MADRID - An investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars, loads of time and countless attempts at intensive Spanish-brokered talks between Israelis and Palestinians went down the drain this past weekend, when a peace gathering that was supposed to be held here collapsed before it could even get started. Spanish organizers grew tearful as they realized there was no possibility of bridging gaps between the various groups and of reaching even minimal discussion among the hawks - mostly members of the leftist camp in their countries.

The Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East was supposed to convene over the weekend in a town near Madrid called Alcorcon, with the backing of leftist parties and labor organizations. It was meant to be Spain's contribution to promoting talks between the sides.

Spain, officials emphasize, is very interested in being involved in advancing the peace process. Its foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos, who is handling the matter personally, said this week: "We managed to send men to the moon, but not to resolve this conflict. We must move forward." But it looks like the failure of this forum will be laid at his door. The background to this failure involves a struggle between the government and leftist organizations over responsibility for holding the meeting.

Contrary to the usual Mideast scenario, this time the camps did not divide along national lines. There were Israeli Jews and Palestinians in both, but ones who hold completely different positions. The conflict between the camps revolves around the question of a worthy end to the conflict: a two-state solution or one state for two peoples.

In Israeli political terms, representatives of the Zionist center and left faced off against radical leftist activists, who were horrified at the prospect of having to talk to those they view as "representatives of the occupation." Yael Lerer, founder of Andalus Publishing and an activist in the Balad party, who was invited to address the forum, told Haaretz that she views the people from Peace Now and the Labor Party as another arm of the occupation, and therefore unacceptable for dialog.

"It is a huge problem when the heads of the organization do reserve duty in the territories and belong to [Labor Party leader Ehud] Barak's camp and then come to Europe and present themselves as belonging to the peace camp. This is not a camp that wants a just and genuine peace," she said.

Delegates from the Zionist left said Saturday that they do not rule out talking with anyone on the other side.

The Palestinian side also divided into two groups: those who boycotted the Israeli presence at the forum and were busy throughout with internal discussions; and those in the mainstream, who are willing to talk to delegates from Zionist parties to advance the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In lieu of the forum schedule, the latter went on tours of Madrid along with their Israeli colleagues.

Israeli Arabs played a key role in the Palestinian camp, spearheading opposition to the official Israeli and Spanish involvement. Amir Mahoul, general secretary of Ittijah, the umbrella organization of Arab civil groups in Israel, led the fight against turning the forum into an establishment affair. He called for an end to the influence of Israel and the Zionist lobby in Europe and the world.

Abd Anabtawi, spokesman for the Israeli Arabs' Higher Monitoring Committee, accused Israel's Foreign Ministry of sabotaging the event. According to Anabtawi, if the various United Nations resolutions do not constitute the basis for peace, there will be only one solution: establishing a secular democratic state in all of Palestine. He rejected the claim that making peace requires negotiating with centrists in Israeli and Palestinian societies.

Acknowledging that this forum lacked any force to impact the situation in the Middle East, Anabtawi blamed Israel for the lost chance to enlist more European support for the Palestinians. "Israel must not force its position on us and on civil society in Spain. The forum was liquidated, murdered in fact, by Israel," he said.