To Fight or to Boycott? Israel Decides to Skip Fence Hearing

If you can’t beat ‘em, boycott ‘em.

That’s how Ariel Sharon could have summed up Israel’s attitude to the upcoming hearings at the International Court of Justice on Israel’s West Bank security barrier — had the prime minister discussed it openly.

Instead, as if to drive home Israeli vexation over proceedings that many anticipate will be irretrievably pro-Palestinian, Sharon’s office made do with a terse statement Thursday.

“The International Court of Justice has no authority to discuss the counter-terrorism fence since it concerns Israel’s basic right to self-defense,” the statement said. The office added that an affidavit to this effect, filed at The Hague last month, would suffice in stating Israel’s position.

The decision was no surprise to the Palestinians, not least because Israel’s misgivings had been echoed by the United States and European nations worried that the case will set a precedent for foreign judicial meddling in their own internal affairs.

With hearings set to open Feb. 23, Palestinians remain optimistic that the proceedings will damage the Jewish state’s prestige.

“I hope this Israeli decision will not affect the court’s endeavor to carry out its obligation,” Palestinian Authority Labor Minister Ghassan al-Khatib told Reuters.

The Arab-led lobby at the U.N. General Assembly sent the issue to The Hague last year in a bid to halt a fence Palestinians say is designed to steal West Bank land that belongs to them and lay down a de facto border.

The ruling of the 15-judge tribunal will not be binding, but a finding against Israel could spur punitive resolutions at the U.N. Security Council.

Israel traditionally has sheltered beneath U.S. vetoes at the Security Council, and it already is working to secure Washington’s support for the fence by redrawing the route to hew more closely to the pre-1967 boundary — known as the Green Line — that many foreign nations say should be the border of a future Palestinian state.

But many in Israel believe the court should be boycotted on principle, regardless of the fence’s route.

Efraim Halevy, a former Mossad and National Security Council director, warned against allowing the Palestinians to take every grievance to court, and recommended that Israel respond by halting peace talks.

“I do not think the court should be dealing with issues between us and the Palestinians,” Halevy told Israel Radio. “It should be made clear to them that if they take the judicial path — as is their right — other routes will not be open to them.”

Others emphasized the fence’s role as a security barrier already credited with stopping at least two dozen Palestinian suicide bombers.

Israel’s boycott is not stopping U.S. and European Jewish organizations from protesting the event.

Several groups plan to hold press conferences or rally outside the courthouse, where Jewish leaders say they expect to face as harsh a display of anti-Israel rhetoric as that at the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

“The Jewish organizations were correct to be in Durban,” said Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International. “They were correct to bear witness to what happened there, and we will do the same thing in The Hague.”

“It is important for the voice of the Jewish people to be heard outside the Peace Palace,” Goldstein said, referring to the name of the building that houses the International Court of Justice. “It is critical for the Jewish community to sit inside of the Peace Palace and observe and monitor exactly what is being said in the attempt to strip the Jewish people of their basic human right of self-determination and self-defense.”

The Jewish Agency for Israel is coordinating a demonstration of nearly 2,000 European and Israeli students, who will wear placards with the faces and names of Israeli terrorism victims.

In addition, Zaka, the emergency response society, plans to set up a bombed-out bus outside the courthouse.

On Thursday, an Israeli travel agency began offering cut-rate tickets to The Hague for the opening of the hearings.

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