- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

The Bush administration said yesterday the top U.N. court does not have the jurisdiction to put Israel in the dock over the construction of a security fence designed to contain Palestinian terrorists.

The United States joined Israel, Britain, Australia, France and more than two dozen countries in urging the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to stay out of the dispute over the fence, arguing it could hurt a political settlement and set a dangerous precedent for future disputes between states.

The Hague-based ICJ, also known as the World Court, “is not the appropriate forum to discuss Israel’s security barrier,” the administration said in its submission.

Yesterday’s deadline for briefs to the ICJ came just a day after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 10 Israelis in an explosion on a Jerusalem city bus not far from the residence of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher warned that The Hague case could undercut diplomatic efforts under the U.S.-backed road map to solve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

For the court to issue an opinion on the case, he said, would violate the principle that the ICJ would only claim jurisdiction in disputes where the parties mutually agreed in advance to abide by the decision.

U.S. officials also worry that the issue reached the court through a Dec. 8 vote of the U.N. General Assembly, which many view as dominated by states hostile to Israel.

“There’s a difference between saying that we have an opinion and others may have a strong opinion about this, and saying the General Assembly has a back door to get the court to intervene in any dispute that it feels like,” Mr. Boucher said.

Israel contends that the proposed 440-mile security wall, which includes fences, trenches and other barriers, is needed to stop the infiltration of terrorists from Palestinian territories into Israel.

Palestinian and Arab states have furiously objected to the route taken by what they call the “Apartheid Wall,” saying it represents a de facto seizure of Palestinian territory held by Israel since the 1967 Middle East War.

Mr. Boucher said yesterday the United States has its own concerns about the Israeli fence, but said the question should be hammered out in direct negotiations, not through the U.N. legal body.

On a 90-8 vote with 74 countries abstaining, the U.N. General Assembly last month asked the court to provide an “advisory opinion” on the legal consequences of the barrier under international law, including the Geneva Conventions.

Oral arguments on the court’s jurisdiction were set for Feb. 23, with a ruling expected a few weeks after that. But with more than 30 countries reportedly objecting to the filing, there was some doubt yesterday whether the court will proceed to oral arguments.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy here, said the Sharon government and the Bush administration “see eye-to-eye” on the court’s lack of jurisdiction.

“We’ve unfortunately seen the politicization of U.N. agencies through the years and this is just another example,” he said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath earlier this month traveled to Moscow and Western European countries seeking support for the filing.

Marty Rosenbluth, a specialist on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for the U.S. arm of Amnesty International, said the Bush administration’s opposition to the World Court case was “disappointing.”

“No one is questioning the right of Israel to defend itself,” he said, “but the route taken by the wall raises very legitimate human rights issues for the Palestinians.”

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