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General Assembly debates measures to halt construction of West Bank barrier

16 July 2004 The United Nations General Assembly today discussed measures to end Israel's construction of a separation barrier in and around the West Bank after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared it to be illegal.

The Assembly met in a resumption of its tenth emergency special session on illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory following a request of the Arab Group.

Last week the ICJ - the UN's principal judicial organ - issued an advisory opinion saying the separation barrier was illegal and that construction must stop immediately. The Court also said Israel should make reparations for any damage caused, and that the Assembly and the Security Council should consider what steps to take "to bring to an end the illegal situation" created by the situation.

Speaking at the outset of today's debate, the Permanent Observer of Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said the ICJ's advisory opinion constituted a strong, clear and comprehensive determination of the applicable rules of international law, as well as the legal obligations that had arisen from breaches of that law committed by Israel as a result of its construction of the separation wall.

He said a draft resolution before the Assembly had a two-fold purpose: acceptance of the advisory opinion and a call for compliance with international legal obligations from Israel and from other Member States. In the event of non-compliance, States must be ready to undertake actions consistent with their legal obligation, including actions against all settlement activities as well as sanctions against companies or entities involved in the wall's construction.

Ambassador Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group of States, said his delegation was planning to circulate a draft resolution with the aim of not only having the Assembly react positively to the ICJ's opinion but to see that the ruling's salient points were reprinted in any subsequent resolution. By supporting the Court's opinion, the Assembly would show the world that despite the realities of political power and expedience, justice, when sought, could be found.

Ambassador Dan Gillerman of Israel said his country, together with a large number of States, had not supported the request for the ICJ's advisory opinion because the initiative was counterproductive and harmful. The General Assembly had acted wrongly, politicizing the Court and turning a judicial organ into an actor on the political stage. Now, all those States that had expressed concern about the misuse of the ICJ must be wary of allowing the process to dictate the international agenda, he said.

Israel recognized that it had responsibilities, Ambassador Gillerman said, but it was not alone. The Palestinian side must abandon terror as a strategic choice; that straightforward measure would lead to removal of the fence. In the months since the advisory opinion had been requested, it had become clear that the fence worked. There was now a genuine chance to restart the Road Map as a result of the disengagement plan, he said, crediting the fence's security benefits for creating the new opportunity.

Ambassador Paul Badji of Senegal, speaking as the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the ICJ decision was an historic one and, if applied fully in good faith, would set the course for the international community to help re-launch the negations between the two sides towards implementation of the Road Map peace plan. Moreover, the Committee would reaffirm the continued leading role of the United Nations in efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict until the objectives of the Road Map had been attained.

Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Ambassador Mohd Radzi Abdul Rahman of Malaysia said the bloc maintained that a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only be ensured on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions. The General Assembly must muster the political will necessary to respond to the present situation. As the consequences of allowing the construction of the wall to continue on its present route were fearful, adoption of the draft resolution would send a strong and clear message to Israel and express solidarity with the Palestinian people, he said.

Ambassador Dirk Jan Van Den Berg of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union, while recognizing Israel's right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, had demanded that Israel stop and reverse its construction of the wall inside the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, as it was in contradiction to the relevant provisions of international law. He also underlined the overriding importance of the political process as laid down in the Road Map, stressing that this was the only route to achieving a negotiated two-State solution.

For his part, Altay Cengizer of Turkey, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the bloc consistently rejected terrorism and did not deny the right of all States to fight that scourge. Yet it held that this should in no way be construed as condoning the violation of others' legitimate rights. The wall, in its present form, was not a healthy solution as it undermined the basic vision of Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in safety and security in their respective states. It also strengthened the perception of an unjust Israeli occupation and restricted the basic human rights of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Therefore, the focus must fall upon the Road Map.

According to a spokesperson for the Assembly's President, a vote on the revised draft resolution circulated today is scheduled only for Monday.

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