With renewed settler violence, mass hunger strikes and a no-nonsense letter from President Mahmoud Abbas to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict burst into the spotlight this week. During the excitement of the Arab spring, the plight of Palestine was pushed out of sight – but now it's back in focus and in dire need of new direction.
A lot of smart people believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will never be resolved; still more believe that the only answer is a one-state solution. But there's been an encouraging stirring lately in the much-promised land. Not a call to arms but to activism; to civil disobedience, not violent discord. Cynicism and fear have governed this conflict for too long. There is a path forward to a just and peaceful two-state solution. It just doesn't go through calcified channels of the past.
What's going on
In late March, jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti made a radical but brave call from behind bars. He urged Palestinians and their supporters to stop all economic and security coordination with Israel, to launch a campaign of civil resistance and to support a diplomatic boycott.
Many believe Barghouti is the most viable leader of a future Palestinian state. An anti-corruption campaigner, and formerly a vocal advocate of the peace process, he is serving five life sentences in Israel's Hadarim prison for attacks on Israel during the second intifada, when he was leader of Fatah's military wing. After his recent call he was put in solitary confinement.
Days later the Israeli politician Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo peace accords, made an even more radical proposal. He published a letter calling for an end to the Palestinian Authority, the very institution he helped to create: "You cannot let this farce continue," he wrote to Palestinian Authority president Abbas.
The spirit behind both declarations was the same. The peace process, as it stands today, has failed to make any progress. The so-called Quartet (the UN, US, EU and Russia), which was supposed to restart negotiations, has lost its legitimacy. The last time high-ranking Israeli and Palestinians talked was in January, and those aborted meetings were, by all accounts, an absolute failure. Meanwhile, Israel has proceeded with settlement growth in the West Bank, and the Palestinians leadership has remained divided between Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and Gaza.
Fast forward to this past weekend. Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the West Bank and an Israeli soldier assaulted a Danish activist on a bike ride (video here). More of the same, it would seem.
But on Tuesday things changed. To begin with, a letter from Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, was delivered to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, calling for a resumption of peace talks. Perhaps more importantly, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began a mass hunger strike to commemorate Palestinian Prisoners' Day. More than 1,200 prisoners launched an open-ended strike, and another 1,100 joined symbolically for the day. The night before the strike began Khader Adnan, an alleged leader of Islamic Jihad, was released from jail after staging a 66 day hunger strike.
It's through this new spirit of passive resistance that the push for peace can advance. The future of the peace process is not signing ceremonies at Camp David. It's in the hands of Palestinian and Israeli activists, in the West Bank, Tel Aviv and behind bars – channelling civil disobedience heroes such as Gandhi and Mandela, and harnessing the heroic spirit of the Arab spring.
Further reading: In the New York Times, Peter Beinart makes a compelling case for boycotting settlements in the West Bank.
Take action: Together, our 14 million member community can help to reshape and revive the drive for peace. Send your ideas and thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.