The blame game has been won by Benjamin Netanyahu. He has managed to unite his government around two issues: The aversion towards the release of terrorists and the wall-to-wall public recognition that Israel is the Jewish people's national home.
Netanyahu set a trap for Mahmoud Abbas in the form of the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and the Palestinian president walked right into it with his head held high. He forgot that Yasser Arafat himself had recognized Israel as a Jewish state.
The delay in upholding the commitment to release prisoners and the bid issued by Housing Minister Uri Ariel for another 720 housing units, on the day the "Pollard deal" was almost agreed upon, led the Palestinian Authority chairman to sign an application to join 15 UN organizations (14 of which are practically insignificant). Abbas' move makes it possible for the prime minister to sustain his current government, as the Palestinian president gave those who needed it the justification to stay in the government.
But the truth is different.
There never was and nor will there be any chance that the current Israeli government will approve any agreement with the Palestinians. There is no agreement that does not require the evacuation of settlements and there is no agreement that does not include a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods. This is the net price of ending the conflict, of accepting the Arab peace initiative that promises full normalization with all 42 Arab states.
The two right-wing parties in the coalition will not let this happen - they will sabotage any attempt made by their prime minister to sign such an agreement. The majority of Netanyahu's faction members will prevent him from establishing a new coalition that would yield the possible majority in the current Knesset for an agreement with the Palestinians.
Political courageThe reality on the ground after the demise of the negotiations will change for the worse: More violence in the territories, punitive measures that will increase the poverty and the bitterness, a further expansion of settlements and "price tag" activity. This is a vicious circle that positions Israel as one state for two peoples, torn by a violent ethnic conflict and increasingly isolated in the world.
This week's PR victory will extract a heavy price in the long run. If this is anyone's dream – they should enjoy it. Those who dream of an enlightened Jewish state, a respectable member of the family of nations, will have to pursue the establishment of a different government.
But that is not enough either. It's not enough to present an alternative political plan. It takes political courage to present not only the economic benefits of an agreement with the Palestinians, but also its price. It should be mentioned that we are giving up on our control of one-fifth of the territory of the historic land of Israel and sovereignty of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods.
Economically, evacuating some of the settlements and resettling their residents in a humane and dignified manner will cost about NIS 15 billion ($4.3 billion) a year for five years. This price is lower than the price of the conflict and is 1.5% of the annual gross national product. The heavier price is the need for a public struggle against the agreement's opponents. So far, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon were the only ones who had the courage to withstand such a confrontation.
The sooner the time comes for the required national decision, the better.
For the first time since 1996, Israel's citizens will have to vote in elections on the political issue and not on marginal issues that the party leaders have raised in order to evade the political issue.
This is not a decision between two political plans, but between two dreams: The Greater Israel, where half of the citizens are not Jewish and which is isolated in the world, or a democratic Jewish state on four-fifths of the territory. There is no compromise between dreams. It's either one or the other.
Brigadier-General (res.) Dr. Ephraim Sneh is a former minister and the chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College