US, Israel Against the World on Wall

UNITED NATIONS – Lobbying has shifted into high gear on a resolution to be brought before the UN General Assembly on Friday that will call on Israel to tear down a wall it is building around the West Bank and pay reparations to affected Palestinians.

The motion will be introduced in an emergency session called by a majority of UN member states, the Arab Group at the world body and the Non-Aligned Movement of 116 developing nations, in response to an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling last week that declared the wall illegal.

Leading lobbying against the expected resolution is the United States, Israel’s biggest international backer and its staunchest supporter on the UN’s senior decision-making body, the Security Council.

"The decision of the ICJ hangs on an interpretation of Article 51 of the UN Charter which is frankly wrong," Ambassador John Danforth, U.S. representative to the United Nations, told reporters Tuesday. "It does not recognize Israel’s right to defend itself."

"We are not going to negotiate … Israel must stop construction, tear down those parts already built and compensate Palestinians," countered Palestine’s representative Nasser al-Kidwa, echoing the ICJ decision.

Palestinian officials have promised to follow Friday’s vote, which is expected to support the ICJ’s decision, by taking the ruling to the Security Council, the only UN entity that could enforce the court’s decision.

"We will bring the Security Council face to face with its responsibilities," al-Kidwa added.

Palestine is putting the resolution to a vote in the 191-member General Assembly in an effort to gain political momentum before taking the resolution to the Security Council. But once there, the United States, one of five permanent members able to veto any motion, is expected to kill the resolution.

U.S. and Israeli officials are taking Friday’s vote seriously, aiming to secure a high number of abstentions so that no majority emerges in favor of the ICJ opinion. Their lobbying is focussed on European countries – particularly the United Kingdom, France and Germany – which abstained from December’s General Assembly decision to ask the ICJ for its opinion on the wall.

The resolution that will be brought before the General Assembly is one-sided, said Danforth, arguing that a balanced political solution must be reached on the issue. "Each side has to agree to it."

Twenty-two "one-sided" resolutions condemning Israel were brought forth at the United Nations last year, and they "didn’t do any good," he added.

Israel and the United States claim that the wall, which Israel began building in 2002, has been a successful defense against "non-state" actors. "The amount of terrorism has declined 90 percent as a result of the barrier," Danforth told reporters.

But the ICJ found that the right enshrined in Article 51 is limited to self-defense in the case of armed attack "by one state against another state."

Though the ICJ decision was supported by an overwhelming 14-1 vote, U.S. officials point out that several judges published separate opinions disagreeing with the court’s pronouncements on a state’s exercise of its right of self-defense.

Judge Pieter Kooijmans of the Netherlands observed that the ICJ failed to note that Security Council resolutions condemning international terrorism, on which Israel relied in its justification of the wall, do not refer to an armed attack "by another state" but to acts of "international" terrorism.

U.K. Judge Rosalyn Higgins also stated that she does not share the majority’s views on self-defense.

But the ICJ ruling does not address only Israel’s right to self-defense. It also condemns the government’s infringements on internationally recognized civil, political, economic and political rights enshrined in the UN Charter, various UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

"The court appropriately found violations of both humanitarian and the law of human rights," John Quigley, professor of international law at Ohio State University, told IPS. "The wall seriously violates international law," he stressed.

"The court decision is a triumph not only for Palestinians but for Israeli lovers of peace and all those who respect human rights and the rule of law," said Terry Boullata, a member of the Palestinian Popular Campaign Against The Occupation Wall.

The wall was built in front of her house and cuts her family off from access to work, schools and relatives, says Boullata, headmistress at a West Bank school.

The ICJ – echoing a recent Israeli Supreme Court ruling that ordered changes in the barrier’s route around Jerusalem because of its impact on Palestinian lives – recognized that the barrier is separating Palestinians from their farm lands, schools and jobs and their relatives. The court opinion says that building the wall is "tantamount to (the) annexation" of Palestinian land.

The protests against the security barrier are focused on its route, which does not follow Israel’s internationally recognized border, the "Green Line" of 1967. Instead, the wall snakes through the West Bank, putting most Jewish settlements on one side and Palestinians on the other.

Parts of the wall constructed within the "Green Line" are not included in the court’s decision.

"This wall is manifestly political. It is there to annex territories to Israel. It has very little to do with security because if you wanted security, pure and simple, you would build the wall on the Green Line," says former Israeli Knesset member and peace activist Uri Avnery.

Palestinian officials are confident the General Assembly will support their resolution. It was, after all, that body that asked the ICJ for an advisory opinion on the legality of the wall after a 144-4 vote in October 2003 on a measure demanding Israel stop and reverse construction of the barrier.

But formal admonition or a sanctions regime against Israel will likely be thwarted by a U.S. veto in the Security Council. In the meantime, the wall continues to rise.