The International Court of Justice was to rule on Friday that Israel’s controversial West Bank security barrier is illegal and should be dismantled, according to leaked copies of its judgement published on the Internet.
The ICJ, the UN’s highest legal body, was to give its official ruling at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT), but leaked copies of the document were already circulating on the Internet, quoting the court as saying the wall was “contrary to international law”.
But the Hague-based court insisted that “the only authentic text is the official text issued by the court” when it is read out at a public hearing later Friday.
According to a 59-page document published on a Palestinian website, www.electronicintifada.net on Friday, the court will rule by fifteen to one that “the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law.”
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper also reported Friday that the ICJ would rule the barrier is illegal based on documents obtained by the liberal daily. The wording of the documents in Haaretz and on the website is identical.
“Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law,” the document says, according to the versions circulating on the Internet.
“It is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, (and) to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated.”
The Palestinians have expressed confidence that the court would rule in their favour, while Israel, which has clearly stated its intention to continue building the barrier regardless of Friday’s ruling, has been busy organising damage limitation.
Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said Israel was ready to discuss the future of its separation barrier in the West Bank after it pulls out of the Gaza Strip, suggesting this could involve dismantling or moving the wall.
“If we reach an agreement in the negotiations with the Palestinians, this barrier could be moved, could be dismantled, but it is not up to the court in the Hague, which has no jurisdiction to decide on political and security questions,” Pazner added.
The ICJ, also known as the World Court, was asked by the UN Security Council to assess “the legal consequences” of the barrier which Israel calls an anti-terrorist fence while the Palestinians denounce it as an “Apartheid wall”.
Originally planned to extend almost 700 kilometers (over 400 miles), the barrier is actually a network of electric fencing, barbed wire and concrete walls that juts deep into the West Bank to snakes around a number of Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory.
The Jewish state says the barrier is vital to prevent attacks on its soil but Palestinians claim its real purpose is a land grab pre-empting a definitive demarcation of the border of their promised state.
Although the court’s decision is non-binding and will almost certainly change nothing on the ground it could have important consequences in terms of public relations and thus also have a political impact.
Israel is already working to control any damage that the advisory opinion could create.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has been in Washington this week in a bid to secure help to prevent a negative outcome snowballing into a censure motion at the UN Security Council.
The Palestinians have made it clear that they would go back to the UN if the ICJ advises that the barrier is illegal.
If the Security Council was to vote on a resolution on the ICJ’s finding, the United States is largely expected to veto it as Israel has requested.
In The Hague Israeli government spokesman David Saranga warned the international community that it should not allow the ICJ decision become “a tool to attack Israel”.