Youth in the Palestinian National Movement: Painful Truths
The role of youth in the Palestinian national movement is not reflected at the level of leadership and decision-making in a manner commensurate with what they have offered to the movement in past years. Palestinian society is considered a young society, made up to a very large extent (close to 50 percent) of youth, and the youth have always formed a large majority of the membership in Palestinian political organizations, especially those under the aegis of Fatah. Nonetheless, this has not been matched by the extent of participation of young people in the leadership and political bodies of Fatah. Indeed, the youth are represented by only three members out of 450 in the Palestinian National Council, and these come only from the student unions.
This situation has deepened into a serious gap between the young generation and the leadership of the Palestinian political movements, and has discouraged many young people, especially among the ranks of the leftist political organizations, from an involvement in any political action. The absence of democracy within these parties (some of which have been headed by the same people since the sixties and seventies), has prevented the injection of new blood into these political movements that have, as a result, fallen captive to archaic political slogans. In this sort of vicious cycle, the youth, who are always eager for innovation, tend to shun such movements.

The Effects of the Intifada

The youth were widely engaged in the organization and leadership of the Intifada, its striking forces, its popular committees, its educational and solidarity committees, etc. Young people served in the unified leadership of the Intifada, which played such an important role in the uprising, notwithstanding the widespread notion that it was directed by the "outside" leadership (with the exception of the Communists, who were based in the occupied territories).
The Intifada had a very deep impact on Palestinian society, in general, and the youth, in particular. Young people felt they were leading the street, breaking the shackles of the authorities to which thus far they had been confined: the occupation, the family, the school, the university. The Intifada encouraged their rebellion. When the uprising subsided, it became increasingly difficult to bring them back to pre-Intifada days. Hence their discouragement with, and withdrawal from, political organizations, especially those on the left. This may have been a factor in the weakening of the leftist groupings and the decline of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) in the struggle between the internal and external leadership regarding the political process. It may have also led to the ambiguous position the Palestinian People's Party (PPP) took regarding developments on the ground in the wake of the peace agreements.

Social Standing and Complacency

A second reality that emerged from the Intifada is the sympathy the international community showed the Palestinian people. This was often translated in financial backing extended by several countries and bodies towards the formation of committees and organizations, in order to address a variety of problems in education, health, women and children issues, agriculture, the environment, water, etc. With the end of the Intifada, and, especially with the onset of the peace process, these organizations have attracted a great number of aspiring young Palestinians from leftist organizations, especially the PPP and the DFLP. It is the irony of history that these youngsters are now getting their salaries in U.S. dollars from parties and organizations they fought and derided in the past, especially the World Bank.
By holding jobs in these NGOs (and also in the Palestinian public sector), the youth of today are confining themselves to working on aid programs, carrying out research work and organizing training activities. More than anything, what we see today is complacency on the part of these young people arising from what they perceive as their newly acquired affluence and social standing, expressed in smart clothing, briefcases, cellular phones, and their frequent travels abroad to attend conferences and seminars. All this seems to have taken the bite out of their former revolutionary spirit and confrontational enthusiasm.

The Fruits of Peace - A Slow Tempo

This political apathy among the youth is nowadays reinforced by the lack of clarity at all levels of the political process, especially concerning the non-implementation of agreements - even the renegotiation of signed ones - as well as the skepticism and despondency regarding the possibility of a solution to the contentious issues like that of the Palestine refugees. In short, the absence of achievement on the ground and the non-fulfillment of expectations since the onset of the negotiations have exacerbated the impatience of the youth. The slow tempo of political progress is preventing them from reaping the long-awaited fruits of peace for which they have struggled and sacrificed the best years of their life. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the youth is increasingly disinterested in the political process and in its day-to-day affairs.
The Palestinians need to review their strategy regarding the youth, not only because they are the future, but because their situation reflects the existence of many painful truths of a more general nature that need to be addressed very seriously. One important issue is exemplified by the results of a public opinion poll recently carried out by the Center for Palestine Research and Studies (Nablus). The answer to a question dealing with the desire of the youth to emigrate was overwhelmingly in the affirmative. The large majority of these youngsters seeking to emigrate comes from leftist or Islamic movements, or from refugee camps. In industrialized countries, the reasons for emigration can be attributed to a desire on the part of the youth for a change in the daily routine, to a search for a new experience, or to an expression of a sense of individuality or independence. In Palestine, I do not think these are the reasons.