International unease as Israel extends wall

03 October 2003
The Israeli cabinet disregarded international opinion on 1 October by approving construction of the central section of the security wall enclosing the West Bank. The measure was passed by 18 votes to four. Opposition came from the right rather than the left. Some ministers criticised the decision to leave a gap in the wall where it passes the Ariel settlement, the second largest in the West Bank with 18,000 residents.

The question of whether to divert the wall deep into Palestinian territory so that Ariel is on the Israeli side has been avoided for the time being.

The approved 28-mile stretch runs from Elkana in the north to the Ofer army base just north of Jerusalem and will cost about $100 million to build. In many places the barrier strays well inside the 1967 Green Line.

Washington refrained from direct criticism of the Israeli decision. 'Our views on the fence remain unchanged,' said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. The White House has previously described the barrier as unhelpful to the peace process and requested that construction be suspended.

Others were less circumspect. John Dugard, the UN Human Rights Commission's special rapporteur for the Occupied Territories, delivered a damning report to the UN on 30 September. 'The wall will create a new generation of refugees or internally displaced persons,' the report read. 'The evidence strongly suggests that Israel is determined to create facts on the ground amounting to de facto annexation.'

London also expressed concern about the proposed route. Tel Aviv dismissed the criticisms, claiming that the wall is designed to prevent suicide bombers entering Israel.

Internal Palestinian discord on how to deal with the militant groups caused the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in early September. His successor, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), is scheduled to present a new cabinet to the Palestinian Legislative Council (parliament) on 5 October.

It is unclear whether Tel Aviv will agree to negotiate with Qurei, who is a close ally of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

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