Think Again

Think Again: The Two-State Solution

Everyone knows an independent Palestine, side by side with Israel, is unworkable right now. But it's even more hopeless than they think.

"The Answer to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is a Two-State Solution."

In an ideal world, yes, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen.

In the 18 years since the signing on the White House lawn of the Oslo Accords, which laid the groundwork for a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the idea of a two-state solution has gained wide acceptance. According to a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll from March 2010, 57 percent of Palestinians support it; among Israelis the percentage is even higher -- 71 percent. In both Europe and the United States, it's seen as the natural end point of this six-decade conflict. As U.S. President Barack Obama said in May, the "United States believes that negotiations should result in two states -- with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine." Nonetheless, we have reached the point where the ideas of two independent states and a negotiated resolution to the conflict reside on life support.

The short explanation for this conundrum is that for much of the past 18 years, the momentum of obstructionism has been far more powerful than the momentum of progress. This has been consistently true since the earliest days of the Oslo process, as the forces that oppose peace have demonstrated a deadly effectiveness at thwarting it. From Baruch Goldstein's horrific massacre of Palestinians at Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994 to the subsequent Palestinian suicide bombing attacks of 1994-1995 and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; from the targeted killing of Hamas leaders to the terrible violence of the Second Intifada against Israeli citizens, bloodshed has been a constant tool utilized by both sides to erode trust and strengthen the forces of irredentism.

Beyond the use of violence, the lack of political will on both sides has been most catastrophic. As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami recounts in Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, even the architects of the Oslo peace process -- Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin -- initially rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, believing that some middle ground between statehood and the status quo was possible. Even as the path to statehood seemed clear, the country's leading doves were unwilling to reconcile themselves either publicly or privately with such a potentiality. In addition, the growth of Israeli settlements, in violation of the spirit if not the letter of Oslo, and the unwillingness of the Israeli government to halt them, have become an almost insurmountable barrier to a workable two-state solution.

On the other side, Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority, never publicly accepted the idea of peaceful reconciliation with Israel. He refused to countenance painful concessions on Jerusalem and the right of return, continued to view political violence as a tool for wrangling concessions out of Israel, and offered far too many public hints that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza was only the first step in a two-stage process of Palestinian liberation. The continued acceptance of violence as a viable means for achieving political goals, particularly by Hamas, has not surprisingly undermined Israeli enthusiasm for territorial concessions.

Finally, each public has demonstrated an unwillingness to fully recognize and integrate the attitudes and fears of the other. Israelis are either blissfully unaware of, or not bothered by, the humiliation that is the hallmark of Israeli occupation. Hours spent at checkpoints, searches by Israeli soldiers, and transit roads that restrict movement and turn what should be quick trips into daylong excursions are just a few examples of the minor degradations that are a daily part of Palestinian life. At the end of Ramadan, last month, I attended a nonviolent demonstration at an Israeli checkpoint at Qalandia, where Palestinians were seeking to pass so that they could worship at the al-Aqsa mosque. As it was, such access was restricted to men over 50 and women over 40. For many Israelis, such indignities could be happening on the other side of the globe.

Conversely, Palestinians have limited sympathy or appreciation for the trauma created in Israel by living in a state of constant siege and fear of terrorist attacks. Add all these various factors together and the result is that while most Israelis and Palestinians believe a two-state solution is in the best interests of both peoples, the region is likely further away from that reality than at any point since Oslo. The Palestinian Authority's preparations to go to the United Nations and seek recognition as an independent state is compelling evidence that at least one side in the dispute sees no hope for a negotiated resolution.


"Israel Is a Beacon of Democracy in the Middle East."

Perhaps, but not forever. While supporters of Israel commonly tout the Jewish state as the only true democracy in the Middle East, the trend lines are moving in the wrong direction. With emerging pro-democracy movements across the region, not to mention democracies in Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey, it's getting harder to argue that Israel resides in an exclusive club. Recent developments in the Israeli Knesset portend a more ominous future. Lawmakers recently passed legislation that would threaten civil lawsuits against any Israeli who endorses boycott and divestiture campaigns against Israel. Other laws are being considered that would set up McCarthy-style committees to investigate left-leaning groups or even cancel Arabic as an official Israeli language, despite the fact that around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs. There have been growing calls for Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs; and according to peace activists with whom I spoke, harassment of human rights groups and NGOs is on the rise. Arab citizens of Israel already face serious discrimination on issues such as land ownership, employment, and resource allocation -- problems that are only increasing.

But do Israelis value democracy more than they do security? Israeli public opinion expert Dahlia Scheindlin told me in an email exchange, "There's a standard question (in Israeli public opinion polling) that asks (roughly): 'Sometimes security needs may conflict with democratic principles (or rule of law). When that happens which should come first -- security or democracy needs?' The response is always quite overwhelmingly in favor of security." Indeed, a June 2010 study done by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, said Scheindlin, suggested that nearly three-quarters of Israeli youth (between the ages of 15 and 25), when given the option, chose security over democracy. According to the final version of the report, "With regard to Israel's future as a democratic and pluralistic society, the attitudes described [in the report] represent a major challenge to those social and political agents who are committed to the values and goals of the founding fathers of the State of Israel." Scheindlin suggested that these results could probably be replicated in a host of Western countries, but in few places is the choice as stark as in Israel.

Continuing the status quo or military occupation in the West Bank has the strong likelihood of leading to an undemocratic future for Israel (a view endorsed by even right-wing Israelis). If demographic rates continue, the Jewish state may reach a point in the not-too-distant future when Israel and the occupied territories will feature a minority of Jews -- and a majority of Arabs without full political rights. It's bad enough that Arabs living in Israel and the territories do not have such full economic, social, or legal rights today -- but if these second-class citizens become a full majority of the population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River it will be hard to escape the conclusion that Israel is on the road to becoming an apartheid state.


"Israel Dismantled Settlements in Sinai and Gaza; It Can Do So in the West Bank Too."

Don't bet on it. Beyond the obvious explanation that the biblical connection for Jews to the lands of Judea and Samaria, as many Israelis refer to the West Bank, is stronger than those to Gaza and Sinai, the larger problem is that the settlements have become so enmeshed with Palestinian communities that disentangling them is practically impossible.

There are today more than 300,000 settlers in the West Bank. This doesn't even include the 190,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War. This figure is nearly triple the West Bank settler population when Oslo was signed. Although it is true that most of these settlements are in and around the 1967 borders, the reality on the ground is extraordinarily more complicated. For example, approximately 30 percent of the settler population resides outside the separation barrier, many in some of the most radicalized settler communities like Itamar and Kiryat Arba.

In the unlikely event that Israel and the Palestinians did agree to a two-state solution and were to use the separation fence as a final border, there would still be more than 70,000 settlers and dozens of settlements on Palestinian land. These settlers would either have to accept living in a Palestinian state, which is unlikely, or have to be evacuated by the Israeli government. Not only would settlers almost certainly resist such a move, but already today settlers have set up dozens of illegal outposts in the West Bank and the Israeli government has made no effort to dislodge them. According to Hagit Ofran, director of Settlement Watch for Peace Now, while Israel has removed the stray trailer or small shacks of settler youth, it has never evicted a single "real outpost" or taken down "infrastructure and removed families" from the larger outposts that are in clear violation of Israeli law.

Removing tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of Israeli citizens from the settlements would require the sort of political will from the Israeli government that it has never shown toward the powerful settler movement. And the fear that taking on the settler movement could lead to civil war or political violence hangs over Israelis' heads. While hawkish Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was able to unilaterally evict around 9,000 settlers from Gaza in 2005, this move was met by widespread protests from the settler community. It could be a harbinger of things to come if a similar eviction were attempted in the West Bank.

Considering that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has, according to a recent report by Peace Now, doubled construction in West Bank settlements since last year's building moratorium expired, it's hard to imagine that the world is likely to witness a fit of courage from Israeli leaders regarding settlements anytime soon (or that the current Israeli government has any inclination to evict settlers at all).

What makes the settlement question even more difficult is that to prevent contact between Israelis and Palestinians -- and thus potential violence -- Israel has constructed a host of checkpoints, security fences, and transit roads that crisscross the West Bank and significantly inhibit the movement and daily life of Palestinians. South of Ramallah, for instance, the Palestinian villages of al-Jib, Bir Nabala, and Beit Hanina al-Balad are literally surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements and the separation barrier; in Hebron, 30,000 Palestinians have their mobility and economic activity severely restricted by the Israeli army's need to protect fewer than 1,000 settlers. These types of situations are replicated across the territories and are bolstered by provocative actions and even violence from the settlers that rarely are punished as strongly as Palestinian violence. As Israel continues to build more settlements, expand the barrier fence, and enforce the geographical divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, undoing these realities on the ground and the entanglement of both populations will become virtually impossible. Indeed, it likely already has.

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"Israeli Security Concerns About a Palestinian State Are Ill-Founded."

Only if you ignore psychology. On the one hand, Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East; it possesses scores of nuclear weapons and it has the backing of the world's sole superpower, the United States. A few terrorist attacks, however deadly, won't change those facts. So on one level, the existential dangers of returning land to the Palestinians is overstated. On the other hand, that doesn't mean Israeli fears aren't real or legitimate.

Many ordinary Israelis will tell you that the Palestinian response to Israeli concessions has been one of unremitting violence. After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Hamas (which opposed the accords) responded with suicide attacks that over the next several years killed more than 160 Israelis, wounded hundreds of others, and terrorized the population. After the so-called Camp David II negotiations among Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Yasir Arafat, and brokered by U.S. President Bill Clinton, in which Israel made historic concessions to the Palestinians, the response was even more violence. In 2002 alone, 220 Israelis were killed in suicide attacks.

Israeli society shifted in response. At the height of the Second Intifada, from 2001 to 2003, life in Israel had become virtually intolerable. Citizens lived in a constant state of fear. The Israeli government responded with a series of steps that nominally improved security, including the military offensive against Hamas's and Fatah's military brigades, the construction of the separation barrier walling off Palestinians, and Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. (Yet rocket attacks and terrorism from Gaza continued). Still, Israelis were able to return to some sense of normalcy in their daily lives.

As a result, many Israelis believe the status quo, no matter how untenable, is preferable to the alternative. The risk that turning the West Bank over to the Palestinians will result in an unrequited Hamas state, allied with Iran, bent on taking back all Palestinian land (the latter view is held by a majority of Israelis) is one that many Israelis are not prepared to take.

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"The Palestinian Authority Has the Legitimacy to Negotiate a Peace Deal."

Perhaps, but it's a quickly diminishing attribute. Israeli leaders often say they lack a partner for peace. This is true, but for reasons that might not be immediately clear. In the 18 years since Arafat's PLO returned from exile in Tunisia to run the Palestinian Authority (PA), its credibility -- not just among Israelis, but also Palestinians -- has declined. The reasons are many, from endemic corruption and cronyism to human rights abuses by the PA police, to a lack of faith in PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Yet it's the PA's cooperation with Israel that has perhaps had the greatest effect on the erosion in confidence among individual Palestinians.

Consider Al Jazeera's publication in January of the so-called Palestine Papers, which revealed the specifics of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The most politically damaging impact of the leaks was not necessarily that the PA had conceded the annexation of key Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem while receiving nothing in return. Rather, the worst part was the revelation that the PA had basically been coordinating on security issues with Israel during the 2008-2009 Gaza war to undermine Hamas, its main political rival. In addition, under the precepts of Oslo one of the key responsibilities of the PA police in the West Bank is to protect Israelis from terrorist infiltration. So it's not surprising that Palestinians ask: What have you done for us? All this has contributed to the view that the PA is a handmaiden of the Israeli occupation.

The PA's loss of authority among its own people has no doubt contributed to its decision to declare a Palestinian state and seek recognition at the United Nations later this month. But this strategy carries existential risks for Abbas's government. If there is no progress on the peace process or Palestinians move no closer to an independent state after whatever happens at Turtle Bay, the possibility of a third intifada is a distinct possibility. If violence increases, this would likely strengthen the hand of Hamas and weaken the PA further. In addition, there is also the distinct possibility that even pursuing unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations could to a GOP-led U.S. Congress cutting off funding to the PA, a move that would not only devastate the Palestinian economy, but could lead to the dissolution of the PA altogether. This has not exactly left the Palestinian Authority in a position of negotiating from strength.

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"A One-State Solution Is the Alternative."

We may be about to find out. At this point only the most optimistic -- or perhaps deluded -- observers can imagine a near-term scenario under which Israelis and Palestinians sit down and negotiate a final two-state settlement to their conflict. The upcoming U.N. vote might have an impact on diplomatic relations between the two sides -- and may further isolate Israel internationally -- but it won't necessarily do much to change the realities on the ground. The result is that, largely by the force of inertia, Israelis and Palestinians are moving closer to a one-state solution.

Some Palestinians and Israelis talk about a binational confederation in which each group has the same political rights. But this is highly unlikely to occur because it would almost certainly mean the end of Zionism and the dream of a Jewish state. On the other side of the spectrum, Israel could simply annex large swaths of the West Bank and leave the Palestinian Authority in a stateless limbo -- but at risk of significant international opprobrium. Then there is the most likely option: the maintenance of the status quo and a Zionist, Jewish state in which Israeli soldiers continue a military occupation of millions of Arabs with no political rights, but perhaps certain economic and social rights.

As the two-state option slowly fades into oblivion, both sides will have to seriously contemplate an Israeli-Palestinian arrangement that looks very similar to this. Indeed, as Daniel Levy, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation noted, emphasizing this uncomfortable reality might be the most useful role the United States can play right now -- namely, beginning a conversation with Israelis that makes clear that unless there is significant movement toward a Palestinian state and, soon, a one-state military occupation, an increasing international isolation is Israel's long-term future. Any other scenario, unfortunately, is increasingly difficult to envisage.

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Think Again

Think Again: Nonviolent Resistance

Resisting the temptation to take up arms against a dictator isn't just the moral thing to do -- it's also the most effective way to win.

"Nonviolent Resistance Is Admirable but Ineffective."

Hardly. In the current geopolitical moment, it may seem hard to argue that a nonviolent uprising is a better tool for uprooting a dictator than the violent kind. Armed rebels, backed by NATO air power, are on the verge of ending four decades of despotic rule by Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya. Meanwhile to the east, Syria's Bashar al-Assad has killed with impunity more than 2,200 members of a mostly nonviolent resistance to his family's long-lived rule.

Arguing in favor of the Syrians' tactics, and against the Libyans', would seem counterintuitive -- but for the evidence. The truth is that, from 1900 to 2006, major nonviolent resistance campaigns seeking to overthrow dictatorships, throw out foreign occupations, or achieve self-determination were more than twice as successful as violent insurgencies seeking the same goals. The recent past alone suggests as much; even before the Arab Spring, nonviolent campaigns in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), and Nepal (2006) succeeded in ousting regimes from power.

The reason for this is that nonviolent campaigns typically appeal to a much broader and diverse constituency than violent insurgencies. For one thing, the bar to action is lower: Potential recruits to the resistance need to overcome fear, but not their moral qualms about using violence against others. Civil resistance offers a variety of lower-risk tactics -- stay-aways (where people vacate typically populated areas), boycotts, and go-slows (where people move at half-pace at work and in the streets) -- that encourage people to participate without making enormous personal sacrifices. This year's peaceful uprising in Egypt saw the mobilization of men, women, children, the elderly, students, laborers, Islamists, Christians, rich, and poor -- a level of participation that none of Egypt's armed militant organizations in recent memory could claim.

"Nonviolent Resistance and Pacifism Are the Same Thing."

Not at all. When people hear the word "nonviolent," they often think of "peaceful" or "passive" resistance. For some, the word brings to mind pacifist groups or individuals, like Buddhist monks in Burma, who may prefer death to using violence to defend themselves against injustice. As such, they conflate "nonviolent" or "civil resistance" with the doctrine of "nonviolence" or "pacifism," which is a philosophical position that rejects the use of violence on moral grounds. But in civil resistance campaigns like those occurring in the Arab Spring, very few participants are pacifists. Rather, they are ordinary civilians confronting intolerable circumstances by refusing to obey -- a method available to anyone, pacifist or not. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the iconic pacifist, was a highly strategic thinker, recognizing that nonviolence would work not because it seized the moral high ground, but because massive noncooperation would ultimately make the British quit India: "We should meet abuse by forbearance," he said. "Human nature is so constituted that if we take absolutely no notice of anger or abuse, the person indulging in it will soon weary of it and stop."

"Nonviolent Resistance Works Better in Some Cultures Than Others."

Wrong. Nonviolent movements have emerged and succeeded all over the world. In fact, the Middle East -- routinely written off by people elsewhere as a hopeless cauldron of violence -- can boast some of the biggest successes, even before the Arab Spring. The Iranian Revolution that took down Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's dictatorial regime and brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power was a nonviolent mass movement involving more than 2 million members of Iranian society (though also a useful reminder that nonviolent uprisings, like the violent kind, don't always produce the results one might hope for). Palestinians have made the most progress toward self-determination and lasting peace with Israel when they have relied on mass nonviolent civil disobedience, as they did in the demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and protests that dominated the First Intifada from 1987 to 1992 -- a campaign that forced Israel to hold talks with Palestinian leaders that led to the Oslo Accords, and convinced much of the world that Palestinians had the right to self-rule.

In the Americas, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil have all experienced nonviolent uprisings, ousting military juntas and at times replacing them with democratically elected leaders. South Africa's nonviolent anti-apartheid campaign fundamentally altered the political, social, and economic landscape there, while the African National Congress's forays into revolutionary violence yielded little. Europe, of course, can claim some of the most iconic examples: the 1989 Eastern European revolutions, for instance, and the Danish resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II. And in Asia, successful nonviolent resistance has succeeded in casting off oppressive regimes in places as diverse as India, the Maldives, Thailand, Nepal, and Pakistan.

"Nonviolent Movements Succeed by Persuasion."

Not always. The moral high ground is necessary, but hardly sufficient. Campaigns need to be extremely disruptive -- and strategically so -- to coerce entrenched dictators to abandon their posts. Nonviolent resistance does not necessarily succeed because the movement convinces or converts the opponent. It succeeds when the regime's major sources of power -- such as civilian bureaucrats, economic elites, and above all the security forces -- stop obeying regime orders. The literary scholar Robert Inchausti put it well when he said, "Nonviolence is a wager -- not so much on the goodness of humanity, as on its infinite complexity." As in war, the key for a nonviolent campaign is to find and exploit the opponent's weaknesses.

Take the recent uprising in Egypt. In the first days of the uprising, military and security forces cracked down heavily on protests. But the demonstrators were prepared: Activists -- influenced by recent nonviolent revolutions elsewhere -- circulated instructions to protesters detailing how to respond to the crackdown and began placing women, children, and the elderly on the front lines against the security forces. The handouts encouraged protesters to welcome the soldiers into the ranks of the movement and strongly forbade any violence against them. Movement leaders also made sure that repressive acts against peaceful protesters were caught on video and publicized.

Ultimately, the Egyptian Army refused orders to suppress the campaign -- and Hosni Mubarak's regime lost one of its key centers of power. Here again is an advantage that nonviolent groups have over armed guerrillas: Loyalty shifts among the security forces are difficult for small, clandestine, violent groups to achieve. Violent threats typically unite the security forces, who join together to defend against them (which is precisely why the Syrian regime insists it is fighting "armed groups" rather than unarmed civilians).

"Only Weak or Weak-Willed Regimes Fall to Nonviolent Uprisings."

Not true. Many nonviolent campaigns have succeeded against some of the bloodiest regimes on Earth, at the height of their power. In fact, a vast majority of the major nonviolent campaigns in the 20th century were facing down regimes such as Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq's in Pakistan, Slobodan Milosevic's in Serbia, Augusto Pinochet's in Chile, Suharto's in Indonesia, and various imperial rulers who were clearly invested in maintaining power over their colonies. During the famed Rosenstrasse incident in Berlin in 1943, for example, even the Nazis showed their vulnerability to nonviolent protests, when German women organized protests and faced down SS machine guns to demand the release of their Jewish husbands -- a small victory against one of history's most genocidal regimes, and an unthinkable one had the protesters taken up arms.

In fact, almost all major nonviolent campaigns of the 20th and early 21st centuries have faced massive and violent repression. In Pinochet's Chile, for instance, the regime often used torture and disappearances to terrorize political opposition. In such circumstances, engaging in visible mass protest would have been highly risky for those opposing the government. So in 1983, civilians began to signal their discontent by coordinating the banging of pots and pans -- a simple act that demonstrated the widespread support for the civilians' demands and showed that Pinochet would not be able to suppress the movement with the tools at his disposal. People also walked through the streets singing songs about Pinochet's impending demise -- a practice that so irked the general that he banned singing. But such desperate measures demonstrated his weakness, not his strength. Ultimately, Pinochet caved and agreed to hold a 1988 referendum on the question of whether he would serve an additional eight years as president. Opposition leaders took the opportunity to organize nonviolent direct actions that focused on coordinating "no" votes, obtaining an independently verifiable vote count, and holding Pinochet accountable to the results. When it was clear that Pinochet had lost, the military ultimately sided with the Chilean people, and Pinochet stepped aside.

"Sometimes Rebels Have No Choice but to Take Up Arms."

Not true. The current civil conflict in Libya, it's easy to forget now, began with nonviolent protests in Benghazi around Feb. 15. The demonstrations were summarily crushed, and by Feb. 19, oppositionists had responded by taking up arms, killing or capturing hundreds of Qaddafi's mercenaries and regime loyalists. In his infamous Feb. 22 speech, Qaddafi said, "Peaceful protest is one thing, but armed rebellion is another," and threatened to go "house by house" in search of the rebel "rats." Few civilians would be willing to participate in unarmed resistance after such threats, and what had begun as a peaceful movement unequivocally became an exclusively violent rebellion. It appears now to have been a success, but one that came at an enormous cost: Although an accurate death toll for the conflict is thus far impossible to come by, some counts midway through the war put the casualties as high as 13,000 deaths.

Could it have been otherwise? Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but if Libya's activists had a chance to evaluate their experience, they may have recognized a few mistakes. First, the movement appeared to have been fairly spontaneous, unlike the well-planned, highly coordinated campaign in Egypt. Second, the nonviolent movement may have focused too much on a single tactic -- protests -- to pursue its aims. When movements rely exclusively on rallies or protests, they become extremely predictable: sitting ducks for regime repression. Successful movements will combine protests and demonstrations with well-timed strikes, boycotts, go-slows, stay-aways, and other actions that force the regime to disperse its repression in unsustainable ways. For example, during the Iranian Revolution, oil workers went on strike, threatening to cripple the Iranian economy. The shah's security forces went to the oil workers' homes and dragged them back to the refineries -- at which point the workers worked at half-pace before staging another walkout. This level of repression required to force the masses to work against their will is untenable because it requires a massive coordination of regime resources and effort.

In fact, what we know from previous cases, such as Iran, is that the kind of violent reprisal Qaddafi used against the nonviolent uprising at the outset is often unsustainable against coordinated nonviolent movements over time. Moreover, the rebels' nearly immediate turn to violent resistance evoked the strongest reaction from Qaddafi, and it immediately excluded large numbers of people who might have been willing to regroup and brave the streets against Qaddafi but who had no interest in joining what was sure to become a nasty fight. Before NATO lent its support, the largest gains the Libyan opposition made were during the nonviolent phase of the uprising, which involved massive protests that shut down the country, elicited numerous defections from key regime functionaries, and even led to the taking of Benghazi without significant bloodshed. But once the rebels reacted to Qaddafi's repression by taking up arms, they required NATO intervention to stand a chance.

Or consider Syria, where the decision to use violence or not is similarly wrenching. In August, following months of peaceful mass protests, Assad ordered a full-scale military bombardment of Hama, a largely Sunni city known for an armed Islamist uprising that was even more brutally crushed in the 1980s, and other opposition strongholds across the country. Time to grab your gun, right?

Even in such cases, nonviolent movements have choices. They could respond to regime violence by switching tactics. In fact, Syrian activists have been doing this well, avoiding regime repression by using flash mobs and nighttime protests, which are more difficult to repress. Daytime protests are now well-planned, with multiple escape routes and mirrors to blind snipers trying to shoot protesters. Syrian activists have also so far largely avoided the temptation to respond to regime provocations with violence -- a critical decision, not only because taking up arms may undermine their domestic bases of participation and support, but also because it makes security forces more likely to obey orders to repress the movement. Because the regime has expelled journalists and cut off electricity in cities under siege, Syrian activists charge their laptops using car batteries and make fake IDs to get close to security forces so they can document human rights abuses and share them online. The continued mobilization resulting from these acts may help the opposition forge indispensable links with regime elites.

Nonviolent resistance is, in effect, a form of asymmetric warfare. Dictators predictably rely on their perceived advantages in brute force to defeat challengers. It's best to fight the enemy where you have an advantage -- in this case, people power, unpredictability, adaptability, and creativity -- rather than where he does.

"Nonviolent Uprisings Lead to Democracy."

Not necessarily. There is a strong empirical association between nonviolent campaigns and subsequent democratization, which shouldn't be terribly surprising: Higher levels of political participation and civil society -- factors that make a nonviolent uprising more likely to take root -- tend to lead to higher levels of democracy. But there are important exceptions. The Iranian Revolution -- one of the world's largest and most participatory nonviolent uprisings -- eventually ushered in a theocratic and repressive regime. The Philippines has endured several major nonviolent revolutions and continues to struggle with democratic consolidation and corruption. The largely successful Orange Revolution in Ukraine seemingly heralded a new era of political liberalization, but recent setbacks suggest the country is reversing course.

But none of these outcomes would likely have improved if the revolutions had been violent. In fact, in most countries where violent revolution has succeeded, the new regimes have been at least as brutal as their predecessors -- as anyone who has lived in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, the Afghan civil war, or the Cuban Revolution could tell you. As Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese pro-democracy movement, put it, "It is never easy to convince those who have acquired power forcibly of the wis­dom of peaceful change."

The bottom line is that while nonviolent resistance doesn't guarantee democracy, it does at least more or less guarantee the lesser of the various potential evils. The nature of the struggle can often give us a good idea of what the country will be like after the new regime takes shape. And few people want to live in a country where power is seized and maintained by force alone.

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