The Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2004

NETANYAHU: NO FEAR OF UN SANCTIONS

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was confident Israel could fend off Palestinian attempts to get the United Nations to impose sanctions in the wake of the ICJ's ruling against the security fence.

A draft resolution introduced by Arab nations and the Nonaligned Movement of 116 mostly developing countries demands that Israel tear down the fence. It is expected to go to a vote in the UN General Assembly on Friday.

The General Assembly can call for the fence to 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 United States has vetoed such measures in the past.

"Israel is not going to accept the court's challenge, and I doubt that it will find passage to concrete instruments at the UN," Netanyahu, a former Israeli ambassador to the world body, told a group of foreign journalists in a joint telephone interview. "I think there are ways to ensure that doesn't happen."

He could not confirm media reports that Israel has an American pledge to veto any sanctions bid in the Security Council.

"I'm not aware of any discussions about this," he said. "I have no information whatever about any American promise."

Netanyahu was scornful of last Friday's ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which said Israel must halt construction of the 680-kilometer (425-mile) complex of concrete walls, barbed-wire fences, trenches and watch towers, dismantle it and compensate Palestinians whose lives have been harmed by it.

He said the judges had failed to take into account Israel's need to protect itself from constant terror attacks, and by outlawing any Israeli presence in the West Bank had set back chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

"It does damage to any potential future settlement," he said. "It will probably harden Palestinian positions, for a while at least, and not allow a future leadership to be more amenable to a compromise."

Israeli Defense Ministry officials Thursday said they would spend US$11.1 million to adapt completed portions of the West Bank barrier, building new roads, underpasses and tunnels in an effort to ease Palestinian conditions. The total coast of the barrier project is estimated at US$1 billion.

The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the army to change the route of the barrier in a 30-kilometer (20-mile) stretch near Jerusalem, saying it was causing too much hardship to the local Palestinian population.

Defense officials have started a review of the rest of the barrier to ensure that it meets the court's criteria.

Netanyahu on Thursday argued that the Supreme Court's actions showed that the Israeli judicial system provided sufficient protection for Palestinian human rights, with no need for international intervention.

"The important thing is that we actually have a real court which makes the decisions to which we respond," he said. "The international court was not a court of justice but a court of a travesty of justice."