"The road map is dead. Israel has killed it," South African law professor John Dugard told a UN General Assembly committee on Thursday.

"The world is looking to the United States for leadership in this region, and the world is simply not getting it," said Dugard, who monitors the Palestinian territories for the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission.

His remarks came as the gravely ill Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, agreed to be taken from the West Bank to a French hospital for treatment, casting a cloud of uncertainty over the Middle East political landscape.

The US is part of the quartet of international mediators that laid out the road map to Middle East peace, along with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Washington's consent

But the other quartet members quietly accuse Washington of encouraging Israeli policies that violate the plan.

"The world is looking to the United States for leadership in this region, and the world is simply not getting it"

John Dugard,
UN human rights' investigator

Israeli envoy Tuvia Israeli responded to Dugard by saying his work was marked by a "lack of context, lack of balance, omission of facts and distortions of both law and reality".

By ignoring Palestinians' "support of terrorism, corruption, lack of reform and incitement to violence", Dugard had advanced "a rejectionist myth that only one side has responsibilities and only one has rights," the envoy said.

Ariel Sharon hopes to keep
larger West Bank settlements

"Such a myth is not just a lie; it is fundamentally incompatible with the road map and with the true spirit of international law and diplomacy," he added.

Dugard, in a report issued last month, accused Israel of building its separation wall on West Bank land in order to confiscate the land and put pressure on Palestinians to move away.

The Palestinians have similarly charged that the barrier is a land-grab aimed at dashing their hopes for statehood. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has fuelled this notion by arguing that his plan for a withdrawal from Gaza would ensure a hold on much bigger settlements in the West Bank.

Earlier UN criticism

The criticism against Dugard's comments marked the second day in a row that Israel attacked a UN rights expert's findings.

Wednesday's target was Jean Ziegler of Switzerland, a UN expert on the right to food whom Israel wants dismissed.

Relieving Ziegler of his duties would require the vote of a majority of the 53 nations on the Commission on Human Rights.

"Since his appointment in 2000, Mr Ziegler has been conducting a public relations assault against Israel, and recently he has escalated his efforts into a trade war," Israeli told the same assembly committee.

Ziegler in June wrote to US heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar to say that a sale of its bulldozers to the Israeli military could violate the Palestinians' human rights.