TEL AVIV (Jul. 11)
The International Court of Justice may have ruled it illegal, but Israel’s West Bank security barrier has at least one new supporter. For Sammy Masrawa, it was more baptism by fire than conversion, after Masrawa witnessed a bombing that killed an Israeli woman and wounded at least 20 others in Tel Aviv on Sunday.
“I am an Arab from Jaffa, a leftist, and I was opposed to the separation fence until today,” said Masrawa, who survived the attack at a downtown bus stop with mild injuries. “But the terrorists do not distinguish between Jews and Arabs. After what I saw today, I hope to set up a lobby in favor of the fence.”
The Al-Aksa Brigade, the terrorist wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, said its men planted the bomb, which they detonated by remote control, to avenge Israel’s killing of its leaders.
The blast was the first terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in more than six months. It left Bat Yam resident Sgt. Ma’ayan Nayim, 19! , dead.
For Israeli government officials, the attack added deadly injury to the insult of last Friday’s ruling at The Hague that the fence is illegal and must be dismantled.
“This morning’s act of murder is the first to have occurred under the auspices of the opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in opening remarks at his weekly Cabinet meeting. “I want to make it clear: The State of Israel completely rejects the International Court’s opinion. This is a one-sided opinion based solely on political considerations. The opinion completely ignores the reason for the construction of the security fence: murderous Palestinian terrorism.”
The Al-Aksa Brigade is backed by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia, whose leader Saturday called for Palestinians to step up attacks on Israelis.
“What removes the barrier,” said Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, “is the will, determination and resistance of Palestinians,! with the backing of the” Arab people.
The Palestinians also are ba nking on Arab support on the diplomatic front — specifically, the United Nations General Assembly, where this week they plan to try and parlay the International Court’s ruling into sanctions against Israel.
According to diplomatic sources, the Palestinian representative at the United Nations, Nasser al-Kidwa, also plans to ask the General Assembly to demand the immediate removal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Such U.N. resolutions are binding only if approved by the Security Council, where the United States likely would veto such a resolution.
“Israel continues to have an ongoing dialogue with our friends, the Americans, to enlist their cooperation in preventing the Palestinians from once again exploiting the United Nations for their political gain,” said Yonatan Peled, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
The international controversy amplifies Israel’s current domestic political tumult.
On Sunday, Sharon fired Infrastructure! Minister Yosef Paritzky after Paritzky was caught conspiring to frame a fellow Shinui Party member for bribery. A successor for Paritzky’s post was not immediately named.
The firing marked the fourth Cabinet change in recent weeks. Last week, Likud Party stalwarts took over the Cabinet seats of three right-wing Israeli ministers who left due to their opposition to Sharon’s Gaza Strip pullout plan.
Political sources said Sharon would decide how to fill the new Cabinet vacancy based on the outcome of talks to bring the opposition Labor Party into his governing coalition.
Sharon was scheduled to meet Labor leader Shimon Peres on Monday to talk about the possible formation of a national unity government and the future of the West Bank security fence.
“Peres is Israel’s elder statesman and a career dove,” one Sharon confidant told JTA. “It could be that his positive image abroad is exactly what the prime minister needs now to weather the controversy around the fe! nce.”