Israel's general election on February 10 could have been a new beginning. By 2006, the last time Israelis went to the polls, voters had grown tired of the two visions that for decades vied for dominance in Israel and the parties that embodied them. The Peace Now vision lay moribund, since the intifada had broken the Oslo illusion, and survived only thanks to often unwelcome and unwise interference from abroad. The Greater Israel vision had become a pipedream in the face of the unbearable price of keeping millions of unwilling Palestinians under Israeli rule. Before long, Israelis understood, an international community with little patience for and understanding of Jewish rights would force Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders and face civil war, or keep the post-1967 lines and become a Jewish minority in an Arab-dominated state.
This emerging political paradigm was not about making peace with old enemies. It was about seeking an ideal point of equilibrium that could help Israel redeploy to defensible boundaries ahead of a long war of attrition with the Palestinians, while ensuring that this new line would enjoy broad domestic support. Israelis were prepared to make "painful concessions". But after five years of Palestinian terror, they could not be led to believe that their enemies were prepared to recognise, once and for all, Israel's legitimacy as a sovereign Jewish state. Having grasped that this tectonic shift had occurred in Israeli public opinion, Ariel Sharon left Likud and launched his Kadima party in 2005. For three long years he had tried to persuade Likud that a journey to the centre was necessary if the party wished to survive. Likud's victory in 2003 - with 40 seats, it humbled the Left - had been thanks to Sharon and his newly invented image of a centrist statesman. Likud thought otherwise: it felt that relinquishing Jewish rights in exchange for nothing concrete would only reward violence and embolden its advocates.