U.N. votes 150-6 against West Bank barrier
Nonbinding resolution calls on Israel to follow world court ruling
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to call on Israel to dismantle a barrier that would seal off the West Bank.
Israel has staunchly defended the barrier as a means to thwart Palestinian terrorist attacks, and it immediately condemned the vote and said it would continue building the barrier.
"Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall," said Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, called the vote a "very important development."
"Thank you all for doing this great job today," he said. "We are confident that all member states will deal with the provisions of the draft resolution with utmost, needed seriousness with regard to the implementation."
In the General Assembly, 150 members voted in favor of the resolution, while six, including the United States, voted against it. There were 10 abstentions.
The resolution calls on Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion issued July 9 and tear down the barrier.
The planned 425-mile barrier is about one-third complete. In some areas, the barrier is a fence; in others, a concrete wall. (Interactive: West Bank barrier)
Al-Kidwa asked for the nonbinding resolution last week, and hailed Tuesday's vote as a landmark decision.
"This, indeed, could be the most important resolution of the General Assembly again since the adoption of the Resolution 181 of 1947," he said.
That resolution partitioned British-ruled Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arabic.
Gillerman said the world body had been duped by a Palestinian propaganda machine.
"We should not be so detached from reality as to treat an advisory opinion as though it were binding, and binding Palestinian obligations as though they were nonexistent," Gillerman said. "This is not a recipe for progress, it is a sure recipe for failure."
The international court's opinion was sought by the General Assembly after it adopted a resolution in October proposed by Arab states demanding that "Israel stop and reverse the construction of the [barrier] in the occupied Palestinian territory," the court noted.
The court said the barrier is "contrary to international law" because it infringes on the rights of Palestinians. The court urged that Israel remove it from occupied land. (Full story)
The court also said that Israel is obligated to return confiscated land or make reparations for any damage to homes, businesses and farms caused by the barrier's construction.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered construction of the barrier to continue despite the court ruling. (Full story)
Israel has argued that the barrier is "temporary" and that its "sole purpose is to ... combat terrorist attacks launched from the West Bank," the court noted.
Palestinian leaders say the barrier amounts to an illegitimate land grab and an attempt by Sharon to unilaterally set the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, rather than negotiating them as part of a final settlement.
The Palestinians also charge that the plan violates the "road map" to peace, the series of confidence-building measures and negotiations designed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state existing side-by-side in peace with Israel.
The plan is sponsored by the so-called Mideast Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
No plans for Security Council vote
Al-Kidwa said last week that the Palestinians would stop short of going to the Security Council for a binding resolution, which would likely be vetoed by the United States. (Full story)
"At a later stage we will go to the Security Council," he said. He denied that the Palestinians were waiting until after the U.S. presidential elections to press their case before the council.
What the Palestinians want is "as broad an international consensus as possible of acceptance of that advisory opinion and on the call for compliance," al-Kidwa said.
Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt in 1967 during the Six-Day War and began building settlements there soon after.
About 230,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements. Gaza is home to about 7,500 Jewish settlers.
The Israel Defense Forces says on its Web site that the "Anti-Terrorism Fence ... substantially improves the ability of the Israel Defense Forces to prevent the infiltration of terrorists and criminal elements into Israel."
A graphic on the site said that since September 2000, more than 500 Israelis have been killed in suicide attacks that originated from the West Bank, where there is no barrier, but only one suicide bomber came from Gaza, where there is a barrier.
Opposition to the barrier has also come from inside Israel.
Israel's high court ruled June 30 that a section of the barrier under construction must be rerouted to avoid infringing on the lives of 35,000 Palestinians.
The Israeli court reviewed a 25-mile (40-kilometer) section of the barrier, and ruled that Israel's government must redraw 19 miles (30 kilometers) that would run west and northwest of Jerusalem. The court halted construction on the section in March. (Full story)