An Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, new in kind, is emerging around the platform of two states and the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in dignity and security. Courageous individuals are trying to break the cycle of fear, humiliation, and incitement and are reaching out to partners on the other side. They are intent on filling the leadership vacuum left by the politicians. Their aim is to wrest the political agenda from the extremists and empower the majorities in both societies who want peace. Unlike earlier peace movements in the region, both sides are aware that they need each other to create political space; they both need to be able to show that it is possible to construct a civil-society partnership and that there are alternatives to extremism. An analysis of domestic politics on both sides is critical for understanding the escalation of the conflict in the course of the past two years. The violence obscures the reality that as many Palestinians and Israelis support peace on the basis of mutual compromise as those who condone violence. The problem is that the politicians on both sides have failed to provide the leadership necessary to transform the yearning for peace into a political program. Instead, they have allowed messianic extremists to hijack the political agenda and drag both societies into war.
The international community, including outside governments and international institutions as well as civil society, carries its share of responsibility for the current state of affairs. The central contention of this paper is that any international strategy for finding a just and sustainable settlement to this conflict has to take as its starting point efforts to support, legitimize, and take advice from the emerging Israeli-Palestinian peace movement.