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Young Palestinian leadership at the helm of state building

March 21st, 2010


by hossam ezzedine

RAMALLAH – In January 2009 I was standing with dozens of Palestinian youth who were jostling in front of the Palestinian Presidential Guard offices in Ramallah, hoping for a chance to work for the Guard. Some of them left quickly looking disappointed, evidently rejected for not meeting the basic requirements such as height or weight.

The young generation of Palestinians are playing an increasingly important part in building the institutions of a future state. This desire to participate stems largely from a sense that the ministries, the security apparatuses and other institutions, would not have come into being had it not been for the five year struggle of the first Intifada which they had spearheaded.

Nowadays the young generation has significant representation in Palestinian institutions. This was evident in the latest elections within the Fateh movement last summer, an election which was in fact won by the younger generation. The result is that the average age within the Fateh leadership has dropped significantly. Many of these younger leaders hold high positions within government ministries and some are ministers, like the Minister of Prisoner Affairs Eesa Qaraqe who has spent ten years in Israeli prisons.

The initial shift to political participation among the young generation took place in 1994, after the Oslo agreement, when the Palestinian leadership returned to the West Bank and Gaza. In the early days of the Palestinian Authority (PA), large numbers of young Palestinians joined the 120,000 strong civil and security sectors. Today, the employees in the nascent Palestinian institutions number 160,000, most of them young people. The PA has been encouraging youth participation as a strategic element in the process of reconstruction.

The importance of the youth to the leadership, both in terms of its role in politics and the armed struggle, was also evident following the collapse of political negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides at Camp David in 2000. At that point, the leadership used the youth working in the civil institutions to launch new political acts against the occupation. These initially took the form of rallies, but then the focus turned to those working in the security sectors who were clearly ready for armed resistance and were therefore receptive to instructions from the political leadership to launch the second Intifada.

Compared with the first intifada, this uprising was more violent and represented an even stronger desire for independence. Since the political leadership had now returned to Palestinian land, a union emerged between young people who had previously been deported and now returned from abroad, and those inside. The violent nature of this intifada was, perhaps, not anticipated by the older generation. Again, it catapulted the youth to the forefront and contributed to the emergence of a new, younger, leadership, composed of people previously without a voice, such as Marwan Barghouti whom Israel accuses of leading the second Intifada.

The level of counter violence used by the Israeli army to quell the second Intifada, however, surpassed the level of violence used by the Palestinians. The high numbers of fatalities, injuries and prisoners led the younger leadership to re-evaluate their methods and prioritise preservation of the young political leaders.

That subsequent shift away from armed struggle and back to political means was clearly apparent in 2006 when the young leaders of the second Intifada who were now imprisoned in Israeli jails drafted a political document known as the “Prisoners’ Document”. The document, which was presented to the Palestinian leadership (both Hamas and Fateh), was aimed at promoting internal reconciliation and continued peace negotiations. It represented the beginning of a serious attempt by the young Palestinian leadership to change the approaches assumed by the older leaders.

More recently, the results of the internal elections in Fateh’s Sixth Congress last summer, when the younger cadre took over the Central Committee of the movement and its Revolutionary Council, were an additional indication of the decision by the younger sector to drive the struggle for independence by political means.

Alongside the emergence of the young leadership in Fateh, which has taken place over several phases, the growing importance of the younger generation has been even more apparent within Hamas. Their rise to important positions within the party occurred at a faster pace, as is evident after the party’s victory in 2006 in the Gaza Strip. Since then, Hamas has been using young faces to communicate the movement’s political position to the world. Sami Abou Zuhri, the official spokesman of the movement, is now well-known across most satellite channels alongside Musheer El Masri, both of whom are familiar faces to those following the political situation in the Palestinian territories.

In both parties, the younger generation has substantial representation in the Legislative Council, which explains the presence of a clear trend to allow younger people to have a say particularly if it is in line with party policy.

For the last 16 years, the younger generation has oscillated between political participation and violent resistance to the occupation. The choice depends on whether or not there is a sense of progress in the political realm. If there is progress and given the chance, young Palestinians of today will choose the political path to establish their leadership and build a government.


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