PREFACE: At the time of publication, this article caused a major furore among Israeli media lobby groups in the US. They heavily lobbied the IHT, which had just come under the control of the New York Times, to sever ties with me. The paper did soon afterwards. It is perhaps hard to understand what was so controversial about this short commentary all these years later – a sign perhaps of how things are gradually improving in terms of the coverage of Israel-Palestine. Details of the controversy can be found here.
International Herald Tribune – 27 May 2003
A humorous e-mail circulating on the Internet explains the “law of diminishing territorial returns” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first attempt at partitioning the land between Jews and Arabs, undertaken by the United Nations in 1947, resulted in the Palestinian majority being offered 47 percent of its historic homeland, with the rest allocated to a new Jewish state. The Palestinians rejected the plan and the ensuing war established Israel.
The Palestinians had to wait 46 years for the next offer: Under the 1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinians were to receive 22 percent of their homeland – the territories of the West Bank and Gaza. They accepted the terms, but Israel never got around to returning most of the land. Then Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel decided to speed things up and negotiate a final agreement at Camp David in 2000, “generously” offering the Palestinians 80 percent of the 22 percent of the 100 percent of their original homeland. Yasser Arafat refused to sign and the second intifada began.
The e-mail’s payoff line is that Barak’s successor, Ariel Sharon, has devised an even more miserly take-it-or-leave-it deal: the Palestinians can have a state on 42 percent of the 80 percent of the 22 percent of 100 percent of their original homeland.
The funniest part is that it isn’t a joke. Sharon is deadly serious. The proof is not to be found in the “road map,” which is diverting attention from Sharon’s real goal, which is to redraw the territorial contours of historic Palestine himself – in concrete and barbed wire.
The security wall Israel is hastily constructing around the West Bank – officially justified by the need to stop terror attacks – will cage in more than 2 million Palestinians. Another electrified fence is already imprisoning 1 million Palestinians in Gaza.
Little attention has focused on this wall, mainly because it is assumed it follows the Green Line, the internationally recognized border that existed between Israel and the West Bank until the war of 1967. But Sharon admitted in a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that the wall will be at least 1,000 kilometers long (625 miles), whereas the Green Line is only 360 kilometers long.
Why does it need to be so long? Because Sharon is less interested in preventing suicide bombers than in creating a tiny de facto Palestinian state before the road map forces a bigger one on him. For decades Sharon has maintained that the Palestinians should not be allowed a state that controls its own borders, airspace and water or one that comprises more than 40 percent of the land of the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian research based on land expropriation orders issued by the Israeli Army produces a map that shows the wall winding its way deep into the heart of the Palestinian state, twisting and turning in an elaborate route designed to keep a large number of the settlers on “Israel’s side” of the wall and minimize the amount of territory left to the Palestinians.
Israel is also preparing a second, similarly tortuous wall near the eastern border of the West Bank, which it shares with Jordan, that will steal even more land from the Palestinians and offers no obvious security benefits.
After the wall is finished, at a cost of more than $2 billion, the Palestinians will live in two minuscule states behind concrete and electrified fencing, restricted to their main population centers. Thousands of rural Palestinians will live outside the West Bank cage in military controlled zones, denied rights as citizens of either Palestine or Israel. The rest will live inside the prison. Palestine will finally be born from 42 percent of 80 percent of 22 percent of the historic Palestinian homeland.