Under normal circumstances, the rash of suicides and attempted suicides by veteran Israelis unable to cope with their financial problems would be a powerful catalyst for political change.

The tragic self-immolations, mainly due to the incumbent government’s lack of a program for sweeping reforms designed to prevent callousness and indifference on the part of its officials, and to the mass demonstrations in favor of “social justice,” could have prompted the electorate to replace the right-wing Likud and its ultra-Orthodox allies with a more socially sensitive regime.

However, absurd as it may seem, one unrelated but overriding issue is standing in the way: The future status of Judea and Samaria, i.e. the West Bank.

Labor, which proudly carries the banner of social democracy, evidently is perceived by most voters as being too flexible with regard to the territorial dispute. It supports the so-called two-state solution in accordance with which the Palestinians would be given control of the areas conquered in the Six Day War 45 years ago. Therefore, most Israelis do not consider a Labor-led government as a viable alternative to the status quo.

Rank and file citizens of Israel are uneasy if not unnerved by the prospect of a sovereign Palestinian state east of the 1949 armistice line, so much so that they are willing to cope with the incumbent government’s lack of an enlightened and comprehensive social policy. The thought of a sovereign Palestinian state on Israel’s eastern border from which rockets and missiles could be fired at the heavily populated Coastal Plain deters the electorate from taking a chance on Labor and the potentially allied parties further to the Left.

Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yecimovich is not regarded as a hard-liner with regard to the Palestinians’ aspiration for statehood.

She and her supporters are generally believed to be more submissive to the Obama administration’s advocacy of the two-state solution than is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his nationalist Likud Party.

The fact that Netanyahu endorsed it publicly in a watershed speech at Bar-Ilan University three years ago is disregarded mainly on the assumption that he did not really mean what he said and simply was trying to look good in American eyes.

In terms of political reality rather than inter-party rivalry, the biggest obstacle blocking the way to “two states for two peoples” is the existence of the Gaza Strip’s Islamic fundamentalist Hamas regime. It refuses in principle to recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s national independence because of the Iranian-backed belief that Palestine is “an Islamic legacy” and that therefore, as Hamas’s ideological founder, the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told me in a one-on-one interview in Gaza, “All of Palestine must be under Islamic rule.”

Speaking in his declining years, Sheikh Yassin said it did not matter which Islamic state or entity ruled Palestine.

The implication was that Palestine could be governed by the Turks (as it was until 1917), Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians or any other Muslim nation, (if not by the Palestinian Arabs themselves).

This attitude has far-reaching implications.

Hamas’s control over the Gaza Strip is open-ended. The strategic value of this situation is immeasurable insofar as Iranian aspirations for regional influence and (if possible) domination are concerned. Therefore, the Hamas regime’s longevity is likely to persist as long as the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to exist. And as if this is not enough of a wet blanket for people who care about Israel’s interests, Hamas now has the additional backing of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood which is vying with the Egyptian military command for control of the Land of the Nile.

Another unpleasant fact of regional life that should be borne in mind is that Hamas has significant support in the West Bank as well.

Its electoral success in the ill-advised and ill-timed election that followed Israel’s unconditional and irresponsible withdrawal in 2005 was not only evident in the Gaza Strip where it won a majority of the votes, but also in the West Bank. One cannot rule out an eventual Hamas effort to vie with and ultimately replace the Palestine Liberation Organization’s troubled regime in Ramallah.

If this possibility materializes, the chances of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute will be nil.

The only sensible alternative could be a one-state solution in which peace-oriented Israelis and Palestinians establish a single political entity based on genuine democracy, equal rights and individual liberty. To achieve this seemingly utopian goal the most essential human quality necessary would be mutual sincerity and goodwill.

Honest politicians from both nationalities should be encouraged to explore the prospects if indeed they do exist and to try to make them materialize. There is ample evidence that the Jews and Arabs of Palestine can live and work together harmoniously.

For example, it can be found in Israel’s hospitals where the professional staffs consist of Jewish and Arab doctors as well as Jewish and Arab nurses who are indistinguishable. It also exists in Israel’s universities, although the proportions consist of a substantially higher percentage of Jews and a much lower percentage of Arabs. Israel’s Supreme Court and the various lower courts also have a bi-national aspect which has proved itself commendable and efficient.

One of the essential components of this form of inter-ethnic cooperation would have to include an objective reassessment of the Arab refugee problem as well as a fair consideration of the Jewish interest in establishing settlements in the biblical Land of Israel.

This cannot be a one-sided process in which the repatriation of even a single refugee or descendant of refugees is unthinkable while Jewish settlers freely lay claim to tracts of land in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). This occurs regardless of the local Arabs’ legal claims to partial or total ownership of the sites in question.

The bottom line is that 45 years of controversy over the area evacuated by Jordan’s armed forces is excessive and dangerous. It sets the stage for the renewal of armed conflict as well as concurrent or subsequent foreign intervention. In the short run, normal economic development and improvement of the living standards of the Arabs and Jews involved are undermined. What is needed is political and social flexibility, an end to ideological rigidity and a priority for peaceful coexistence. There is no country in the world in which these qualities are more appropriate and essential than the Land of Israel, i.e. the Holy Land.

The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent.

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