UN to register Palestinians' complaints over West Bank fence

By Reuters

Haarez

Kislev 25, 5767

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly approved plans for a UN registry to record and process claims of damages caused by Israel's construction of its West Bank barrier.

Israel rejected the move, saying it had set up a mechanism to help those harmed by the structure, which it says is to keep out suicide bombers but which Palestinians see as a land grab to preempt talks on the borders of an eventual Palestinian state.

The barrier, a mix of electronic fences and walls, has been under construction since 2002 and eventually will stretch more than 400 miles, curling around Israeli settlements as it cuts deep into Palestinian lands.

A resolution adopted by a vote of 162 to 7 with 7 abstentions called for the establishment within six months of a three-member board and a secretariat to record and process damage claims.

While the UN initially said it would set up the registry in the West Bank so its offices would be close to those filing damage claims, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan later recommended that it be based in Vienna, and the assembly went along with that recommendation.

The registry, which is to remain open as long as the barrier exists, will cost about $3 million a year to operate.

Annan set out the plans for the registry in an Oct. 17 report, prepared in response to an August 2004 request from the 192-nation General Assembly.

The assembly acted after the World Court in The Hague ruled in a July 9, 2004, advisory opinion that the barrier was illegal and should be torn down because it cut into territory seized by Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War.

Palestinian UN Observer Riyad Mansour, calling for the measure's approval, said Israel "must comply or be compelled to comply with its legal obligations under international law."

"The international community must hold Israel accountable for its illegal actions" in Palestinian areas, he added.

But Israeli UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman rejected the resolution, saying some 140 claims had been reviewed and more than $1.5 million paid out to Palestinian complainants under Israel's own mechanism.

"Israel was willing to provide compensation to the Palestinians affected by the fence," he said in remarks he directed at Mansour. "But instead, you chose to ask the United Nations for its help. Instead of helping your people and receiving direct assistance, you chose to put another political mechanism in place that does not and will not bring relief to
your people."

The United States voted against the resolution.

"We believe that the registry process set forth in this resolution remains too ill-defined and too open-ended in duration to allow us to support it," U.S. envoy Christopher Ross said. "The United States prefers to support the Palestinian people in other ways."