The barrier dips deep into the West Bank in places, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) is reportedly ready to push sections of it closer to Israel's boundary with the territory. A group of U.S. envoys is expected to press him on the matter during a visit to the region next week.
Israel decided on Thursday not to attend oral hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague (news - web sites), Netherlands, rejecting the judges' authority to level an advisory ruling on the barrier's legality. Hearings are set to start on Feb. 23.
"If we had changed the route earlier it could have had an effect (on the hearing). It would have taken the wind out of their (the opponents') sails," said Irit Kahan, head of the international division in Israel's attorney general's office.
"Already some time ago, the government realized that the route of the fence was problematic, but they didn't begin to change it in time for the court discussion," Kahan told The Associated Press.
"The issue is not the fence itself, but the route of the fence," Kahan said.
The Palestinian U.N. observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said in a statement Friday that Israel's refusal to come to the court shows it can't defend the project.
"Israel's decision not to participate in the ICJ hearings on the legal consequences of Sharon's Wall is an admission of guilt," said Al-Kidwa, who will lead the Palestinian delegation at the proceedings.
Israel says the barrier is meant to keep Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers out of its towns and cities. The project is about one-quarter complete and is to stretch up to 440 miles.
Palestinians say the massive string of obstacles is part of a plan to seize chunks of land they want for a future state. They also complain it cuts tens of thousands of Palestinians off from jobs, schools, medical clinics and farmland.
Israeli television reported Thursday that Sharon has decided to shorten the planned route and change its course. The Channel Two report said the barrier's path would no longer cut deep into the West Bank to wrap around three of the West Bank's large Jewish settlements: Emmanuel, Karnei Shomron and Kedumim home to more than 10,000 Israelis.
Sharon's office confirmed the prime minister is considering changes to the route but refused to elaborate.
Palestinians worry the barrier will crush chances to build a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (news - web sites), territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Recently Sharon announced plans to unilaterally withdraw settlers and soldiers from some of those areas. Sharon said he would put that program into action in the coming months if there is no progress on the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. Both sides have failed to meet the plan's requirements since it was launched last June.
A team of U.S. envoys is to meet Sharon here next week to discuss his unilateral pullout plans.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) said Washington supports the dismantling of settlements, but added that the team of visiting representatives will be looking for specifics on Sharon's ideas.
The visiting envoys Elliot Abrams, Stephen Hadley and William Burns are also likely to discuss the separation barrier and its route, which the United States has criticized.