International Court rules Israel must pull down illegal fence, compensate Palestinians

Aluf Benn, Moshe Gorali and Arnon Regular

Haaretz

The International Court of Justice will rule today that the separation fence contravenes international law, that it must be dismantled, and that compensation must be paid to the Palestinian owners of property confiscated for its construction, according to documents obtained by Haaretz.

The decision will be officially made public at 4 P.M. today under the heading, "Legal implications of the construction of the barrier in Palestinian occupied territory."

The court has ruled that on the basis of the material available to it, "[it] is not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives." Fourteen votes favored the decision and the sole opponent was the American Judge, Thomas Buerghenthal.

It then says: "The wall, along the route chosen, and its associated regime, gravely infringe a number of rights of Palestinians residing in the territory occupied by Israel, and the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order."

"The construction of such a wall accordingly constitutes breaches by Israel of its various obligations under the applicable international humanitarian law and human rights instruments."

In support of Judge Buergenthal's opposition, the Dutch Judge, Pieter Kooijmans, rejected the call for all countries to act against the project.

The International Court in the Dutch capital, The Hague, was asked to deliberate on the issue of the security fence by a United Nations General Assembly resolution of last December, and its decision will be presented to the world body.

Prior to the release of the decision, Israeli sources said they were unsure of the court's ruling. However, European sources said that on the basis of information available to them, the legal opinion would be "negative and critical" of Israel.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat yesterday said he had full confidence in the International Court. "I believe the court in the Hague is capable of stopping the construction of the fence that damages our people," he said in Ramallah.

For its part, the Defense Ministry has carried out changes on the official map delineating the route of the fence according to the ruling of the High Court of Justice. The changes run along the section of the fence northwest of Jerusalem, and in parts near Qalqilya, Modi'in and southeast of Jerusalem near Gush Etzion.

According to the map made public by the Ministry of Defense, there are many changes from the original route of the fence, and all are meant to alleviate the pressure on the Palestinian population in those areas.

However, the new map also shows the intention to build the fence around the Ariel salient, linking the largest settlement in the West Bank, with Karnei Shomron and Immanuel, to the Green Line.

Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have prepared their public relations and diplomatic offensives in anticipation of the decision. The PLO representative in the United Nations, Nasser al-Qidwa, and diplomats from Arab countries at the UN, plan to request an emergency session of the General Assembly where the results of the court's decision will be presented.

It is expected that the Palestinians will seek operative application of the court's conclusions, in case Israel refuses to adopt the recommendations of the International Court.

Israel has already prepared its response, assuming that the court will be critical of Israel. Israel will seek to block the issue from reaching the Security Council, with the assistance of the United States. Israel is also hoping that most EU countries will not support the Palestinian move as they opposed bringing the matter before the ICJ.