After the jubilation that greeted the decision by the UN's top court, that question is being hotly debated in Palestinian political, legal and social circles - in addition of course to the all-important matter of how to consolidate the gains resulting from the verdict.

On Friday, the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the West Bank wall is illegal by standards of international law, and recommended its demolition.

The court also said the route of the barrier is not vital to the state's security, and that compensation must be paid to those Palestinians whose property has been confiscated as a result of the construction.

Fourteen votes favoured the decision, with the sole dissenting opinion coming from judge Thomas Buergenthal of the United States.

The ruling said: "Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated."

Legal precedent

Palestinian analysts say the verdict is not only significant but also historic for a number of reasons. Chief among these is the fact that it was delivered by the UN's highest judicial authority. 

The barrier's route is not vital to
Israel's security, said the court

"It's important because it's the ICJ, also known as the World Court, that issued the ruling, and it's [the General Assembly] which took the case to the ICJ. So it's not Palestine against Israel, it's the world against Israel," said Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) legal adviser Anwar Darkazally.

The case also challenges the media's stereotyping of Palestinians as "terrorists", he said. "It showed that the Palestinians are using all legal and peaceful means at their disposal, and that they are asserting their rights against the occupation in the best way possible, which is legally and peacefully".

Furthermore, Darkazally says, the court's decisions have had a real political impact in the past, notably the 1971 verdict against South Africa which eventually led to sanctions against that country and the unravelling of the apartheid regime. 

"We have to hope that it becomes an equally significant milestone here, and that it has a great impact on Israeli public opinion," he said.

Diplomatic options

Both the Israelis and Palestinians are expected to put into high gear their public-relations and diplomacy engines in the days and weeks to come.

"We have to hope that [the ruling] becomes an equally significant milestone here, and that it has a great impact on Israeli public opinion"

Anwar Darkazally,
PLO legal adviser

Palestinians, for their part, will attempt to push for the practical application of the court's recommendation, although it is not yet clear whether they will pursue sanctions against Israel.

"It's very likely that the Palestinian Authority will take the ruling to the General Assembly, and try to get them to issue a resolution condemning Israel and calling for dismantling of the wall," Darkazally said. 

Asked whether sanctions will be sought, he said it is most certainly an option, but one that may be pursued outside of the UN to avoid an inevitable US veto. 

Ultimately, says Darkazally, there are only two players who can make a significant change in the future of the West Bank wall: the US government and the Israeli public.

"One can't ignore the Americans, so we will of course have to speak with them. A lot depends on whether they want to see this as an attempt by Palestinians to push forward the peace process peacefully, or not."

Grassroots efforts

Jamal Juma, coordinator of the grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, hailed the decision as "historic" in an interview with Aljazeera.net.

The Palestinians may now seek a
UN General Assembly resolution

Together with Arab member of Knesset Azmi Bishara, chief judge of the Islamic Court Shaikh Taysir Tamimi and the Archmandrite Attallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Church, Juma went on a seven-day hunger strike in the days leading up to the ICJ decision.

"What we ask as Palestinians of the international community now is to respect this decision and force Israel to implement it. It is not acceptable all that time that they will be above the law," said Juma from his solidarity tent in northern Jerusalem.  

"On our side, I think we should ask the international community to boycott Israel at different levels - economically and diplomatically - in order to pressure them to obey the decision."

Juma says his group will now intensify its grassroots efforts by organising special campaigns both locally and internationally.

Part of the campaign will include lobbying international representatives and embassies located within Israel and asking them to follow up with the court's decisions on a regular basis. 

Relevance in doubt

Meanwhile, both Israel and the US have chosen a far simpler strategy: rejecting the authority of the World Court to make such a ruling in the first place.

Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said the only rulings Israel will honour are those of its own courts, while a US spokesperson brushed aside the verdict, saying the ICJ is not the forum for such a politicised issue. 

"If [Palestinians] expand their peaceful resistance against the wall in a united, organised
fashion, then they
may be victorious"

Hani al-Masri,
Palestinian political analyst

Given such conscious ambivalence by two of the region's main players, the court's monumental decision would seem headed for the scrap heap of non-operative international rulings that have been passed against Israel in the past.

But Juma says not so this time around.

"It's clear that Israel is trying to undermine the courts' decision, that's why they went to the US and got the assurance of a veto, and that's why they'll start an international campaign against the court. 

"I think it will be a disaster if the world is going to be scared or undermined, but I expect this time it won't be like other times - the international atmosphere has changed in our favour."

Political analyst Hani al-Masri says the ruling could be a real turning point for the Palestinians - if they play their cards right.

Turning point?

Palestinians should capitalise on the momentum generated by the verdict, which he described as a "great moral, ethical and human victory", says Masri.

"If they expand their peaceful resistance against the wall in a united, organised fashion, then they may be victorious. They can also get support of peace groups within Israel who now feel the time is appropriate to energise their own campaigns against the building of the wall," he said.

The ICJ's authority to rule on the
barrier was rejected by Israel

Strategically speaking, Masri says the Palestinian government is now in a stronger position than it was before the ruling.

Darkazally agrees, saying the decision may give significant impetus to a non-armed resistance to take off, as the court's 1971 decision did for the anti-apartheid campaign in the 1980s.

"The [ruling] shows that the Palestinians are using all peaceful legal means at their disposal, and that they are asserting their rights against the occupation the best way possible, which is legally and peacefully," he said.

"It may even be read as a call for the end of the [armed] intifada."