Israel is mobilizing its efforts to contain the damaging diplomatic effect of the decision by the International Court of Justice at The Hague on Friday against the security fence being constructed in the occupied territories.
The panel of 15 judges declared the construction of the security fence a violation of international law, called for the immediate end to the building of the "barrier," demanded that the existing sections of the fence be razed, and said the Palestinian civilians suffering damage from the construction must be compensated.
Israel's immediate goal is to convince as many of the "relevant countries" - a euphemism for the West - not to vote in favor of the ruling when it is brought to the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian observer at the UN, is expected to submit a draft resolution to Arab members affirming the ICJ ruling against the fence ahead of the meeting.
"The General Assembly will now be called upon to look into this matter," Yahya Mahmassani, the ambassador from the League of Arab States told reporters.
The vote, expected to take place on Thursday, is guaranteed to generate a majority of support for the Palestinians against Israel. But in Jerusalem there is hope that western countries will avoid supporting the resolution, and that it will pass only with the support of the developing countries.
The deputy chief of Israel's UN mission Arye Mekel said Saturday that Israel has started intensive talks with the Europeans to try and get them not to support any General Assembly resolution on the fence.
Diplomatic sources said yesterday that they believe that the European Union countries, a bloc of 25 countries, will choose to abstain from the vote, because they will not be able to formulate a common stance.
For it part, the United States has promised to block any resolution at the Security Council against Israel, but the Bush administration is not likely to wish to find itself isolated and will try to rally the support of additional countries rather than have to use its veto power.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will convene today a special cabinet meeting on the ICJ ruling, with the participation of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and other officials of the Justice Ministry.
Mazuz is expected to hold an evening session with officials from various ministries relevant to the fence project, in order to examine closely the implications of the ICJ ruling and Israel's options for a response.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said yesterday that "Israel will continue building the security fence, which is meant to protect the lives of the citizens of Israel."
Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said on Friday that Israel will not follow the ICJ ruling on the fence but will abide by the 30 June ruling by the High Court of Justice, which ordered the Defense Ministry to reroute a 30-kilometer stretch of the separation fence northwest of Jerusalem. The High Court held that the fence was a security barrier rather than a political one, but that Israel must balance security considerations against the needs of local residents.
"Now, of course, there is the limitation the High Court of Justice imposed in Israel, and we will comply with our High Court decisions, and not with the International Court whose decision is in any case a legal opinion for the United Nations" he said.
In a response to the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the West Bank separation fence, Israel said Friday that the court had failed to address the issue of "Palestinian terror" in determining that the barrier is illegal.
"It fails to address the essence of the problem and the very reason for building the fence - Palestinian terror," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
"The key to resolving the conflict in the Middle East won't be found in The Hague or in Manhattan, but in Ramallah or Gaza, where terror originates," the spokesman said.
Opposition leader MK Shimon Peres said that the ICJ "ignored the fact that the right to stay alive is a basic human right," criticizing the international court for omitting the main reason Israel is building the fence.
"I believe that after all the rancor dies, this resolution will find its place in the garbage can of history. The court has made an unjust ruling denying Israel its right of self-defense," said Ra'anan Gissin, a senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"This is a dark day for the international court of justice and the international legal system," Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday. "It is shocking and appalling that in all the 60-plus pages of the opinion, the court failed to address the essence of the problem and the very reason for building the fence - the indiscriminate and murderous campaign of terror that Israelis are facing," he said.
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the ruling as unjust.
"What's going to happen now is this is going to go to the UN General Assembly," Netanyahu said. "They can decide anything there. They can say that the earth is flat. It won't make it legal, it won't make it true and it won't make it just."
President Moshe Katsav said the court was wrong in assuming the fence constituted a permanent border.
Ahead of the ruling, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon said Friday that international legislation on matters concerning war are outdated and irrelevant. According to Ya'alon, the use of civilians in a combat zone necessitates the building of the fence, and that in most sections, the fence allows for complete prevention of attacks.
"The Palestinians recruit seemingly enlightened individuals to condemn Israel, but the fence provides the best security for Israeli citizens," Ya'alon said at a conference in Tel Aviv on Friday.
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