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Israeli Official Warns of Wall Backlash

Attorney general says the nation must heed the Supreme Court in rerouting the barrier or risk sanctions in light of an international ruling.

August 21, 2004|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Israel risks international sanctions and other serious diplomatic repercussions over the barrier it is building in the West Bank and must be prepared to make further changes in the route, the nation's attorney general has warned in a report.

Details of the confidential document drafted by the country's top legal official, Menachem Mazuz, were reported Friday by Israeli media and confirmed by several officials who have seen the report.

The attorney general stopped short of explicitly recommending that the barrier follow the route of the "Green Line," Israel's de facto border before the 1967 war. But he urged that the government move swiftly to "comply with the principles" set down by Israel's Supreme Court in a landmark ruling in June affecting the route.

The high court ordered the rerouting of an 18-mile stretch of the barrier inside the West Bank to cause less hardship to Palestinians. In doing so, the justices used language that legal experts said opened the door to a host of challenges to the 437-mile path of the barrier, which is about one-third completed.

Palestinian officials say the barrier has disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of West Bank residents by cutting them off from family members, schools, jobs and medical care. The Supreme Court said such considerations had to be taken into account wherever the barrier dipped into the West Bank.

Israel says the barrier -- a mix of walls, trenches and barbed wire -- is needed to keep out suicide bombers.

Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruling, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued a nonbinding advisory opinion declaring the barrier illegal -- a position flatly rejected by Israel, which did not recognize the world court's jurisdiction in the matter.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office had no immediate public response to the attorney general's recommendations, which were submitted Thursday.

Sharon, who is in semi-seclusion at his ranch in the Negev desert, is said by aides to be weighing his course of action after the Central Committee of his Likud Party on Thursday rejected his plans to bring the Labor Party into the government. He had hoped such an alliance would enable him to proceed with plans to pull troops and Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

Sharon has said he will push ahead with the withdrawal plan and will continue talks with all potential coalition partners.

In his report to the prime minister, Atty. Gen. Mazuz wrote an accompanying note to Sharon expressing concern over potential consequences if Israel did not respond in some way to the world court decision. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the government to report within 30 days on how the international ruling might affect construction of the wall.

"It is difficult to overestimate the negative ramifications that the [world court] decision will have on the state of Israel in various spheres," Mazuz wrote. "The decision creates a political reality for Israel on the international level that may be used to expedite actions against Israel in international forums, to the point where they may result in sanctions."

Even though Israel has promised to abide by its own Supreme Court decisions, Mazuz, in his 84-page report, urged Sharon to bring the matter before his Cabinet and win a formal pledge from ministers to reroute the fence wherever directed to do so. Israel has already started work on changing the section of the barrier where it was ordered to do so by the court, but the attorney general suggested moving swiftly whenever the court ruled on other challenges.

Representatives from the Foreign, Defense and Justice ministries and the Israeli military contributed to the attorney general's report.

Legal experts said Mazuz's recommendations could help stave off more international legal problems over the barrier.

The severity of the world court ruling had caught Israeli officials by surprise, even though a number of legal scholars said it had been a predictable outcome. Scholars have said Israel should be prepared for opponents to make full use of those findings, even though they were not legally binding.

"I welcome the attorney general's report," said Ruth Lapidot, an expert in international law from Hebrew University. "The political echelon has to take into account the world court ruling, along with its international implications."

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