Israel's final borders with a future Palestinian state are likely to be impacted by the route of the security barrier Israel is building around the West Bank, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said this week.
The remarks, by a close ally of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, came as the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem published its latest report on the barrier, which concludes that the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank has been a primary consideration in the routing of the fence in certain areas.
"One does not have to be a genius to see that the fence will have implications for the future border," Livni told a legal conference this week. "This is not the reason it was built, but it could have political implications."
Israel says that the barrier, a network of electronic sensor fences, concrete walls, patrol roads, observation posts and other obstacles, is an absolute security necessity which has successfully stopped scores of Palestinians suicide bombers from entering the country.
Palestinians say that the barrier, which zigzags in and around the West Bank to incorporate Jewish settlements near the Green Line, is a unilateral move on land they want for a future state.
Israel has completed about two-thirds of the 680-km. barrier since construction began over three years ago following an unprecedented wave of Palestinian suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians.
As currently routed, the barrier, which has wide support among Israeli Jews as a security deterrent, will place 8 percent of the West Bank on the Israeli side of the fence when completed, with the major West Bank settlement blocs incorporated within it.
The barrier going up on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which is now slated to be ready next year, will place 55,000 Arab residents in the city living in four outlying Jerusalem neighborhoods on the Palestinian side of the barrier, with the remaining 185,000 Arab residents on the Israeli side.
Israel has not routed the barrier within the capital, avoiding a division between east and west Jerusalem which might have aided the Palestinians, who want to set up their capital in the eastern part of the city.
Palestinians and Israelis on the far-left argue that the barrier on its entire route should only be constructed on the Green Line, without dipping into the West Bank at all.
"It is clear that the desire to expand the settlements in the future determined the route of the barrier," B'Tselem director Jessica Montell told a group of foreign journalists at a Jerusalem press conference Thursday in which the findings of the study were presented.
The report examines 12 settlements in the West Bank which fall on the Israeli side of the barrier, including Tzufin, Alfei Menashe, Modi'in Illit, and Geva Binyamin, and how their expansion affected the route of the barrier.
The Israeli human rights organization said that it was assisting civil rights groups involved in ongoing High Court appeals over the routing of the barrier.
As legal wrangling over the issue continues, its final route remains unclear.