Why I'm Building Palestine

Soon, the only obstacle in our way will be the occupation itself.

When we launched our state-building plan for Palestine in August 2009, many dismissed it as an exercise in eggheadedness, extraordinary optimism, a dream. But here we are, feeling exceptionally, extremely validated by the scorecard so far: We have completed more than 1,500 projects, including the establishment of dozens of new schools, clinics, and housing projects and the construction of new roads throughout Palestine.

Building a Palestinian state was never intended to replace the political process, but to reinforce, and benefit, from it. The idea was to impart a sense of possibility about what might happen, what we would want to see happen: an end to the Israeli occupation and an opportunity for Palestinians to be able to live as free people in a country of our own.

Much is wrong with the context in which we're operating. But if we can reduce our problems to just the continuation of the occupation, then we are much better positioned to end it. It's the power of ideas translated into facts on the ground -- taking Palestinian statehood from abstract concept to reality.

This is hugely political. Yes, it's about technocracy. It's about putting institutions together and getting them to coordinate their activities, getting them to be better able to provide services like medical care and security -- that's what statehood is about. But if we manage to create that kind of critical mass of positive change on the ground, I imagine it would be very difficult for anyone looking at us fairly to then still argue that Palestinians aren't capable of managing something that looks like a state.

Here is the paradox that is trapping us: Majorities on both sides favor a two-state solution. But there is not a majority on either side that believes a two-state solution will materialize. This is the natural result of 17 long years of the disruption of the political process since the Oslo Accords. It's not surprising that people are cynical. I'd argue that the strength of our program derives, at least in part, from its transformative potential, in the sense that it really begins to allow people to see a state in the making -- in a way that grows on them, not happens to them, or for them.

Often, people come to the conclusion that it's hopeless. I understand that. But they're thinking about things in a static way. The state-building program goes well beyond the world as it is now. You begin to move; you begin to act; you begin to create new realities; and that in itself provides a much better dynamic. All this, I believe, feeds into a sense of inevitability that undercuts the pervasive feeling of despair. And this is a state that's going to be founded on the basis of values that are universally shared: openness, tolerance, coexistence, equality, nondiscrimination, and full sensitivity to the rights, needs, and concerns of others.

We want to have lasting peace with Israel. But you can't get to that point if everything you do is unidirectionally negative; we must create positive facts on the ground, and a sense of real mutual respect must begin to develop. Our late poet Mahmoud Darwish once wrote: "When peace is made it will be made between equals." That's what inspires me.



Global Heroes

How the Cold War's wise men went anti-nuclear.

In the early 1970s, Bruce Blair spent two years as a Minuteman launch officer, on duty as the missiles stood ready to fire on the Soviet Union at a moment's notice. Later, he worked on a top-secret study of U.S. command and control of nuclear weapons. As a think-tank scholar, he wrote books about nuclear strategy. Yet Blair felt frustrated that he was having "zero impact" on national policy. "I came to the realization, this doesn't work," he recalled. "You have to be a change agent."

So Blair reached beyond the traditional Washington methods of white papers, news conferences, and earnest panel discussions and turned to film, inspired by Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Blair devoted three years to help create a movie about nuclear danger, Countdown to Zero, a rallying cry to abolish all nuclear weapons that this year has become a cornerstone of a re-energized movement for "global zero."

Blair's path suggests a surprising twist: The new global zero movement came not from the grassroots, like the "nuclear freeze" drive of the 1980s, but from policy wonks and pillars of the establishment, from President Barack Obama to former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. With some 22,500 nuclear weapons remaining in the world -- most in Russia and the United States two decades after the Cold War -- the spectacle of the wise men calling for the elimination of the nukes whose deterrent capability they once touted has done the improbable: fuel the rise of a new popular movement to get rid of them.

The new push dates back to October 2006. Shultz and physicist Sidney Drell convened a conference at Stanford University's Hoover Institution to reflect on the lessons of the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in which the two leaders came tantalizingly close to scrapping nuclear weapons altogether. Max M. Kampelman, a top arms negotiator in Reagan's second term, suggested a renewed drive for zero nukes. "We must learn from the events of September 11 that we are vulnerable -- and will become increasingly vulnerable," he said.

After the conference, four prominent wise men of the late Cold War, led by Shultz, teamed up to fulfill the promise of Reykjavik. They wrote an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 4, 2007: "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons." It was signed by Shultz, Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn. The four embraced a phased plan for disarmament, including reductions in nuclear arsenals, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and securing loose nuclear materials. What was new was not the ideas, but the men proposing them. The four didn't acknowledge any error or misgivings about their past roles in the nuclear arms race -- they just pointed out that times had changed. Their idea of elimination was a goal, they said, without setting a deadline.

Around the same time, Obama was launching his presidential campaign, and from the first days in Iowa, he carried the torch for global zero. He pledged not to develop any new nukes, to take missiles off launch-ready alert status, to cut existing arsenals, to ratify a test-ban treaty, and to secure nuclear-weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years. Early in his presidency, in a speech in Prague, he called for a nuclear-free world, while also cautioning, "This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime."

In December 2008, Blair founded an organization, Global Zero, along with Matt Brown, a former Rhode Island state official and grassroots organizer. When they began to recruit around the world, many prominent figures in Britain, China, Russia, India, and elsewhere were surprisingly eager to join up, from a former British defense minister to Jordan's Queen Noor to several leading Chinese military strategists. Altogether, Global Zero now has more than 400,000 signatures supporting its four-phase plan to wipe out all nukes worldwide by 2030.

A parallel push came from the four wise men, who took star turns in another film this year, Nuclear Tipping Point, by the Nuclear Security Project. At the film's end, Nunn makes a strong case for taking nuclear-armed missiles off launch-ready alert, calling the Cold War holdover "absolutely ridiculous, bordering on insanity." It was just the kind of message to resonate with a new generation. Nuclear missiles are still on alert. Really?

Yet the road to global zero is going to be a long one. Obama has already abandoned his pledge to take missiles off launch-ready alert. To coax wavering senators to support his modest arms treaty, he pledged billions of dollars to refurbish the U.S. nuclear-weapons complex. Even the White House, it appears, thinks the weapons will be around for a long while.

-/AFP/Getty Images