Israel, Nussiebeh reach deal on route of separation fence

The Associated Press
Ha'aretz (9/29/03)

The Defense Ministry agreed Monday to change the route of the separation fence just east of Jerusalem, to reduce damage to the campus of a Palestinian university, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

After weeks of intense U.S. and grass-roots pressure to alter the route of the planned barrier, Amos Yaron, director-general of the Defense Ministry, and Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh reached agreement on a new plan Monday.

Palestinians object to the barrier in principle, and the United States has threatened to punish Israel if the barrier cuts into the West Bank.

Israel counters that it is necessary to protect its citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers. Hundreds of Israelis have been killed by bombers and other attackers infiltrating from the West Bank during three years of violence.

Israel has already completed about 150 kilometers of the planned barrier - a system of fences, trenches, razor wire and concrete walls.

"An understanding was reached that will provide for the construction of the security fence in the area of Al-Quds University," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

In some areas along its route, the barrier runs through Palestinian land, leading to state-sanctioned land confiscation. In other places, the barrier isolates Palestinians from nearby villages and towns.

In Abu Dis, which is part of East Jerusalem, the barrier was originally supposed to run straight through the campus of Al-Quds University, swallowing up 62 dunams (15 acres) of property, including the soccer field, the basketball court and a large part of the parking lot, said Dimitri Diliani, Nusseibeh's spokesman.

However, the two sides agreed at Monday's meeting to alter the route to bypass the university's athletic fields and parking lot and keep it away from student services' buildings, Diliani said.

Diliani attributes the Defense Ministry's willingness to compromise to the peaceful protests held at the university during the past month, as well as U.S. opposition.

The United States is weighing whether to cut back on promised $9 billion in loan guarantees if Israel includes certain West Bank settlements on the Israeli side of the barrier, including some areas the Palestinians want for a state.

The new route for the barrier still runs through the university, but it is not yet known how much property will be taken for its construction, Diliani said. The university expects to get a final answer by the end of the week, he added.

"Even though the University is pleased with the results of this meeting, it remains opposed to the building of the 'apartheid wall' because our motto for the protest campaign... is to build bridges, not walls," Diliani said.