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UN assembly orders Israel to halt West Bank wall
( 2003-10-22 11:15) (Agencies)

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved late on Tuesday a resolution demanding that Israel halt construction of a barrier intended to cut it off from the West Bank and dismantle the portion already built.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinians' U.N. observer (L) speaks to another diplomat while negotiating a vote during the tenth emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly on illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory Oct. 21, 2003, at the United Nations in New York.  [AP]
The vote was 144-4 with 12 abstentions, with the United States and Israel voting 'no' along with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

Abstaining were Australia, Burundi, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Malawi, Nauru, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda and Tuvalu.

The vote capped six hours of haggling between European Union and Arab governments over the text of the measure, which initially had been drafted by Palestinian U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa and took a harsher line against Israeli actions.

In the end, all 15 EU nations agreed to sponsor the compromise, which said the barrier was "in contradiction to international law" and demanded that Israel "stop and reverse" its construction in Palestinian lands.

Arab states took the dispute to an emergency session of the 191-nation General Assembly after the United States last week vetoed a similar measure in the 15-nation Security Council.

The Palestinians enjoy strong support in the assembly and the United States, Israel's closest ally, has no veto there.

But General Assembly resolutions merely express the will of the international community while Security Council resolutions can be binding under international law.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said last week that the measure he vetoed was biased against Israel. To avert a veto, it would have had to condemn suicide bombings and those groups that have taken responsibility for suicide attacks in Israel.


EU diplomats said the compromise hammered out on Tuesday was far more balanced than the vetoed resolution.

It condemned suicide bombings including the recent deadly attack in Haifa, Israel, and last week's bomb attack in Gaza that killed three U.S. security officers.

It also criticized Israeli settlement activities in Palestinian areas and "any activities involving the confiscation of land, disruption of the livelihood of protected persons and the de facto annexation of land."

As part of their deal with the European Union, Arab envoys also agreed to drop a second resolution that would have called on the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on whether the barrier was illegal. The court, a branch of the United Nations, judges disputes between countries and is based in the Netherlands.

U.S. diplomats and some EU governments argued that bringing the U.N. court into the dispute could have further politicized the Middle East peace process and prejudged issues better left to later negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Following the General Assembly vote, Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman called the proceeding "a humiliating farce" and excoriated European Union governments for concluding that "Israel's security measures are far more serious than the murder perpetrated by Palestinian terrorist groups."

"As long as the majority in this assembly will pander and tolerate these rituals, no one should wonder why the victims of terrorism and those who hope for peace look elsewhere for guidance, protection and inspiration," Gillerman said.

Al-Kidwa, in turn, accused Gillerman of "insolence and arrogance that only become occupiers and colonialists."

The barrier, which the Israelis call a "security fence," is already 90 miles long. Israel insists it is extending the barrier solely to prevent suicide bombings on its soil.

But the Palestinians argue that building it deep into West Bank territory constitutes a land grab aimed at heading off any possibility of an eventual Palestinian state.

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