UNITED NATIONS – A defiant Israel (search) has vowed to continue construction of its West Bank barrier (search) despite the overwhelming approval of a U.N. General Assembly (search) resolution demanding that the structure be demolished as the world court ordered.
The 150-6 vote late Tuesday, with 10 abstentions, reflected the widespread international opposition to the 425-mile-long barrier which Israel says is needed to protect its citizens from suicide bombings but the Palestinians contend is a land grab ahead of peace negotiations.
The assembly's vote, like the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, is not legally binding, but both have symbolic value as international statements of support for the barrier's destruction.
Nonetheless, the Palestinian U.N. observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said the court's opinion and the resolution could be "the most important" U.N. action since the General Assembly's 1947 partition of British-ruled Palestine to create independent Jewish and Arab states.
"It is an advisory opinion, that's true, but the court identified the legal obligations of Israel, the occupying power, as well as the legal obligations on member states as a whole," he said. "This can be only binding on everybody."
The court, as well as the resolution, demand that the barrier be dismantled and reparations be paid to Palestinians harmed by its construction.
"It's time now, we believe, for implementation, for compliance, and at a later stage for additional measures," Al-Kidwa said, praising "the magnificent results that were achieved today in support of international law and in support of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East."
But only the Security Council can order the barrier to be torn down or impose sanctions, and the United States — Israel's closest ally — would almost certainly use its veto power to block any such resolution.
Israel has refused to recognize the ruling of the U.N.'s highest court, saying it has no authority to deal with the issue, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered construction of the barrier to go on.
The Israeli Supreme Court did order the army to change the route of a 20-mile stretch of the barrier near Jerusalem, saying it was causing too much hardship on the local Palestinian population.
After the vote, Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman denounced the "one-sided and counter-productive" resolution and said construction will continue in compliance with international law as decided by Israel's Supreme Court.
"Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall," he said. "It is simply outrageous to respond with such vigor to a measure that saves lives and respond with such casual indifference and apathy to the ongoing campaign of Palestinian terrorism that takes lives. This is not justice but a perversion of justice."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which promotes Jewish human rights, echoed Israel's opposition and demanded that the General Assembly immediately press the world court to designate suicide bombings a "crime against humanity."
U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham called the resolution "unbalanced" and said it "politicizes" the court's opinion and "diverts attention" from President Bush's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.
The resolution was adopted after lengthy negotiations between the Arab League and the European Union, whose 25 members voted "yes" after last-minute additions that reaffirmed Israel's right to self-defense and called on the Palestinians to arrest would-be attackers and on Israel to stop attacking Palestinian civilians.
Council diplomats said EU members had decided to abstain, but France pressed the Arab League to agree to the final changes in the text. Earlier, at EU insistence, language was added condemning all acts of terrorism and urging the Israelis and Palestinians to meet their obligations under the road map.
In addition to the United States and Israel, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau opposed the resolution. The 10 countries that abstained were Cameroon, Canada, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu.