May 2003

JERUSALEM: 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.

The real target

22 May 2003

It was an operation organised with the kind of ruthless precision needed to capture Osama Bin Laden. In the early hours of Tuesday 13 May, hundreds of armed Israeli police and security officials massed at different locations in northern Israel and snatched senior members of the country’s largest Arab organisation. The biggest catch was netted in the Jewish town of Hadera. Sheikh Raed Salah, the nearest thing Israel’s Muslim citizens have to a spiritual leader, was arrested as he lay in a hospital room at the bedside of his terminally ill father, who died only hours later. The security forces had not forgotten to bring an escort of television crews and photographers who dutifully captured the scene as Salah was led away, in the white T-shirt he was sleeping in, for interrogation.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s mission since the collapse of the negotiations he led his country into at Camp David and Taba has been to reveal one, and one lesson only, to the world. “I am the person who exposed Yasser Arafat’s true face,” he has repeatedly said. The “revelation” that the Palestinians were never serious about making peace with the Jewish state created a new mood of militancy in Israel and, paradoxically, led to Barak’s rejection at the ballot box.

The White House’s hoped-for restructuring of the Middle East has begun: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been ousted from power by US and British troops who now patrol the streets of Baghdad, while a few hundred miles away Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been shunted aside in favor of the more Washington-friendly Mahmoud Abbas. With these tectonic shifts dominating Middle East coverage, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been preparing a smaller-scale reordering of the region which he hopes will escape attention. He has devised a plan to rid the huge semi-desert area of the Negev, located in the south of Israel, of its Bedouin farmers. The Bedouin, who comprise some 15 percent of the one million Arab citizens of Israel, are divided into two main groups.