The alternative peace plan, a brainchild of like-minded Israelis and Palestinians, was released with much fanfare in Geneva on Monday.

The left, which was routed in the January 2003 Israeli elections, is hoping to ride on the enormous attention the unofficial peace plan has attracted, both domestically and around the world.

"The Geneva Initiative is being used by many in the peace camp as a platform for the next elections," Yossi Beilin, one of the main initiators of the plan, said after it was launched.

"I hope that the country's left will unite behind Geneva like it did 10 years ago behind Oslo, but I cannot say that it has happened already," he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has charged that the peace plan is a desperate back-door attempt by election losers to invent themselves a new political future.

Leaders upbeat

But the leading lights of the Israeli left were upbeat about their prospects for the next elections.

"There is no doubt this is a new start for the Israeli left. The left was actually bankrupt. We started having a problem the minute we decided there was no partner," said Avraham Burg, a Labour MP and former parliament speaker.

"I believe Geneva will
be the watershed for
the next elections. You will be either for or against it"

Avraham Burg,
Labour MP

"Tonight we showed to the Israelis that we have a partner," he said.

"I believe Geneva will be the watershed for the next elections. You will be either for or against it," Burg added.

Amram Mitzna, who led Labour to a spectacular defeat earlier in the year, was also in Geneva to see first hand how the peace plan could be leveraged to bring his party back to power.

"Now, the Israeli left has an agenda, which is something we had been lacking for so long," said Mitzna, who stressed that one of his immediate struggles would be to impose his line within Labour for the whole party to adopt the principles of Geneva.

Grassroots initiative

The backers of the plan have been hawking the blueprint as a grassroots initiative by a civil society weary of relentless violence, but some of them make no secret of the political ambition it has revived.

The Palestinians are not too
happy with the Geneva Iniative 

"We want to make it clear to the people of Israel that we are leading the peace camp. Our fight to return to power in Israel will be very much influenced by our ability to have a plan like Geneva," Ran Cohen, one of the leading supporters of the plan, said.

A senior leader of the secular left-wing Meretz party, Cohen hoped the Geneva Initiative would help define a broader common platform for a political comeback by the left.

"There are two important fields of Israeli society which need to be combined to lead to a change of power in Israel," he explained.

"The people who are suffering from social injustice in Israel are the victims of a government which has failed to achieve peace with the Palestinians," he said.

The Geneva Initiative contains proposals for resolving some of the thorniest problems in the decades-long conflict such as the creation of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem.

But the 50-page document effectively waives the right of return for 3.8 million Palestinian refugees, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.