“A large youth population presents a unique demographic dividend that can contribute to lasting peace and economic prosperity if inclusive policies are in place.” — UNSCR 2250
The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2250 in December 2015, acknowledging the important role youth can play in conflict resolution and sustainable peacebuilding, and asked member states to promote the engagement of youth in policy-making, political participation, and decision-making processes. While most Israelis under the age of 30 has had eight opportunities to vote since 2006, Palestinians of the same age have not been able to exercise their basic human right to vote in nearly 15 years.
The absence of democracy, accountability, and reconciliation in Palestine, in addition to the Israeli occupation, the high rate of unemployment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the decline in economic opportunities, has amplified young Palestinians’ apathy and hopelessness toward politics and social responsibility.
According to a global survey published by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2020, over half of Palestinian and Israeli millennials believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “would never end with peace.” For young Palestinians to reclaim social responsibility and challenge the political discourse, they must experience progress and positive change. But what does progress look like nearly 30 years after the Oslo Accords, and how does experiencing positive transformation inside their communities boost youth engagement in politics and decision-making?
The Conflict and the Political Discourse
The young Palestinian generation, (referred to as generation Z, the demographic cohort born between the mid-to-late 1990s) has never seen any progress in the peace process. The absence of progress in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be attributed to two different political discourses, neither of which support returning to negotiations.
In March 2021, Israel elected the most radical government in years. It is marching not only toward the extreme — with a not-so-surprisingly, good performance from the religious ultra-right — parties but also toward rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state. On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is internationalizing the peace process by joining treaties and specialized UN agencies. The PA also continues to advocate for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, a solution that has seen declining support — to 43% among Palestinians and 42% among Israeli Jews, the lowest level of support in years.
The long gap in the peace process, combined with governments’ partial detachment from the younger generation, is widening the divide and driving Israel into radicalization and Palestine into the political unknown. This gap is also leading to a deep sense of insecurity and despair among youth in Palestine. They fail to visualize the future as a time to achieve their aspiration: A2017 Interpeace study found that “79% of the youth in Gaza and 70% in the West Bank believe their future is not safe.”
The “disconnect” between the leadership and the grassroots level has increased. The absence of general elections in Palestine since 2006 has raised many concerns for the performance of the PA institutions, which continue to operate without an electoral mandate. In addition, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has extended the term of President Mahmoud Abbas indefinitely since 2009, raising even more critical questions on legality and accountability. Currently a staggering 81% of Palestinians believe that corruption exists in PA institutions.
Furthermore, Palestinian youth in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem are living in fear under military occupation, each with their own identity and human rights context. They are experiencing different levels of violence and discrimination and have often exhibited symptoms of hopelessness. The reality of the occupation and the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the rise in settler violence against Palestinians, have further increased the frustration and despair among Palestinian youth.
Young Palestinians feel left out and disengaged from leadership roles in their communities. The majority are thoroughly cynical and have abandoned politics, regardless of whether they are students, unemployed, or professionals. In a public poll published in 2016, only 40% of Palestinian youth reported interest in participating in elections — 29% in the West Bank, compared to 57% in Gaza. Still, there are indicators that there may be a larger youth turnout if a Palestinian general election takes place in 2021.
Economic Opportunities, Unemployment, and Personal Growth
In 2019, the unemployment rate among young Palestinians reached 38% (63% in Gaza and 23% in the West Bank), over 60% among young Palestinian women. It is evident that the pandemic had a direct impact on youth employment in 2020, with an increase in unemployment rates generally above the normal level. In Israel, the youth unemployment rate has been in decline since 2003, at least until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and was reported to be 6.97% in 2020.
Economic growth in Palestine is often hampered by structural barriers that can be attributed to the occupation and the complete dependency on the Israeli economy. But despite the economic and social challenges, there is a significant potential to raise awareness on entrepreneurship development as a comprehensive approach to self-employment for young Palestinian graduates.
Youth are currently invested in self-fulfillment and personal growth. They aspire to have a career and at least an “above-average” wage. Given the absence of a political solution in the horizon, young Palestinians are turning to their own career development. Their approach to capacity-building demonstrates young people’s ability to adapt to the challenging nature of the conflict. By attempting to separate themselves from the reality on the ground and focusing on self-fulfillment, they are distancing themselves from social responsibility in favor of exploring entrepreneurship on a global stage.
Youth are leading a unique movement of startups powered by global venture platforms. They are no longer compelled to participate in decision-making processes. Palestinian society must develop a sense of social responsibility for the youth toward a wider civic engagement. The lack of youth empowerment strategies is clearly manifested in the younger generation’s absence from the political spectrum in Palestine.
Aspirations to Positive Transformation
Youth are motivated by their individual needs and interests. They aspire to personal development and professional opportunities. They need programs that can fulfill their needs for job security and a sense of identity and purpose. Youth in Palestine suffer from limitations on freedom of speech and expression; they seek communities and digital platforms that enable their activism and provide access to shared experiences, so they do not feel isolated and left behind.
Youth want their views and opinions to be heard and respected, especially by their leaders. They have limited opportunities to present their ideas on a municipal and legislative level. Article 15 of the law No 5 of 2005 on elections provide that, “candidates for the membership of the Palestinian Legislative Council should have completed the age of 28” Article 13 of the same law provides that, “candidates for Presidency should have completed the age of 40.” Young Palestinians are turning to social media platforms to express their anger and disappointment, only to be repressed and harassed by Palestinian security forces and bullied by a drained society and outdated leadership practices.
The 2017 Interpeace study shows that among youth’s top demands is “the creation of a youth framework to represent young people.” It is a priority to create a national Palestinian framework for youth that reflect their individual interests and provides a human development structure to answer their needs. However, any proposed framework must be designed and implemented in partnership with civil society. This will provide accessibility to marginalized youth communities in the West Bank and Gaza and ensure transparency and social accountability on delivery. Designing a national framework for youth must also be accompanied by a parallel track for job creation and economic opportunities backed by government limited grants and subsidized loans for youth to nurture and promote entrepreneurship and self-employment.
Youth in Palestine will not be able to envision social change unless they lead it. The culture of volunteerism in Palestine is close to fiction. Palestinian civil society transformed volunteers into paid freelancers, thanks to foreign aid. And although many civil society initiatives and capacity-building leadership programs aim to improve the position of youth in society, the volunteers still expect to be paid for their time. Civil society must engage young Palestinians on a grassroots level to foster social responsibility. Palestinian youth should be encouraged to plan and drive the implementation of any community initiative to ensure that it answers their needs. Only then will young Palestinians become motivated to lead social change and explore leadership roles.
There is a social and psychological gap between youth and leadership in Palestine, with a steep decline in support for the current political discourse and growing concerns on visibility, accountability, and transparency for PA institutions. These concerns should be addressed through general elections and the lowering of the age requirement for candidacy for president and the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The occupation policies have created frustration and hopelessness, accompanied by a noticeable increase in radicalization among Palestinian youth. We need to address the absence of a political solution as the government, the private sector, and civil society. By building a national framework for youth, we can engage young Palestinians in political and social tracks to strengthen democracy, grassroots, and social responsibility. More representation for youth communities in our political system is needed, and it is our
responsibility and social obligation to listen and understand their personal struggle before our collective national interests.
Our society should foster laws and legislations that protect youth and their right to freedom of expression. Youth participation in decision-making processes should be a recognized constitutional right across societies. We must challenge the cultural assumptions about “youth being too immature to make a difference” and set a framework to preserve and nurture intergenerational equity, leaving a legacy they can be proud of.
ICRC survey (2020): Israeli and Palestinian millennials are ‘most pessimistic’ on prospects for peace
Study (2008): Psychological reactions to Israeli occupation: Findings from the national study of school-based screening in Palestine
The Palestine/Israel Pulse, a Joint Poll (2020): Support for the two-state solution Poll
Study (2017): on Youth, Peace and Security based on UN Resolution 2250
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (2016) youth interests in Elections
Poll (2020): Unemployment Rates, West Bank and Gaza
Palestinian Elections Law No 9 of 2005