- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

Israel’s foreign minister yesterday told the Bush administration that his nation will not abide by a World Court ruling on the legality of its West Bank barrier and pressed for U.S. support to block any U.N. action against the Jewish state.

“We believe that Israel can deal with this issue by itself,” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said in the White House driveway after a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “We can’t accept any external involvement from the International Court of Justice.

“We don’t believe it is the place that this issue should be discussed. It should be discussed between the two parties — the Israelis and the Palestinians — with other members that are involved in the peace process,” Mr. Shalom said.

The White House also objects to intervention on the matter from the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court. In a January filing with the World Court, the Bush administration said the top U.N. court does not have jurisdiction to mediate the dispute.

More than two dozen countries, including France, which protested the U.S.-led war in Iraq, oppose intervention by the court. Even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and a fierce critic of the Bush administration, has criticized intervention by the court.

The World Court on Friday will render an “advisory opinion” on the legality of the 440-mile network of fences and walls, which Israel says is needed to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of its cities. Although the judgment is not binding, a ruling in favor of Palestinians would embarrass Israel and perhaps allow Palestinians to point to the ruling to bolster its case against the barrier.

The Israeli foreign minister’s overture to Washington is meant to mute any fallout from a decision favoring the Palestinians, who argue that the barrier’s route will trap Palestinians in enclaves.

After his 30-minute visit with Miss Rice, which officials from the National Security Council refused to characterize, Mr. Shalom said that if the matter goes before the U.N. Security Council, “we hope there will be a veto.”

“There is an expectation that this will happen,” he added in an interview with Israeli television, although he would not specify whether that meant he had secured a commitment from Miss Rice for Washington to use its powers in the Security Council.

Mr. Shalom said he has asked the United States to do “everything it can” to block passage of a Palestinian-backed U.N. resolution on the barrier.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling saying a planned 20-mile section of the barrier must be rerouted because the current path locks in thousands of Palestinians and violates international law.

The parts of the barrier already in place have disrupted the lives of Palestinians, forcing many children to pass through army-operated gates to reach schools. Some communities are encircled, farmers are cut off from fields and commuting distances have increased.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he is prepared to move the West Bank security barrier closer to Israel to make sure it does not trap Palestinians. But he, too, does not want the World Court to intervene in the matter.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Thursday met with army planners and ordered them to review nearly the entire route. They said the 25 percent of the barrier already built and not challenged in the courts would not be affected.

Shiri Eden, an adviser to Mr. Mofaz, said a team — including engineers, archaeologists and lawyers — would review about 310 miles of unbuilt barrier. The review could take a few months, she said.

Mr. Shalom said the issue should not involve outside mediators.

“The fact that Israel is changing the route through an internal decision shows we don’t need any external involvement. It shows we are a democratic country that has courts which can act,” he said.

Opponents of intervention by the World Court say it would violate the principle that the body would claim jurisdiction only in disputes in which the parties mutually agreed in advance to abide by the decision. The matter reached the court through a Dec. 8 vote of the U.N. General Assembly, which many view as dominated by states hostile to Israel.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Israeli troops killed three Palestinians yesterday. One man was killed near his home in the southern town of Khan Younis, Palestinian medics said. The army said the man entered an unauthorized area yards from a Jewish settlement.

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