Israel Summons EU Envoys Over Support for Anti-fence Ruling

Israel summoned three key European Union ambassadors Wednesday to protest against the 25-nation bloc's support of a United Nations resolution calling for the West Bank separation fence to be torn down.

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Yoav Biran, the Foreign Ministry's director-general, told top diplomats from the EU, Britain and the Netherlands that the European bloc's support of Tuesday's General Assembly resolution "raises doubts as to the ability of the European Union to constructively contribute towards advancing the peace process."

"Israel is particularly disappointed with the European position, the willingness of the European Union to toe the same line as the Palestinians... even at the price of compromising on the basic principles of justice and morality," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Israel vowed to press on with construction of the West Bank separation fence after the General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the barrier late Tuesday, with 150 nations voting in favor of the draft, six nations opposing it and 10 abstaining.

"The building of the fence will go on," Ra'anan Gissin, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Wednesday morning.

"Israel will not stop building it or abdicate its inalienable right to self-defense," Gissen said.

Aside from Israel, the United States, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Australia voted against the resolution.

Canada, Uruguay, Cameroon, Tonga, Vanuatu, El Salvador, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Nauru and the Solomon Islands abstained.

Under the resolution, the assembly demands that Israel comply with the ruling of the International Court of Justice that the barrier built on Palestinian land was illegal and should be torn down. The resolution also demands that Israel pay reparations for damages caused by construction of the barrier.

The assembly's vote, like The Hague ruling, is not legally binding, but both have symbolic value as international statements of support for the barrier's destruction.

Both demand that the barrier be dismantled and reparations be paid to Palestinians harmed by its construction.

The High Court of Justice ruled June 30 the state must reroute 30 kilometers of a 40-kilometer stretch of the fence northwest of Jerusalem, in a decision which stated the state must take into account the humanitarian impact the fence may have on Palestinian civilians living along it when determining the fence's route.

A last-minute compromise struck between European Union nations and the Palestinian sponsors of the resolution enabled the entire EU bloc to support the draft.

"Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall," Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman said after the vote. "This resolution cannot but embolden those who are the true enemies of the Israeli and Palestinian people."

Gillerman called the resolution "one-sided and totally counterproductive" and said construction of the barrier will continue in compliance with international law as decided by Israel's High Court.

While the draft would "accept" the court ruling, some EU states including Britain insisted it only "take note" of the opinion while others wanted it to "welcome" the judgment.

"It is simply outrageous to respond with such vigor to a measure that saves lives and respond with such casual indifference and apathy to the ongoing campaign of Palestinian terrorism that takes lives. This is not justice but a perversion of justice," Gillerman said.

The deputy chief of Israel's UN mission Arye Mekel said Israel was very sorry that the EU nations surrendered to Palestinian dictates and added that it would be difficult to see how the Europeans could fulfill any part in the peace process after Tuesday's vote.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which promotes Jewish human rights, echoed Israel's opposition and demanded that the General Assembly immediately press the world court to designate suicide bombings a "crime against humanity."

Palestinian UN observer Nasser al-Kidwa praised the vote as "a historic development."

"This indeed could be the most important resolution of the General Assembly since the adoption of Resolution 181 of 1947," he said. That measure called for the partition of British-ruled Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham warned that the resolution was unbalanced and could further undermine the goal of a Middle East in which Israeli and Palestinian states live side by side in peace.

"All sides are now focused on Gaza and partial West Bank withdrawal as a way to restart the progress towards this vision," he told the assembly.

A vote initially had been set for last Friday but was postponed until Monday, and then to Tuesday evening, to give Arab and European Union diplomats more time to try to reach a deal on changes sought by the EU to win its support.

Kidwa drafted the resolution, a softened version of the recent International Court of Justice decision. However, even the watered-down draft is seen by some to be hard on Israel.

European states were divided over whether the text should express concern about a section of the court ruling suggesting that under the UN Charter, a state had the right to defend itself only against an attack from another state, and not, for example, from a suicide bomber.

Diplomats said most EU states, however, were united in wanting the text to recognize Israeli security concerns and refer to the obligations of both sides under the road map to peace set out by the quartet of Middle East mediators - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.

Hours prior to the vote, EU diplomats were still divided over the precise wording of the resolution.

"There was a stage, just half an hour before the vote, when the Europeans decided they were sick of this sick ritual in which they are forced to chase after the Palestinians to change a word here and a word there," Gillerman told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning. "I must say, the Europeans really did not want this result.

"But in the end, the desire for consensus among the Europeans overcame intelligent thinking," Gillerman added.

A senior Israeli official said that as far as Israel was concerned, France played a devastating role in rallying support for the draft among EU nations.

Britain and Italy, however, objected to the draft and demanded changes.

Australia supports building of fenceAustralia supports Israel's construction of the separation fence but it should not cross into occupied territories, Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Wednesday.

"Israel must find ways of defending itself against terrorists," Downer told reporters.

"And it isn't reasonable to tell the Israelis that they can't erect a security barrier to protect the people of Israel from suicide-homicide bombers," he said.

"We believe that taking this matter of the security barrier to the International Court of Justice was the wrong decision," Downer said.