Israel tells court W.Bank barrier route may change
Israeli state attorneys told the Supreme Court Monday the route of a barrier designed to stop suicide bombers, which cuts deep into the occupied West Bank, would probably be revised to ease Palestinian hardship.
"The fence route will probably be moved, and a change of policy in the seam-line area is being considered in order to ease as much as possible the lives of the Palestinians living in it," attorney Michael Blass told the two-hour hearing.
It was not clear when the judges would rule. The World Court in The Hague is to look at the same issue later this month.
The petitioners pursued the case despite signals from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office that Israel intended to shorten the route, making it follow the pre-1967 war boundary with the West Bank more closely in a bid to secure U.S. support.
Parliamentary allies opposed to Sharon's plan to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip dealt him an embarrassing blow by abstaining in a confidence motion. He survived the second such vote in a week with only a few more votes than the opposition.
Israel has so far built 93 miles of the planned 450-mile barrier of wire fences and cement walls.
In court, Israel said the barrier had stopped suicide bombers from reaching its cities, where hundreds have died in attacks since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.
"The basic reason for the barrier is the duty the government has to protect the right to life of its citizens," Blass said.
The International Court of Justice is to open hearings in The Hague on Feb. 23 at the behest of the United Nations. Its opinion will not be binding.
In a separate challenge to Israel, Palestinian leaders were considering whether to declare a state unilaterally in the West Bank and Gaza. A senior Palestinian official said it could counter an Israeli threat to give up on efforts to negotiate a peace and take go-it-alone steps to disengage from the conflict.
"This is one of the options that are being studied in response to Sharon's unilateral plan and to try to foil it," said the official, Yasser Abed Rabbo.
Unilateral moves could wreck a U.S.-backed peace "road map." It calls for an end to violence, confidence-building steps and negotiations leading to creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie urged the Quartet of world powers to revive efforts to implement the road map.
"I think it is time for the Quartet to move, at a high level, to push the peace process back on track," he said in Dublin, referring to the U.S.-EU-U.N.-Russia grouping.
The U.S. envoy to Israel told a group of rabbis U.S. President Bush was "firmly committed" to peace efforts: "Let no one suggest that the interests of the administration are waning even during this election year," Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer said.
He also criticized a Palestinian trial of four suspects over the killing of three Americans in Gaza, saying it should not be held behind closed doors and that the charges be tougher.
Sharon, 75, had a hospital operation on kidney stones on Monday and aides said he would recuperate at home for some time.