JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel will change the route of its West
Bank separation barrier to cause less hardship for the Palestinians
and gain U.S. support against legal challenges, an adviser to
Israel’s prime minister said yesterday.

Mira Levitan
An Israeli soldier stands guard as Palestinians ride through a gate in the separation barrier on the way to a West Bank town Saturday. (AP PHOTO)

The barrier faces two court fights. Today Israel’s Supreme
Court will hear petitions from two civil rights groups, including a
request to declare the barrier’s route illegal.

Later this month, the world court in The Hague, Netherlands,
will review the legality of the barrier. The U.N. General Assembly,
with the backing of the Palestinians, has asked the court for a
nonbinding advisory opinion.

Israel says the barrier is meant to block Palestinian suicide
bombers, but the Palestinians condemn it as a land grab.

Israel has argued that the world court has no authority over the
barrier dispute, saying it should be resolved through negotiations.
Nonetheless, it is taking the case before the International Court
of Justice seriously.

Many countries, including the United States, agree with Israel
that the international court is not the proper venue for the case,
but they object to the barrier’s planned route, which dips
deep into the West Bank in some places.

Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said
Israel is concerned the dispute could eventually reach the U.N.
Security Council, where decisions are legally binding.

The United States, which can veto council resolutions, could
help protect Israel. “We want as much as possible to draw a
line with the Americans,” he said.

He said the changes would be presented to U.S. Mideast envoys
expected to arrive in Israel this week.

Paul Patin, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, declined
to comment on the possible changes in the barrier’s
route.

He said the United States has no problem with the concept of a
security barrier, but Washington objects to its planned route
because of the disruption it has caused to Palestinians.

The barrier, which is about one-quarter built, reaches deep into
the West Bank in some areas, restricting Palestinian movement and
preventing residents from reaching jobs, farmland and social
services.

Shoval said the changes in the route would be around Qalqiliya,
a West Bank town next to Israel. The town is largely encircled by
the barrier.

Israel wants to “make things as easy as possible for
Palestinians who need to get to their fields (and) to have fewer
checkpoints,” Shoval said.

He said changes would be made around other Palestinian
population centers, as well. He said this could include taking down
or moving concrete barriers that have already been built.

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