JERUSALEM -- Army mapmakers presented new options yesterday for Israel's West Bank barrier, moving it closer to Israel and aiming to minimize hardships for Palestinians.
Though the world court has denounced the barrier, the government said it was responding to an Israeli court order.
Also yesterday, the opposition Labor party approved formal talks to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government, a party official said. Such an alliance would strongly boost chances of Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan. Sharon lost his parliamentary majority over the pullout proposal.
The military put forth options for changing the West Bank barrier route in a meeting between US envoys Elliot Abrams and Steve Hadley and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, officials said.
Two weeks ago, Israel's Supreme Court said the separation barrier could be built to keep out Palestinian attackers, but its planned path violates international law and should be redrawn to ease the lives of Palestinians.
The barrier is about one-quarter completed, and Israel says it already has contributed to a reduction in Palestinian attacks. During four years of conflict, hundreds of Israelis have been killed in bombings by Palestinians who infiltrated from the West Bank.
Last week, the International Court of Justice issued a nonbinding ruling declaring the barrier illegal and saying it must be dismantled.
Israel rejected the ruling. Sharon said Israel would continue to build the planned 425-mile complex of concrete walls, wire fences and trenches.
Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said Israel must build the barrier entirely on its territory, and that any changes falling short of that are unacceptable.
In its ruling, the Israeli high court said the barrier should not run next to Palestinian villages or separate Palestinians from their fields and schools.
Tzvika Bar-Chai, a Jewish settler leader in the southern West Bank, said he was informed that about nine settlements in the area, which were to be included on the "Israeli" side, will now be outside the barrier.
Labor favors giving up most of the Palestinian territories in exchange for peace and strongly backs Sharon's plan to pull out of Gaza.
Meeting in Tel Aviv yesterday, Labor party leaders authorized representatives to negotiate with Sharon's Likud toward joining the government coalition. Avraham Shochat, a party leader, said a large majority voted in favor of the move after chairman Shimon Peres said Labor would demand a timetable for the Gaza withdrawal and economic reforms.