In a recent article for the International Herald Tribune, Jonathan Cook, a freelance journalist living in Israel, describes a humorous e-mail circulating on the Internet that explains the "law of diminishing territorial returns" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to Cook, 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.

Forty-six years later, 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 refused to return most of the land. Then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak "generously" offered the Palestinians 80 percent of the 22 percent of the 100 percent of their original homeland at Camp David in 2000. Yasser Arafat refused to sign and the second intifada began.

Now, Ariel Sharon, has devised an even more miserly 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 most tragic part is that this isn't a joke. Sharon is deadly serious, and the proof can be found in concrete and barbed wire.

According to Israeli authorities, security concerns necessitated the construction of the wall, which, when, complete will cover over 1000km - 30 times longer than the Berlin Wall. Israel's apartheid wall will imprison more than 2 million Palestinians, with another electrified fence already imprisoning a million Palestinians in Gaza.

Little attention has focused on the wall, primarily 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. Interestingly, the Green Line is only 360 km long, while the wall will cover over double that distance? The Wall will loop deep into Palestinian occupied territory, embracing clusters of illegal settlements, enclosing much fertile land and important subterranean water reservoirs, with the wall construction being used as an opportunity to confiscate about 10% of the West Bank.

Horrific consequences - the Ghetto of Qalqilya

The consequences for the Palestinian living close to the wall are nothing short of horrific.

Take the case of the once prosperous market town of Qalqilya. Already the town is surrounded on three sides by the wall. The bottle-neck is the only way in and out of this town of 42 000 residents. Gates, overlooked by a watchtower, controls the flow in and out of the town - one person or vehicle at a time.

According to reports, more than 1 500 acres, one third of Qalqilya's town land has been confiscated. Forty five per cent of the district land has been similarly appropriated. A wealthy town, with about half the water resources of the West Bank, the area - the most important agricultural basket in the West Bank, producing about 42% of all its fruit and vegetable - was an exporter to Israel and the Gulf states. Now the 18 000 residents of nine villages, together with 19 artesian wells, are trapped to the west, between Israel and the Wall. Access to the rest of the West Bank will, once again, be at the whim of Israeli soldiers.

One of Qalqilya's affected villages is Jayyous, where the wall deviates up to 6 km from the Green Line. It virtually encircles about 500 homes, cutting them off from their land. In the process, an 80 metre swathe has been cut through the centuries old olive grove. Of the 960 trees owned by Mayor Salim (some 500 years old), only 50 remain.

Commentators argue that 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.

As Jonathan Cook notes, Palestine will finally be born from 42 percent of 80 percent of 22 percent of the historic Palestinian homeland.