Israel Likely Won't Send Team to Defend Barrier

An aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (searchsaid Thursday that Israel (search) would likely not send a legal team to defend the construction of its West Bank (searchseparation barrier at hearings in the International Court of Justice (searchlater this month.

A committee appointed by Sharon was slated to make a final decision later Thursday on whether to send a team, said the aide, Zalman Shoval. The Foreign Ministry's legal adviser, Alan Baker, said the decision would be submitted Friday to the court in the Hague, Netherlands.

The U.N. General Assembly in December asked its highest tribunal to issue a nonbinding ruling on the legality of Israel's separation barrier, a string of fences and walls built along the West Bank.

Israel says the obstacles, which will stretch 440 miles at completion, are necessary to keep homicide bombers out of the country. Palestinians charge that the barrier constitutes a land grab since it cuts deep into the West Bank at points.

Israel challenges the world court's authority to rule on the barrier, arguing that the issue is being manipulated by its opponents for political ends. The committee will likely decide against sending a legal team to defend its case, Shoval said.

"The tendency seems to be toward not participating actively," Shoval said. "The court should not be consigned to rule on political issues and this is clearly a political issue."

Any such court process would pre-empt peace negotiations outlined in the U.S.-backed "road map" plan, which is overseen by the U.N. Security Council, Shoval said.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the issue should be discussed between Israelis and Palestinians, not by the court. "It might be we will decide not to participate," he said on Wednesday, during a trip to India.

In the court's first hearings, which begin on Feb. 23, it is slated to rule on whether it will handle the case. Several dozen countries, even those that have objections to the barrier, have submitted briefs saying the matter should not be brought before the court.