A divided UN General Assembly approved a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to examine Israel's construction of a barrier that juts into the West Bank.
The vote was 90 in favor, eight opposed with 74 abstentions, reflecting unease in many nations on referring the issue to the world court, based in The Hague, Netherlands. The resolution asks the court to urgently issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the barrier.
In October, the General Assembly voted overwhelming for a resolution calling for the dismantling of the barrier, a 150km network of fences, walls, razor wire and trenches. But several nations said they didn't want the court brought in, and noted that its opinion would not be legally binding.
Nonetheless, even before the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his government would cooperate with the court's expected investigation of the contentious barrier.
The US and Israel strongly opposed what they called a biased resolution, arguing that it would "politicize" the court and undermine efforts to reach a peace settlement in the Middle East. Israel insists the barrier, which it began building last year, is needed to prevent suicide attacks and its construction is purely for security.
Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman called the vote "a moral victory," saying that "most of the world's enlightened democracies" were among the large number of countries that didn't support the resolution while those who voted "yes" were "mostly tyrannical dictatorships, corrupt and human rights-defying regimes."
Arab nations argued that going to the court was the only action available to try to stop construction of the barrier, which the Palestinians call a land grab by Israel ahead of possible talks about the borders of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian UN observer Nasser Al-Kidwa started pushing for the resolution after Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a Nov. 28 report declaring that Israel had failed to comply with the General Assembly demand to halt construction of the barrier.
He welcomed the resolution's adoption, saying 90 nations voted for "international law and for what is right -- in spite of the immense pressures, and even threats ... to which member states were subjected" not to support the resolution.
Al-Kidwa warned that Israel's continued construction of the barrier will mean the end of the road map to peace drafted by the UN, the US, the EU and Russia which envisions independent states of Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace.
"For us, any negotiations are meaningless without first stopping the wall," he said.
"For us, it is either the wall or the road map. ... If Israel continues building the wall, this will be the end of the road map," he said.
Gillerman called the barrier "the Arafat fence," after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
"His terrorism initiated it, and made its construction inevitable," Gillerman said.
"If there were no Arafat, there would be no fence," he said.
He insisted the barrier was not an obstacle to a two-state solution but warned that attempting to involve the International Court "is especially counterproductive" at a time when there is hope for renewing negotiations.
"It will severely complicate, undermine and delay, if not halt altogether, current efforts to restart the implementation of the road map," Gillerman said.