RAMALLAH, West Bank -- As one who for decades has supported a two-state solution and the nonviolent struggle for Palestinian rights, I view the recent conference in Annapolis with a great deal of skepticism - and a glimmer of hope.
Seven years with no negotiations - and increasing numbers of Israeli settlers, an economic blockade in Gaza and an intricate network of roadblocks and checkpoints stifling movement in the West Bank - have led us to despair and distrust. Any commitment must be made not only to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008 but also to end Israel's occupation.
The Palestinians must also heal their internal divisions. This must include institutional reform to root out corruption and nepotism. The first step in that process is democratic elections at all levels of government.
We must rid ourselves of the false dichotomy between Fatah and Hamas. These are not the only options. My movement, the 5-year-old Palestinian National Initiative, offers an alternative emphasizing democratic elections, transparent government and institution-building. Our goal is to democratize and engage the Palestinian national movement in a unified strategy to confront Israel's ongoing occupation and seizure of our land and resources. We strive to achieve our national rights in our homeland and to establish social justice to uphold the rights of the underprivileged and marginalized, including women, children and people with disabilities.
The Palestinian National Initiative emerged in response to calls by the Palestinian populace for opportunities to participate in creating an independent, viable, democratic and prosperous state that guarantees security, justice, equality before the law and a dignified existence for its citizens.
Our movement's firm commitment to democracy and nonviolence can be seen, for example, in our peaceful demonstrations against Israel's apartheid wall. For more than two years, we supported the popular - and, so far, successful - struggle of the West Bank village of Bilin to remove the wall from its land. We are replicating these nonviolent activities, with the support of international solidarity groups, in towns and villages throughout the West Bank.
But the full democracy, real reform and unity our people deserve cannot flourish under conditions of occupation. The national unity government collapsed this year when the government was unable to pay its workers after Israel withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes owed to the Palestinian Authority.
Far too many innocent Palestinian and Israeli civilians have suffered and died because of the persistence of Israeli military occupation of our lands. Our daily experience worsens as we are continually squeezed into ever-smaller land reserves and Israel continues to encircle Jerusalem with illegal settlements that segregate it from the West Bank. The number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, has grown from 268,000 to more than 420,000 since the Oslo peace accords were signed. Even today, Israel is refusing its commitment, under the U.S.-sponsored "road map" to peace, to freeze all settlement activity.
We acknowledge the painful history of our Israeli neighbors. The suffering endured by Jews in Christian Europe was terrible. But today, Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East, and Palestinians are the ones who suffer most.
Palestinians participated in Annapolis in good faith. But we cannot simply abandon the rights of our people, including refugees. We seek for them no more than they are due under international law, and a way must be found to address these inalienable rights.
We have made our most generous offer in agreeing to establish our sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza, together only 23 percent of historical Palestine. This is roughly half of what the United Nations allocated for us some 60 years ago. We have already more than made our historical compromise with Israel. Compromising the compromise risks leaving us with a shell state.
And a meaningless and empty state is no basis upon which to build substantive peace. A state in name only will not be enough. A state requires sovereignty. A state requires free movement and a free economy. A state requires a democratically elected government that can govern independently, without interference from Israel.
Annapolis represented an opportunity - perhaps the last before the possibility of a two-state solution vanishes. The Palestinian people will agree to two states as long as Israel withdraws its settlements and removes the wall, ends its brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories it captured in 1967, acknowledges the rights of refugees and agrees to share Jerusalem as the capital of both states.
However, if the two-state solution becomes impossible, future Palestinian leaders may be compelled to demand equal rights within one state. It behooves Israel to hasten toward a two-state solution.
The basic question Palestinians have for Israelis is: Will we be treated as equal human beings, with equal rights and equal dignity? If the answer is yes, there will be a two-state solution. There will be peace.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a physician, member of the Palestinian parliament and former candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority, has founded organizations that provide health services for Palestinians. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.