Addressing the third annual gala of the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington, Salam Fayad said the situation had reached "critical mass of positive change," but he warned that unless progress was made in the quest for a two-state solution, he said quoting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, "the day would come when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South Africa-type struggle for equal voting rights."
For Israel, a one-state solution with Palestinians asking to be incorporated into Israel represents a far graver danger to its internal security that an independent Palestinian state next door. Incorporating the Palestinians into the state of Israel would mean that Jews would no longer be the majority in the country, defeating the very raison d'etre of the Jewish state.
'We are at a crossroad," said the Palestinian prime minister. A crossroad that could either lead to what ATFP President Ziad Asali called "a bumpy road to peace," or down a perilous path.
Indeed, unless the next administration gives serious consideration to re-launching the Middle East peace talks, the situation in the occupied territories could degenerate into another round of violence.
There has been talk among certain Palestinian circles of igniting a third intifada, or uprising, despite the setbacks and hardships that come with such actions and the reluctance of both President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad to go down that road.
The Palestinians, however, remain divided over the usefulness of a civilian disobedience campaign as two previous attempts -- one mostly peaceful (1987-1992), the other violent (2000) -- have failed to move their demands for an end to Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Additionally, there are deep divisions among the Palestinians who favor another intifada and those opposed to the idea; and those calling for a new uprising are further divided between those in favor of a peaceful campaign and groups advocating the use of violence. Each camp claims that the opposing side's tactics have failed to produce results.
Peter Ackerman and Berel Rodal, respectively chair and vice chair of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict in Washington, have traced an excellent history of non-violent civil disobedience in modern times, with one very intriguing exception. They seem to have completely forgotten the Palestinian intifadas.
In an otherwise excellent article in the July issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and titled "The Strategic Dimensions of Civil Disobedience," the authors identify the first modern record of civil disobedience as having taken place in Russia in 1904. According to Ackerman and Rodal, the Russian "intifada" began when a priest named Georgii Gapon talked 150,000 workers into taking to the streets of St. Petersburg. This was, write Ackerman and Rodal, "the century's first public challenge of autocratic power."
Gapon's actions eventually led to the first nationally elected Parliament in Russia.
They then leap forward to post-WWI when French and Belgian troops went into the Ruhr to extract German resources as reparations for the war and were met by miners and railway workers who confronted them with peaceful disobedience. After pressure from Britain and the United States, the French and Belgians withdrew.
Moving forward in time they remind us of the peaceful campaign led by an Indian lawyer who returned to his country from South Africa to demand Britain's withdrawal. Mohandas Gandhi's campaign began with a refusal to pay taxes on salt and to purchase cloth and liquor from British monopolies. The movement, as we now know, gradually expanded to force the British out of India.
As the authors point out, civil disobedience yielded positive results even against the most ruthless dictators and armies of occupation: Nazi Germany. During the Nazi occupation of Denmark the refusal by Danish citizens to help the Nazis led to the end of curfews and lifting of blockades.
The list is indeed extensive: In 1944 students in San Salvador, along with merchants and doctors, forced the departure of the country's military dictator through the use of peaceful means.
In the United States the peaceful campaign for equal rights by Martin Luther King Jr. led to desegregation.
In Poland Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement born in a Gdansk shipyard eventually led to the downfall of communism in Poland and later in the rest of Eastern Europe. The consequences of the movement had enormous repercussions as it brought down the Berlin Wall and with it the collapse of the mighty Soviet empire.
In Argentina, the Philippines, Chile, Serbia and Prague, peaceful movements led to the downfall of dictators, military juntas and communist regimes.
The authors also mention South Africa's pacifists as being instrumental -- along with international sanctions -- in the removal of apartheid in austral Africa. However, while not totally incorrect, the authors omit any mention of the extremely violent campaign carried out by the African National Congress and other groups, not only directed against white domination of the country, but just as violent if not more so was the intra-black violence that claimed tens of thousands of lives.
More recently there was Georgia's Rose Revolution, Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Lebanon's Cedar Revolution that forced the Syrians out after 29 years of occupation.
Less fortunate was the popular uprising in Burma a few months back led by Buddhist monks and brutally crushed by the military.
The history of non-violent resistance to authoritarianism is bittersweet, and the results are mixed between success and brutal reprisals. The successes in civil disobedience campaigns are of course encouraging. But the failures, as we have seen in Burma, Syria, Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Sudan were horrendous.
Fayad, who advocates a peaceful solution, Sunday night called for more than just peace.
"We don't just seek peace. We seek a meaningful and lasting peace with Israel. We seek strong ties with Israel. We seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine. We seek warm relations with Israel. We do not want to get to the point where we just accept each other," said the Palestinian prime minister, a Texas-educated economist.
"Palestinians want to live in freedom, like any other people, because in freedom there is dignity, as there is in freedom from fear," said Fayad.
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)