It is perhaps useful to define the heart of the political battle in Israel’s Tuesday election as one between “doves” and “hawks.” I use these terms deliberately, because the two Israeli camps do not correspond to the standard left-right ideological distinctions.

Indeed, the focus of Israel’s ongoing debate is no longer about peace, or even about the willingness to consider comprehensive plans like the 2003 Geneva Accord. Almost everyone in Israel suspects that the Palestinians and their Arab supporters may not be satisfied with what is on offer: a demilitarized state within the 1967 borders, as well as legal status in Jerusalem, without the possibility for refugees to return to Israel.

The doves, represented by the leftist and centrist parties in the election, are generally not naive visionaries pursuing unrealistic dreams; nor do they believe that hostilities would cease if a peace agreement were signed and Israel withdrew from the West Bank. The doves today, in all their varieties, must fight for one goal: stopping Israel’s slow transformation into a binational state, which would be a disaster for both sides.

This is the heart of the conflict between the two camps. In the face of relentless settlement expansion, failed evacuation of outposts, and the construction of new Jewish neighborhoods in areas that never belonged, either geographically or historically, to the city of Jerusalem, the doves should take an unequivocal stance and say: stop, enough.

The hawks have trapped Israel in a demographic quandary, binding together two nations that are utterly different from each other.

Indeed, it is rather likely that the Palestinians, who stubbornly refuse to negotiate with their Israeli counterparts, intend to drag Israel into the trap of a binational state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, hoping that it will one day all become Palestine.

That is why today’s Israeli doves believe that a two-state solution remains the only viable settlement.

In principle, religious Jews do not fear a binational state. The Jewish religious identity is a “wandering” one, which has held out against different civilizations, populations, and religions for centuries.

The prospect of a binational state, therefore, is unlikely to upset religious Israelis, especially when they have the Israeli army on their side.

So the debate is between the doves and the secular leaders of the hawks’ camp. The latter support Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s idea that Arabs could have equal rights in a Jewish state. But, in the 1930s, when Jabotinsky envisaged a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan River, there were 18 million Jews in the world — many of whom desperately needed a country — while Palestinian Arabs numbered less than 1 million. It was not far-fetched to imagine a country in which a small Arab minority with full rights would exist among a Jewish majority.

But today we are on the brink of a binational state, and many experts argue that the process cannot be stopped at this stage. While they may be right, I believe that something still can be done to improve the situation — for example, by resorting to cantons and dual citizenship.

The doves should not center on abstract peace plans, Israel’s international isolation, or the separation of religion and the state — all topics that generate endless discussion in Israel. Rather, the doves should highlight the need for an immediate end to settlement expansion as an essential condition for their participation, in their various factions, in a third government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A.B. Yehoshua is one of Israel’s pre-eminent novelists. His latest book is titled “Friendly Fire.” © 2013 Project Syndicate. (www.project-syndicate.org)

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