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Palestinians Try to Press Fence Issue at the U.n., but Europe Holds the Key

July 20, 2004
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When it comes to action at the United Nations, Europe — considered by many observers to be the organization’s moral bellwether — often decides the course. That’s why the General Assembly resolution demanding that Israel comply with the International Court of Justice ruling on the West Bank security barrier has yet to go anywhere. Europe hasn’t been able to settle on a unified position, let alone one that is acceptable to Palestinian representatives.

Arguing that it might politicize the international court and divert the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, European countries abstained from the General Assembly resolution last December asking the court to judge the legal consequences of Israel’s fence.

On July 9, the court ruled that the fence was illegal and ordered Israel to dismantle it. Israel dismissed the court — which said international legal guarantees of self-defense were not relevant to Israel’s struggle against Palesti! nian terrorism — and said it would disregard the advisory opinion.

As expected, the Palestinians quickly took the judgment to the United Nations. They hoped at least to score a moral victory in the General Assembly, even if the prospect of a U.S. veto made binding Security Council action unlikely.

Even in the General Assembly, however, Europe is trying to inject a modicum of balance into the Palestinian resolution before it comes to a vote.

“We are still working up a common E.U. position, but a part of that is likely to be a requirement to set any resolution in its political context,” a European diplomat told JTA.

Europe wants to acknowledge the non-binding court opinion without calling for it to be enforced.

Meanwhile, some European countries also are concerned about setting a precedent that would impede a country’s right to self-defense. Ultimately, Europe wants to couch the resolution in wording that at least notes the political context — unceasing Pales! tinian attempts to carry out terrorist attacks — that prompted Israel to build the fence.

The Palestinians began circulating the draft resolution early last week. Exploratory discussions between the Palestinians and Holland, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, were still under way Monday afternoon.

If the Palestinians agree to compromise language, the European Union likely will vote for a resolution affirming the court ruling, said Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

“They’re making it fairly clear to us that they’re trying to vote for the resolution,” he said. However, “in our view you cannot moderate extremism, and this is an extremist resolution.”

Meanwhile, in discussion surrounding the resolution July 16, the Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser Al-Kidwa, called on countries to impose sanctions on companies involved in the fence’s construction.

“Israel will have to choose what to declare itself — officially, morally and legally as an outlaw state, or to reconcile itself with a ! new reality and comply,” Al-Kidwa said.

Even if it has resigned itself to the resolution’s passage, Israel hopes the debate will shed light on the situation.

Blasting the debate as hypocritical, Israeli officials noted the events of last weekend, in which the Palestinian Authority police chief was kidnapped by militants from P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s own Fatah faction. That set off a round of musical chairs during which Arafat tried to install his cousin in a top security position.

“These are the guys that want to tell the international community what is the rule of law?” said Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

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