Israel's general election will take place in January. It follows the collapse of Ariel Sharon's Likud-led government in October. Sharon will lead his party in the election and, on current polls, will gain the largest share of votes.
The other main party, the Labour Party - traditionally the party of Israel's elite - has a new leader in Amran Mitzna. Mitzna has said he will not, - unlike his predecessor, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer - help Likud form another coalition government. He has also promised to try to get a ceasefire agreement with the Palestinians.
The mainstream peace movement in Israel has welcomed Mitzna's dovish stance. The left has been, rightly, more cautious.
Here Uri Averny, leading member of the left peace group, Gush Shalom, argues that Mitzna will come under pressure to take a tough stance against "terror". Indeed Mitzna was an IDF commander in the West Bank during the first intifada, and showed no inhibitions in taking action against Palestinian militants.
Averny refers to recent Israeli polls which shows a big majority of both Israelis and Palestinians in favour of a mutual cessation of violence and reconciliation. However, a big majority of Israelis continue to be in favour of military security measures in the Occupied Territories.
In order to win, Amram Mitzna needs three miracles. He needs a miracle in order to defeat the Likud, which is expected by all the public opinion polls to win by an astonishing 2:1.
He needs a miracle in order to defeat the functionaries of his own party, who want to compel him to join a Sharon-led "National Unity" government. The posteriors of Peres, Ben-Eliezer and their colleagues, Sharon's collaborators in the last government, are itching to regain their soft chairs, from which they were separated with such great difficulty.
But he needs the biggest miracle in order to defeat Ahitophel* & Co., the crowd of advisors, election experts and "strategists", who feed on public opinion polls and statistics.
This points to simple and convincing arithmetic: "The great reservoir of votes is located in the centre. The more you move to the left, the further you get away from them. The more you move to the right, the greater become your chances of winning. The leftist voters are in your pocket anyhow. What other alternative do they have? Therefore, don't talk about peace. Speak about "separation", about a wall, about a fence.
Simple and convincing, indeed. But this is a certain recipe for defeat. If Mitzna rejects their advise, he will pass the first test of leadership. If he accepts it, his election campaign will die before it has even started in earnest.
Because Mitzna can defeat Sharon only if he lights new hope, an exciting, sweeping, electrifying hope.
As of now, Sharon enjoys immense superiority. A great majority supports him, in spite (some would say: because of) the fact that he has failed in every respect: brought no peace, brought no security, created an economic crisis and a social time-bomb. Yet he looks like a good old grandfather, who can be trusted. The ferocious wolf, whose whole world consists of war and brutal force, has wrapped himself in the white clothing of a sheep.
Now he proposes a "Palestinian state". That does not disturb his rightist voters, because they know that this is all make-believe. At most, he will agree to a Palestinian Bantustan-like enclave, surrounded by Israeli settlers and soldiers, on 40% of the occupied territories (amounting to 8.8% of pre-1948 Palestine), and this only after the Palestinians surrender unconditionally and accept the leaders appointed by Sharon and Bush. Sharon calls this "painful concessions". (Painful for whom?)
For centrist voters, that is enough. Sharon coming out for a Palestinian state - what could be better? Occupation of the Palestinian towns, targeted killing, demolition of houses and uprooting of fruit trees, together with the vision of a so-called Palestinian state in the remote future and under the conditions dictated by him - that is a winning recipe.
The "centre" has despaired of peace, hates the Palestinians and is living in fear. So it is better to speak about "separation", building a wall, erect a high fence.
But whoever speaks about separation and walls, says in practice that he, too, has despaired of peace with the Palestinians.
But if this is the message, who the hell needs Mitzna? Why leave the known and trusted Sharon for some unknown and inexperienced newcomer?
True, the Ahitophels agree that Mitzna should add to this dark message some mild words about negotiations with the enemy, finding out whether this is possible and making sure that it is not. But the message between the lines is: probably it's impossible.
That would be a message of disaster.
The public is longing for a leader with a different message. One who will get them out of the embrace of despair. One who will call out, without flinching: "Yes. It is possible! We can make peace with the Palestinians and their elected leadership, under Yasser Arafat! The violence can be ended! I shall do it!"
An electrifying message of peace will bring back to the ballot box hundred of thousands of Arab voters, as well as thousands of despairing leftists. And, more importantly: he will bring back hope to millions of despairing voters.
They will bring victory.
* Ahitophel, the advisor of Absalom, has entered Hebrew folklore as the quintessential dispenser of bad advice.