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by Aluf Benn
Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2004 at 6:10 AM
Israel has asked the U.S. administration to postpone publication of the State Department's annual report on human rights around the world, fearing it will be used against Israel in the discussion on the separation fence at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The report is expected to harshly criticize the operation of the fence and the humanitarian suffering it causes the Palestinians, and Israel wants the State Department document to see the light only after the ICJ discussion to prevent it from having any influence over the judges.
The request was raised in recent weeks during the course of discussions held by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Foreign Ministry Director-General Ilan Biran and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon with senior U.S. administration and Congress officials. Jerusalem has yet to receive a response to its request.
One of Israel's friends in Congress has also approached the State Department with a similar request, criticizing the report's negative slant on the fence and demanding that publication of the document be postponed by a few weeks.
The report is prepared by the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and
Labor, which is headed by Lorne Craner. Bureau officials have completed the second draft of the document, which reviews the human rights situation throughout the world. The third draft of the report is the one that is published each year, and according to information that has reached Jerusalem, the target date for the document's publication is February 25 - two days after the opening of the debate on the fence in the ICJ.
Israel has promised it will take into consideration the practical arguments raised by the Americans and will improve the fence's operation. Among other promises, Jerusalem has said it will transfer responsibility for operating the fence's gates from the Israel Defense Forces to a private company. In addition, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has appointed Brigadier General (ret.) Baruch Spiegel to handle complaints against the fence raised by Palestinian residents.
The U.S. State Department customarily passes on its charges against Israel in its human rights reports in advance. According to political sources in Jerusalem, the State Department's questions relating to the pending report have yet to be forwarded. Insofar as Jerusalem knows, the State Department report intends to focus on the operation of the fence and not its route.
In the State Department's previous report on human rights, published at the end of March last year, the separation fence was not mentioned at all.
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