, farmland and social services.

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