Jordan: Israel's West Bank Barrier Destabilizing

Jordan led a continuing attack on Israel's separation barrier at the world court Tuesday, arguing the structure threatens the kingdom's stability.

Jordan also took aim at Israel's 37-year occupation of the West Bank (searchand Gaza Strip, echoing the arguments of other participants in the hearings at The Hague.

"With the exception of the Palestinians themselves, we feel we Jordanians are the ones who could be most affected by Israel's decision to place the wall where it has and where it intends to do so in the near future," Prince Zeid Al Hussein (search), head of the Jordanian delegation, told the court.

Jordan fears the barrier will make life so hard for Palestinians that they will flee into the neighboring kingdom, straining its resources and upsetting a delicate demographic balance.

The hearings began Monday, a day after a Palestinian homicide bomber in Jerusalem killed eight people. Israel has pointed to the attack as proof of the need for the barrier.

Al Hussein called the homicide bombings "horrific." But he also said they must be seen in the context of Israel's four-decade occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (search), which he called "dominating ... and degrading" to the Palestinian population.

The U.N. General Assembly asked the world court in December to give an advisory opinion on the barrier's legality. The court's rulings are not binding, but can be influential.

A total of 15 countries and organizations are participating in the hearings at The Hague (search), all of them sympathetic to the Palestinians. The United States and European countries are not participating in the oral arguments, following the example of Israel.

Israel says the dispute is a matter for negotiations and has questioned the court's fairness. In an interview published Tuesday in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced the hearings as "a campaign of hypocrisy."

"What is happening at The Hague is an attempt to deny Israel the right to defend itself," Sharon told the newspaper. "We will not give in. Israel will build the security fence and complete it."

The case has raised tensions between Israel and Jordan, which controlled the West Bank before Israel captured it during the 1967 Mideast war. The two neighbors signed a peace agreement in 1994.

Sir Arthur Watts, counsel for the Jordanians, attacked Israel's stance that the barrier is a temporary security measure. Showing the justices a map of a proposed route, he said the structure is meant to connect Israel proper with its settlements in the West Bank.

"The plan stretches for the most part well within the occupied territory," he said. "This wall is not primarily about the defense of Israel's territory."

"If the wall defends anything, it is ... the position of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories," he said.

Israel has built about one-fourth of the structure, a series of walls, fences, razor wire and trenches that could stretch 450 miles when completed. It has not made a decision on the final route.

Although the case is technically confined to issues surrounding the barrier, Watts' comments were the latest to question Israel's occupation policies. On Monday, Palestinian delegate Nasser Al-Kidwa told the tribunal the barrier is "about entrenching the occupation and the de facto annexation" of parts of the West Bank.

Speaking on the sidelines of the trial, Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa accused Israel of trying to "annex territories." The 22-member league is scheduled to testify Wednesday.

Outside the Peace Palace, several dozen Israeli relatives of homicide bombing victims held prayers and wept as they told the stories of their loved ones and clutched their photographs.

Also at the vigil was the wreckage of an Israeli bus destroyed in a homicide attack Jan. 29, when 11 people were killed. It was shipped to The Hague to illustrate the devastation that Israel says the fence is meant to prevent.

Demonstrations also continued in the West Bank for a second day, leading to clashes with Israeli soldiers in several villages.

The court usually takes months to issue a decision.