Mainstream parties in Israel are divided on the details of peace efforts with the Palestinians [EPA]
The three big parties – Kadima, Likud and Labour – competing for the prize of leading a new government in Israel have much in common when it comes to peace with the Palestinians.
Based on their recent statements, their leaders have reluctantly come to accept, in their minds if not in their hearts, that any future peace with the Palestinians should be based on a two-state solution.
Is this a sign the conflict is soluble? The answer is no. Paradoxical? Yes.
Talking of a two-state solution is simply going back to 1948 when the Israelis and the Arabs missed their first opportunity to peaceably share the former Palestine.
After the Arabs lost the first war fought by the two sides, Palestinians suddenly became stateless and the land that had been called Palestine before 1948 became Israel.
Israel fought four more wars against the Arabs (in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982) and each time came out victorious.
A distant peace
The history of violence shows that the struggle has always been more of a clash about how much land to seize rather than how much compromise to make.
The Arabs, who rejected a UN partition plan in 1948, are now ready to accept only the extra land they lost in the Six Day War in 1967.
And the Israelis, who sit on most of the land they occupied in the war, the best they can offer falls far short of the worst the Arabs can accept.
It would be naive to be hopeful after more than 60 years of violence – the conflict is more wretched than ever and peace has never seemed more distant.
The recent Israeli offensive on Gaza is an example of how the conflict has become an open, bleeding sore that embitters every heart.
Television screens showed how Gaza’s civilians, including women and children, were being killed in cold blood by Israel’s advanced weapons, while their screams fell on the deaf ears of world leaders.
The hope for an independent Palestinian state, living side-by-side with Israel in peace looks ever more distant.
For the Palestinians, their cause is a fight for justice against injustice. They will reserve the right to maintain their struggle for an independent state until the usurped land is regained.
The Israelis, on the other hand, will go on, in the names of “self-defence” and in a “war on terror”, to crush the Palestinians.
Given this bleak reality, what makes the leaders of the three big parties in Israel still believe in a two-state solution?
Actually, it does not matter what the next prime minister of Israel believes, but what he or she can actually implement – which is not much.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party, who leads the polls and appears poised to become Israel’s next prime minister, backs a two-state solution to end the Palestinian conflict, but for him the time for peace is not ripe.
Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima party and the current foreign minister, has expressed readiness to talk to the Palestinians. About what? Who knows?
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Has she gone public and promised to make peace with the Palestinians in the course of her term if elected? No.
And Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor party, who eight years ago as prime minister presented what Israelis claim to be their most generous offer to Palestinians in Camp David, says that Israel has no peace partner.
Why then are all three incapable of offering a peace plan based on “land-for-peace”?
First, all previous peace initiatives somehow got shelved after being rendered useless – The Mitchell Report, The Tenet Plan and The Arab peace initiative being the best examples.
Both The Tenet Plan and The Mitchell Report sought an immediate end to hostilities, called on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on “terrorists” and urged Israel to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, all as a basis for further negotiations.
Both plans failed as they were undermined by both parties by the ever-intensifying cycle of violence.
They were proven to be so fragile because they were far distant from discussing the core and thorniest issues such as independent Palestine, Jerusalem and the return of refugees.
Israel’s continuation of settlement construction, the division among the Palestinian factions and a weak Palestinian Authority also played part in rendering any peace accord based on a two-state solution as a disillusion.
The other plan is the Saudi peace initiative later adopted by all the Arab states at the Beirut Arab summit in 2002.
This offers, for the first time, a recognition and normalisation of relations between Israel and the entire Arab world in exchange for a complete withdrawal from the 1967 occupied territories and a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue.
Israel expressed reservations on the plan but said it could be a starting point for talks.
In brief, what the Tenet and Mitchell plans were meant to offer were pain-killer pills to stop the bleeding and not a prescription to cure the illness once and forever.
On the other hand, the Arab initiative was meant to provide a packaged solution to the whole conflict. So why does Israel refuse to take it?
The answer is because none of the existing Israeli leaders is ready to take the risk.
None of them is prepared to remove even one outpost in the West Bank for fear of a clash with the settlers there.
None of them is prepared to face the same destiny as Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister, who was assassinated at a peace rally in 1995 by an Israeli extremist who told the prosecutors that he killed him because he wanted to “give our country to the Arabs”.
The only other Israeli ex-prime minister who was bold enough to offer a state to the Palestinians is Ehud Barak, one of the main contenders in the coming elections.
He was then defeated by Ariel Sharon by the largest-ever margin in Israel’s election history.
Given these facts, it seems Israel simply is not ready for any peace based on a two-state solution.
The engagement of the new US administration, under President Barak Obama, to push the peace process forwards can be of no use as long as the Israelis are not ready.
And, as history proves that whatever sermon Israel preaches, the US and, to a larger extent the West, say: “Amen”.