The Sharm el-Sheikh summit earlier this week reawakened hopes that, after 54 long months of despair, the Israeli and Palestinian people may finally seize back the agenda for conflict resolution away from forces of militant extremism. But the road ahead is fraught with minefields. The task of citizens now turns to ensuring they provide a strong grassroots mandate to their political leaders and block radical minorities with absolutist visions from engaging in campaigns of terror and dehumanization that would derail the process yet again.
Political progress is encouraging but it cannot be taken for granted or overstated. The mistake that citizens have repeated time and again is to stay at home, and do nothing but wait for the political leaders to deliver on their expectations. In the meantime, those threatened by prospects of having their maximalist ambitions shattered as the humanity and rights of the other side is acknowledged, redouble their efforts to derail peace negotiations, and resort to terror and dehumanization to achieve it. Terrorists determined to destroy Israel resort to killing innocent civilians and undermining negotiations. Militant settlers determined not to leave the Gaza strip threaten to kill the Prime Minister and beat up Israeli soldiers dismantling illegal outposts. In a perverse partnership, militant settlers sometimes aid terrorists and vice-versa. Last week militant settlers punctured the tires of Palestinian guards that were seeking to coordinate with the IDF on how to eradicate missile attacks into Sderot.
In the past, inaction on the part of the overwhelming but silent majority of moderates in the face of passionate mobilization by minorities of extremists lead to the death of the peace process. It happened with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. But it also happened more recently with the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the summer of 2003. While militants were undermining him and de-legitimizing him, ordinary citizens were not expressing their support, isolating him and prompting him to resign. We as citizens cannot permit this situation to repeat itself. We must provide a strong base of support to propel Sharon and Abu Mazen to achieve positive change.