UNITED NATIONS – Following their victory in the U.N.'s highest court, the Palestinians (search) will ask the General Assembly next week to demand that Israel destroy the barrier it is building to seal off the West Bank (search).
After Friday's ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague (search), Netherlands, that the barrier violates international law, the Palestinians and their Arab supporters said they will seek a resolution enforcing the decision.
In a sharply worded advisory opinion, the court said Israel should tear down the barrier, compensate Palestinians harmed by the structure and return property confiscated for its construction.
The court urged the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council to consider "what further action is required to bring to an end to the illegal situation."
The court also called for a negotiated peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state "as soon as possible."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) praised the court's 14-1 decision as "a victory for justice."
"We are proud of this decision," Arafat said. "We will turn to the United Nations General Assembly, which sent this issue to the court, to discuss it."
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman said the barrier will remain as long as suicide bombers keep attacking Israelis and Arafat's "terror" campaign continues.
He said it was "shocking and appalling" that the court failed to recognize that the projected 425-mile-long barrier was "a temporary, nonviolent security measure" that had reduced terrorist attacks against Israelis by 90 percent. About one-fourth of the barrier has been built.
In almost four years of violence, 970 Israelis have died in Palestinian strikes, with more than 1,000 wounded.
"We cannot accept decisions made in the Hague when in Jerusalem buses explode," Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said. "We have to defend ourselves, and the fence is a defense measure which hurts nobody ... nobody can advise us not to save the lives of Israeli women and children."
Arab nations will send a letter Monday requesting a meeting of the General Assembly to implement the court's decision, said Ambassador Yahya Mahmassani, the Arab League's representative at the United Nations.
The 191-nation world body can recommend that the wall be torn down, and it can recommend sanctions if Israel fails to comply. But only the 15-member Security Council can order such actions.
The Palestinians and their supporters also are expected to circulate a resolution demanding that the barrier be torn down, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"This decision calls on Israel to destroy this wall and desist from further actions," Mahmassani said. "Israel is in violation of international law, of international legitimacy, and the General Assembly now will be called upon to look into this matter."
Gillerman said Israel anticipates a General Assembly debate and expects the Palestinians "to obscure the fact that this is a nonbinding advisory opinion, and try and turn it into something binding which has to be enforced or complied with."
At the Palestinians' request, the General Assembly asked the world court in December for an opinion on the legality of the barrier -- a complex of high concrete walls, razor-wire fences, trenches and watch towers. Much of the completed portion is close to Israel's pre-1967 border, but some of it dips into the West Bank.
Mahmassani said Security Council members "should shoulder their responsibilities and see to it that the decision of the court is upheld, and that Israel implement this decision."
But he also noted that "Israel enjoys a protection in the Security Council," a reference to its close ties to the United States, a veto-wielding council member.
Gillerman was asked at a news conference whether he was concerned about possible sanctions against Israel.
"No. I don't think it will come to that," he replied. "This is a nonbinding advisory opinion and, therefore, whether a country complies with it or not is not something that can or should carry sanctions with it."
U.N. member states should be "very wary and very careful" about supporting action against Israel, Gillerman said.
"If the Palestinians are allowed to succeed in this exercise, this may be a very dangerous precedent, not just for Israel but for many countries in the world, whereby matters which are by nature political are turned into judicial matters -- and into bodies and organs which should not deal with them in the first place," he warned.