Hope dies quickly in the Middle East - even within forty–eight hours. After the high of Yassir Arafat's meeting with Tony Blair on Monday and the assurance of Britain's support for a viable Palestinian state came the low of the killing of the Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Political assassination can never be justified, even when it is disguised with phrases such as “targetted security measure” that have been used in the very recent past by Israel to describe its state authorised assassinations of leading Palestinian figures. Most objective observers will see in the killing of Mr Zeevi a confirmation of the urgent need for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the differences between them.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government's reaction has been in the opposite direction - of aggressive military action, ultimata and confrontation. Its attempts to equate the action of the Popular Front with the terrorism of Osama bin Laden suggest that it is using this latest incident as a way to regain some of the negotiating ground it has lost since September 11.

Nothing illustrated this more clearly than former prime mininster Netanyahu's attempt yesterday to suggest that, proportionately, Israel had lost the equivalent of 20'000 American deaths in terrorism over the past year. Curiously, he did not go on to say that the Palestinians had proportionately lost four times as many.

Israelis and Palestinians will continue to lose their lives until their leaders reach an honorable and just peace - but the attitude of the Israeli government in the past forty-eight hours has given the impression that its leaders are blind to the inescapable truth of this proposition.

Ray Fleming

Unnecessary advance

It seems that Britain's Labour government is incurably addicted to royalty, the rich and showbiz personalities. All over Whitehall people with no experience of government or much else are being given desks to sit at and think great thoughts.

The latest addition to this roster of loosecannon advisors is the Prince of Wales who is about to be recruited by the Department of Health to oversee the architectural design of new NHS hospitals.

It is unclear what special skills he has in this area. The designing of a hospital is an incredibly complex task best undertaken by people who have spent their lives mastering it. It is no place for a “talented amateur” whose views are likely to be concentrated on the least important aspect of the building its external appearance. For patients the test of a hospital is whether it works well, not whether it looks nice.

The health minister, Alan Milburn, has previously asked the celebrity chef Loyd Grossman to devise new menus for hospitals and the TV presenter Nick Ross has been part of a ”modernisation action team”. In announcing Prince Charles' involvement the Health Department spokesman took care to say that “the initiative was very much the Prince's own idea”.

If that is correct, Mr Milburn's response should have been a respectful “Thanks, but no thanks.”