'There is an old Jewish ruling in the Talmud," says Lova Eliav. "That if two people are holding the same piece of cloth and each one says that the piece of cloth is his, then they must go to the judge. And the judge will tell them they must cut it in half."

His pale blue eyes sparkle as he tells this story, relisting the image. "So you see," he says, satisfield that he is making his point, "this is the core of the problem in Israel today with the West Bank. Either we cut this land in half or there will be more war."

Lova Eliaz is the leading dove in Israel, a small, unassuming-looking, soft-spoken man with large, powerful and very loud ideas of how Israel should solve its problems.

He is a maverick, a man who broke away from his own Labour party to found the Shelli (Peace in Israel) party, a man who is responsible for the "Peace Now" movement, a man who gave up a very successful career and a shot at being prime minister for his ideas, a man who is reviled by many Israelis for his dovish stance, but most importantly a man who claims to be the true Zionist.

As he sees it, that is not a contradiction.

"The problem with making the West Bank, which is all Arab, a part of Israel means that we will start being eroded from within. We will have more than a million more non-citizens. This is Zionism?"

He throws up his hands in bewilderment.

"We doves," he says, "think we are the true Zionists. The Jewish national liberation movement is meant to create a homeland for Jews. Zionism can be achieved in Israel without the West Bank and Gaza. And peace with the Arabs is imperative for the Zionist cause." 'Little Lion'

Lova Eliav was born in Russia, the son of a rich Jewish timber merchant. His real name is Arye which means lion in Hebrew. But his Russian nanny nicknamed him "Lova," little lion in Russian.

His father, a veteran Zionist, ran from the Bolsheviks, leaving everything behind. His mother brought Lova and his twin sister over later when he was 5, on a boat called the Lenin from Odessa to Jaffa. It was 1924.

They were a poor family here, scraping enough together from the family silver his mother had smuggled out to build a small house in what is now old Tel Aviv. And because of their background they kept an "air of the intelligentsia, even though we were poor," says Eliav.

He is sitting on the balcony of the same house his father built 50 years ago, only he is sitting on the fourth floor, as one story was added to the house when each child married. Lova was the last to marry. He got the top floor with a lovely view of the Mediterranean, a cool breeze, the muted sounds from the street below, and the shade of a giant, 5-story high tree which he planted himself when they first moved into the house.

His wife, Tanya, a heavy-set kindly woman serves tea in a mug which says "From Israel with Love." After she has disappeared he explains that when he was one of the Organizers of the Exodus helping Jews to come to Israel, he was captain of an illegal immigrant boat, running blockades. On this boat he met Tanya, a former inmate of Bergen-Belsen, the Nazzi concentration camp where here entire family had been wiped out.

Those who criticize Lova Eliav foir his leftish ideas, those who say he is not a patriotic Israeli, for selling out to the Arabs, have a very hard time criticizing his credentials.

Everybody in Israel has a story, everybody over 50 anyway. And Eliav's is one of the more remarkable.

At 15, the first clashes between the Jews and Arabs broke out and Eliav joined the Haganah, the Jewish defense forces. "At 16," he says, "I was killing Palestinian Arabs. They were killing my friends. We were holding watch on beleaguered Jewish settlements. It was a very bloody three years."

In 1939, already a veteran Haganah officer, having completed high school while fighting at the same time, he joined the British Army in order to get experience with sophisticated weaponry.

"We were fighting the British in Palestine at the same time we were fighting with the British against the Nazis. But at the time," he says with a laugh, "we didn't feel at all schizophrenic."

He spent five years fighting with the British in North Africa, then Italy, ending up in Germany helping survivors of the Holocaust escape.

In the war of independence in 1948 he was a lieutenant commander in the Israeli navy, then later helped settle new immigrants until the 1956 Sinai war, when as a paratrooper his mission was to save the Jews of Port Said. Which he did.

After serving as first secretary of the Israeli Embassy in Moscow, he headed home, ready for a career in politics.

By 1970 he was the general secretary of the Labor party, second only to Prime Minister Golda Meir.

"I was Golda's right-hand man," he says. "I was the blue-eyed boy of Golda Meir. She wrote me love letters."

But the "love affair" between Eliav and Golda Meir was to be short-lived. Because soon he began to agitate over the Palestinian question.

"At first it was in camera, a private family quarrel, when I began to collide with her on the issues. But then I began writing articles, books, letters to the editor. I wrote my head off."

The problem was, says Eliav, "that I didn't like the way my colleagues were behaving after the war. I thought we had the golden opportunity of tackling the refugee problem, to start thinking about it. I said, 'Now we have the whole loaf. Let's start solving their problem which is our problem by giving the Palestinians the right of self-determination.'

"Well," he says, even now with a time of disbelief in his voice, "Golda and Dayan were saying, 'What are you talking abut? What Palestinians"? There is no such thing as Palestinians.'"

It was shortly after this contretemps that the Israelis, much against Eliav's objections, began settling the Sinai, the West Bank, the Golan Heights.

"I kept telling them over and over," says Eliav, with exasperation, "we'll have to give them back someday. We'll have to compromise for peace one day. And that will mean giving back land. Let's not settle the place. We don't need it."

Finally, totally frustrated by his efforts, Eliav resigned from his job as general secretary of the Labor party though he retained his seat in the Knesset.

"People couldn't believe it," he says. "They couldn't believe that I would give up that job, quit the government in the middle of a rocketing career."

He wrote the book that year, in which he pointed out that he knew the Arabs were not yet ready for peace, but that the Israelis should make clear their intent. "That in return for full peace we'll give them back the territories with full security. With full security," he emphasizes. "That is very important."

Lova Eliav doesn't care how peace comes. But the Camp David arrangement does irk him a little bit. "I don't like to be the type to say I told you so," he says. "But Begin is doing exactly what I suggested in some cases. Meanwhile there has been a lot of blood shed."

In those days, around 1972, says Eliav, Israel was at the peak of its power. "There was a feeling that we could have our cake and eat it too. I waa a voice in the wilderness. And they started calling me a nigger lover, a Palestinian lover."

"Still," he says, "I fought them on the point of the settlements. I said, 'Why build them? From a security point of view they're a liability. Keep the territory for now with tanks and guns, missiles, airplanes. But not with settlements. They'll have only to be evacuated in time of war."

But as long as there was peace, says Eliav, Meir and Dayan and Begin wouldn't listen to him. "Begin was the most extreme. Now they say he is DeGaulle. Ha! But for 11 years he was putting his foot on the brakes of peace."

During that time, Eliav says "There was a mood of collective LSD, a continuous high. Our enemy was that mood. Our other enemy was the Palestinians. They still are. The PLO. They were terrorists. People would point to Munich, to Ma'alot and they would say to me, "With these people you want to make peace?"

"Extremism bred extremism."

So in 1975 Lova Eliav left the Labor party and founded the Shelli party. "I couldn't stand it. The gap was too wide. After that Golda and I would say 'shalom' to each other but nothing more. Politically we were miles apart. And I was in the minority." Doves and the PLO

To even mention the PLO in Israel is almost taboo, and to recognize their legitimacy, to speak of negotiations, is absolute heresy.

Two years ago Lova Eliav organized a small group of Israeli doves and went to Paris. To negotiate. With the PLO.

Under the auspices of Pierre Mendes France who is also Jewish, they had a series of talks with a group of PLO moderates. It was headed by a man called Issam Sartawi, a cardiologist who studied in the United States and a refugee from a town near Haifa.

"He was a terrorist," says Eliav, "but he was a brave and good man. He had gone through a metamorphosis and he had come through it with the conclusion that the only solution to the problem is partition. It was very difficult to meet. The Palestinians were afraid for their lives, afraid of the more radical elements of the PLO. We had to hide in monasteries for our meetings."

The group met once a month with little success. The problem, according to Eliav, was that though Sartawi said he represented Arafat, "He couldn't deliver the goods. And we couldn't deliver the goods. The extremists of the PLO told Sartawi that I was a small minority. They told him to bring them [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin."

The Israeli group asked the PLO representatives for a written declaration that the PLD was was ready to reorganize Israel if Israel would recognize the PLO. They couldn't deliver.

Finally Eliav went to the Israeli public, imploring them to let the Labor government take over the talks with these groups of moderates, to meet with them and strengthen their hand.

Very few listened. People wanted proof that the moderates had clout. They accused the Israeli moderates of meeting with ghosts.

"Golda and Rabin pooh-poohed us," says Eliav. And Begin said, 'How can you shake hands with a man whose hands are dripping blood? These people are killers.' Well, Begin was a killer. I was a killer. And besides, here are some killers who are ready to talk sense."

The whole thing finally failed. And three out of the 10 PLO moderates who met with the Israelis were assassinated by PLO extremists. Dividing the Cloth

Just when Eliav thought all was lost, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt made his historic visit to Jerusalem.

"A whole new movement sprang up for the Shelli party," says Eliav. "Young intellectuals, students, kibbutzniks. At the peak of the movement there were 100,000 people marching in the streets of Tel Aviv. shouting 'peace has a price . . . the price is territories . . . so pay the price.'"

Eliav feels that there is another moment of truth coming for Begin. "The piece of cloth is not the Sinai," he says, raising his eyebrows ominously. "The piece of cloth that must be divided is the West Bank. And that is a moral, psychological, social, political, philosophical issue. It is part of our very being. Begin will have to make some very hard decisions. My feelings is some very hard decisions. My feeling is that my father and my grandfather left Russia for the very same things that the Palestinians want. Their own flag, their own parliament, their own stamps, their own money. Why don't we give them what we wanted?"

Still, Lova Eliav is equally frustrated about the behavior of the Palestinians.

"My one big regret now," he says, "is that the Palestinians are once again missing the boat. They don't know, as they never did know, the art of the possible. Arafat doesn't know. They say autonomy is not enough. That's just the first step. They don't understand. The majority of the PLO don't understand. They want all or nothing and they'll get nothing."

What worries him the most is what he is sure is an impending rash of terrorist activities on the part of the PLO.

When Lova Elizv was in the Israel army he was a sapper, a member of the bomb disposal squad. One thing he learned was that bombs have several fuses, including a main fuse. He likens the current situation to a bomb.

"With Egypt we have defused only one part," he says. "The main fuse is the West Bank. And it's still thre ticking. It's small but it can detonate the whole thing."

He shakes his head sadly, then looks out, past the rooftops of old Tel Aviv, a view he has grown accustomed to over the past 50 years.

"It's a terrible tragedy," he says finally, softly. "So here we are. We're like Siamese twins, the Palestians and the Israelis. Their tragedy is out-tragedy."