Palestinians plan UN resolution on barrier

By Donald Macintyre in Sheikh Sa'ed

The Independent

11 July 2004

The Palestinian leadership is rushing forward plans to draw up a UN General Assembly resolution pressing Israel to implement the world court ruling that its partly built 450-mile separation barrier is illegal.

A diplomatic flurry by both Israel and the Palestinians came as Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, called ministers and officials from the Justice Ministry to a meeting today to discuss the judgement, which the government has made clear it does not see itself as bound by.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian observer to the UN, will consult with Arab states in New York tomorrow on a resolution strongly endorsing the judgement that Israel should tear down the barrier and compensate Palestinians for the hardship inflicted by its construction.

Palestinian officials said yesterday they want the UN process to sustain the momentum of an advisory ruling they say was much more unequivocal than expected in reaffirming the illegality in international law not only of the man sections of the barrier on the Palestinian side of the 1949-67 "green line" but also of the Jewish settlements in occupied territories.

The Palestinian leadership remains undecided, however, about when and whether to refer the issue to the UN Security Council. The General Assembly has a virtually built-in majority in favour of the Palestinians but does not share the Security Council's powers to impose sanctions?powers which the US could anyway use its veto to stop being invoked.

Sylvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said he had asked the US to stop a UN resolution to enforce the ruling?an effort boosted yesterday when the US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Israel had proved the barrier had reduced militant attempts to launch attacks inside Israel. Israel is also lobbying EU members, including Britain to vote against a Palestinian General Assembly resolution .

The distinctly sober view of the Palestinian public about the extent to which the judgement can translate into more than a moral victory was evident yesterday on the main street of this tiny hilltop neighbourhood. "Finally, the Hague delivered a good judgement," said Mohammed Iwaisat, who like most of his neighbours avidly watched the proceedings on al Jazeera. "The problem is implementing it."

Sheikh Sa'ed is a microcosm of issues at The Hague. The barrier is planned to separate completely its 2000 inhabitants from the village of Jabel Mukabber,of which it has been an integral part since the earliest days of the British mandate, and in which only four extended families live, each spanning both Sheikh Sa'ed and Jabel's other six neighbourhoods.

In the weeks after the six day war in 1967 the Israeli authorities causally drew the boundary of newly conquered East Jerusalem through the middle of the village, arbitrarily locating Sheikh Sa'ed in the West Bank. But that didn't matter until the planning of the barrier. For, although some 500 of its residents have West Bank papers, Sheikh Sa'ed was de facto in Jerusalem, with Israeli permits to go into the city, and a long guaranteed right to Jerusalem services and utilities.Which was just as well since all there is on its far side is the steep ?and roadless-- chasm of the Kidron valley. Cut off by on one side by topography from the West Bank, Sheikh Sa'ed residents will now be cut off on the other from the village's only clinic and secondary school, not to mention jobs and hospitals in Jerusalem itself.

With the support of some Jewish peace activists, Sheikh Sa'ed have now engaged Ghiath Nasser, a bright 28-year-old Arab lawyer to petition the Israeli courts ?after the notable successs of eight villages to the north in securing a judgement from Israel's High Court that the barrier route had to take into account Palestinian hardship-- to be kept with the rest of Jabel Mukabber. Here, the hardship has already begun, with earthworks stopping vehicles from leaving Sheikh Sa'ed and special permission required for the residents to visit their relatives in the rest of Jabel Mukabber. The takings in Mr Iwaisat's modest DIY shop are already down 90 percent. Israel has proposed a road down the valley which would lead eventually to Bethlehem some 12 miles away. "But we have no connection at all with Bethlehem," says Mr Iwaisat "Are people going to all the way from there to buy my paint?"

Mr Nasser has secured affidavits from Israeli ex-military experts saying that if the barrier went outside Sheikh Saed it would actually be more secure. But then not even the Army is claiming that tranquil Sheikh Sha'ed harbours militants. Which makes it hard to escape the conclusion that, here at least, locating the barrier precisely along the municipal boundary does have a political component: possibly to reinforce the idea that all Jerusalem, including the Arab communities, will remain Israel's in any final peace settlement. The refusal to accept Israel's argument that there there was nothing political about the route, of course, was a key part of the Hague judgement. "Is it Jenin here?" a another resident, Issam Iwaisat asked caustically yesterday of the security argument as applied to Sheikh Saed. "We never even saw the Intifida here."