How it works, Rubinstein told me, is that the Israeli right uses the Palestinian right of return as a bogeyman to frighten people into believing that there are no moderate Palestinians. In fact there are plenty who recognise that if there is to be an end to the occupation, it has to depend on the recognition by Palestine of Israel as Jewish state, he said. And this must mean that the right of return will be settled by financial compensation, and a recognition of the role Israel played in making them refugees, not a return to the actual homes in Jerusalem and Jaffa from which they were driven in 1948. What will happen if they won't surrender the right of return? I asked. He shook his head. "Then it's hopeless."
But there exists in Israel a far left that agrees with those on the right that the centre left, people like Rubinstein, are indeed deluded, that they have failed to comprehend that the bedrock of the Palestinians' claim - the one that is enshrined in international law and which no politician can sign away on their behalf - is the right of return not just to their houses but to their land, their country. Once Israelis accept it, then the two-state solution becomes an interim stage on the way to the true destiny of the two peoples: a single state solution, one person, one vote, an end to ethnic dominance. I put this to Hillel Schenker, co-managing editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, the only publication jointly edited and run by both Palestinians and Israelis.
"These views resonate abroad, particularly among radical Palestinians opposed to the PA [Palestinian Authority] and anti-Zionist leftists," he said, "but there is absolutely no meaningful constituency in Israel that will respond to an international struggle for a single state. And given the level of mutual trauma that both people are experiencing, I doubt whether one can find such a constituency among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza either. The PLO and PA are committed to a two-state solution, while Hamas and some angry desperate refugees want a Muslim one-state solution."
To Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel-Palestine centre for research and information, the one-state solution is not utopia, but a recipe for genocide, "a plan that will, in my view," he writes, "lead to decades of cross-communal conflict and bloodshed that will turn Israel and Palestine into Sarajevo. (In Israel/Palestine we have had some 3,200 deaths in three years, in Sarajevo the conflict cost some 250,000 casualties before people came to their senses.)" Already, there is "a new generation of Palestinian and Israeli young people living in fear and breeding hatred. The collective memories and stories of this new generation are being filled with anger and deep desire to see the other side suffer."
I also know what some Palestinian friends tell me, that the right of return is deeply embedded in the Palestinian soul and can never be given up, that no leader can sign an agreement on their behalf which would settle it with a cheque instead. What I know about Jewish Israelis, they know about Palestinians. If they are right, then we might have to face the nightmare that the war between the two peoples cannot be concluded, there is no deal that can ever be signed that will not give way, almost at once, to the resumption of the struggle. No US administration, however even-handed, can settle the dispute, or even impose a settlement, over land that can neither be shared nor divided.
Two to three generations, I suspect, before we reach any kind of lasting peace.