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The Palestinians either failed to do their homework or trusted Israel would fail to do so. There is also the possibility that the Palestinians took an enormous calculated risk in testing the water, hoping that negotiations-refusenik Ariel Sharon would swallow the bait in deliberations with the Palestinian Authority regarding the border between Israel and Palestine.

It all started when a diligent PA clerk found an old Egyptian map that indicates that the new Erez terminal, which Israel is building next to the former terminal, pinches more than a few 100 meters of land in the Gaza Strip. According to the map, the 1949 border, determined in the Rhodes Agreement, passes two kilometers north of the Green Line. A cursory glance at the map reveals that, according to the same agreement, Moshav Netiv Ha'asara is actually a Jewish settlement and its fate should be identical to that of Netzarim.

The clerk quickly brought the map to the attention of Mohammed Dahlan, PA minister of civil affairs in charge of the disengagement, and Dahlan presented the map to Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The doctor of history, apparently occupied by preparations for Palestinian victory celebrations, did not consult his books.

Israel was quick to embrace the treasure, which it considered blatant evidence that the Palestinians are not satisfied with the June 4, 1967 borders. National Security Council head Giora Eiland told members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that a Palestinian plot to impose the right of return was concealed behind the spin. He informed MKs, "We made it clear to them that the disengagement was implemented according to internationally recognized borders."

Had Eiland telephoned his colleague, Reserve Forces Colonel Shaul Arieli, who served as military deputy secretary in the administrations of several former prime ministers and ministers of defense and was one of the signatories of the Geneva Accord, he might have avoided suggesting lofty goals to the Palestinians, like that of promoting the right of return. In fact, Eiland might have returned them swiftly to the reality on the ground.

Arieli would have advised Eiland to recommend that Dahlan follow the Rhodes Agreement to its logical conclusion: You want Netiv Ha'asara? Fine. Please be so kind as to evacuate the villages of Absan al-Zrir, Absan al-Kabir and Hirbat al-Za'ah. According to the Rhodes Agreement, all three villages, currently in PA jurisdiction, are located in territory supposed to be controlled by Israel. In other words, they are now Palestinian "settlements." Had the account been finally settled, Israel would have come away with considerable change.

Exacting detail

The Rhodes Agreement outlines the relevant area in exacting detail: "The line begins at the shore, at the outlet of Wadi Hezi [Shikma, in Hebrew], continues eastward crossing through Dir Suneid [a village abandoned by its residents], crosses the Gaza-al-Majdal [Ashkelon] Road and comes to a point three kilometers east of the road. From there, it turns southward, parallel to the Gaza-al-Majdal Road and continues to the Egyptian border."

The agreement encompasses an area of about 320 square kilometers. In negotiations between Israel and Egypt, which followed the Rhodes Agreement, Israel generously agreed to an Egyptian request to retain control of the hills overlooking the Gaza-al-Majdal Road. As a result, the area of the Gaza Strip was expanded to 363 square kilometers. In other words, in return for the land in Netiv Ha'asara, the Egyptians, and now the Palestinians, received an additional 43 square kilometers - an area slightly smaller than that of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Arieli suggests that all sides, including President Bush who was surprised by the term "1949 borders," avoid distraction and adhere fully to the language of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which relies on June, 4 1967 borders as the foundation of final peace talks between Israel and its neighbors.