Alienation drives young Palestinians beyond politics

A protester holds a Palestinian flag as he poses for a photograph at the scene of clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, January 19, 2018.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Miriam Berger

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have taken on a life of their own since Palestinian leaders called for protests against Donald Trump’s decision to treat Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While Hamas, Fatah and other groups call for a weekly show of strength on Fridays, dozens of stone-throwers turn out along the border between Gaza and Israel every day, even when, as last Friday, a protest is called off due to bad weather.

Some wear the colors of the various factions vying to lead the drive for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, but others have no affiliation, a sign of alienation that makes the political situation more volatile.

“I am not against any of the factions, but we are grown-ups and are intelligent and we see that the ongoing division is weakening us all,” said a 28-year-old protester, referring to a renewed standoff between the Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah.

The two groups have long been rivals and have failed to achieve any lasting unity agreement in years of off-and-on negotiations. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in 2007.

Conscious of the growing influence of the youth due to their ballooning numbers, both Hamas and Fatah have recently tried to court them, holding large, separate meetings in Gaza to convince them to back reconciliation.

But, as the daily scene on the border shows, young Palestinians are increasingly beyond reach, put off by a four-year stalemate in peace talks with Israel and little progress toward healing internal rifts.

Their growing frustration surfaces in social media criticism of their leaders that is met by with an increasingly authoritarian response.

The stone-throwers say the more alienated they feel, the greater the likelihood they will take to the streets to protest.

“We are hungry and at home we have no electricity and our fathers have no jobs. This can’t bring about anything except an explosion,” said a 23-year-old unemployed history graduate who gave his name as Ahmed.

Asked about the target of such an explosion, he said: “Against the Israeli occupation, because it bears prime responsibility for everything, even for the division between Hamas and Fatah.”



Palestinian politicians have agreed to hold long-delayed elections in both territories this year as part of moves to end the schism that led to Hamas seizing control of Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority based in the larger West Bank.

Whether they will materialize is unclear.

Palestinian security officials have over the past few years questioned many people, sometimes for weeks, about social media posts criticizing Fatah and Hamas, according to Palestinian human rights groups and New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In Gaza, most complaints center on electricity shortages that date back 11 years, with both groups seen at fault.

Slow unity efforts are another hot-button issue: some blame Hamas for balking at handing full control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority while others criticize Fatah for retaining salary cuts in Gaza.

Fatah is also faulted for the fact that its engagement in peace talks with Israel has brought little progress toward a Palestinian state and for keeping aging leaders in place.

People aged 15 to 29 make up a third of the population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and partially blockaded Gaza strip and a disproportionate number of the many unemployed.

“There is no party that represents me or that I can say ‘this party speaks for me,'” said Oula Jabara, a university student in the occupied West Bank aged 20, who was a child when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005.

Almost three quarters of university students and 69 percent of all 18 to 22-year-olds want Abbas to resign, compared with 59 percent of Palestinians aged 50 and above, a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed.

Hasan Faraj, the Secretary General of Fatah’s Youth Movement, declined to provide membership numbers, calling it an internal matter. He said the movement remained relevant with “tens of thousands” of official members, and more affiliated.

The lack of transparency underscores a common complaint by young people that party leaders do not think they count.

Of six people interviewed at protests against Trump’s Jerusalem move, none was prepared to say who they wanted to replace Abbas.

“Whoever it is will just be like the last,” said Taha, a 33-year-old cook who declined to give his last name and wore a mask to avoid identification by Israeli authorities.

“I don’t have faith in any of the parties.”

In the absence of political dialogue either within Palestinian factions or between them and Israel, many young Palestinians suffer in silence and some take to the streets.

Palestinian uprisings erupted in 1987 and in 2000, the latter after the failure of U.S.-sponsored peace talks. A build-up of grievances could spark a new one, but it would likely take broad public support among Palestinians and involvement by factions to keep it going.

“Non-affiliated youth may fuel an uprising, a short but aggressive one, but they can’t sustain it,” said Palestinian political analyst Akram Attallah.

Sixteen Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in protests since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement and hundreds of Palestinians have been injured, eight on the Gaza border on Friday alone, according to the territory’s health ministry.

A 13-year-old boy on the border said he had been hit twice by rubber bullets. His mother had warned him a third hit could be fatal and his father had beaten him to try to keep him away.

“I always find an excuse to slip out,” he said. “So what, I will be a martyr.”

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Philippa Fletcher)

Winds of change blow softly as Palestinian party leaders meet

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) attends the Fatah Central Committee meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 8, 2011.

By Luke Baker and Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian politics hasn’t seen much change in the past 10 years — President Mahmoud Abbas has been in power since 2004 and the last parliamentary elections were a decade ago.

But next week, Fatah, the dominant force in Palestinian politics for half a century, will hold its first party congress in seven years and is expected to shake up its central committee, foreshadowing longer-term political changes.

While Abbas, who is 81 and has received medical treatment in recent weeks, will remain in power at the top of Fatah and the umbrella movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the congress is likely to lead to the appointment of a clear number two in the party and a potential leader-in-waiting.

It would be one of the biggest developments since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, and while the outlook for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is highly uncertain as Donald Trump prepares to take over the U.S. presidency, it could lay the ground for a shift in approach from the Palestinians.

“This is very important, a crucial congress for Fatah to reorganize the movement and renew the legitimacy of the leadership,” said Jibril Rajoub, a former security chief and central committee member who is running for re-election.

“The next period should be how we reorganize the whole political system,” he told Reuters at his office in Ramallah, where party members and supplicants gathered in large numbers this week to put their views and seek his influence.


In the build-up to the meeting, much has been made of a potential threat to Abbas’s authority from Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior figure in Fatah who now lives in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Dahlan, 55, casts himself as someone to shake up the old order and bridge the differences between Fatah and the Islamist group Hamas, a rupture that has splintered Palestinian unity and blunted efforts towards peace with the Israelis.

But Dahlan has been ousted from Fatah and Abbas has limited the delegates attending the congress, cutting the number to around 1,300 from 2,500 at the last meeting in 2009, making it far harder for Dahlan loyalists to mount a challenge.

“Who is Dahlan? Dahlan is not existing, he is no one,” said Rajoub. “He was fired from the movement. He is not a solution.”

A foreign diplomat tracking the cut-and-thrust ahead of the congress underscored that view, saying he didn’t see “any broad ability to unturf Abbas” and that Dahlan “doesn’t represent a popular, significant movement in Fatah”.

Instead, Palestinian officials and Fatah leaders say, the Ramallah gathering, which starts on Nov. 29 and will last for three or four days, will cement Abbas’s position at the top while electing around half a dozen new names to the 21-member committee that sets the party’s agenda.

“I hope to see an appropriate mix between those who are now in the leading bodies and the new generation, representatives of the new guard,” said Nasser al-Qudwa, Arafat’s nephew and a member of the central committee who was Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations for 14 years.

“There will be some changes from the last meeting.”


The most important decision will come in the days after the congress, when the new central committee meets to elect from among its members a deputy to Abbas in the party.

Palestinian officials repeatedly mention four names as being in the running for that post: Qudwa, Rajoub, Tawfiq Tirawi, a former head of intelligence, and Mahmoud al-Aloul, the former governor of Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Rajoub and Qudwa both dismiss out of hand any suggestion of a shortlist — Tirawi and Aloul could not be reached for comment — saying Fatah’s rules don’t work like that. But they confirmed a deputy would be chosen shortly after the congress.

There are then plans for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s top legislative body, the national council, to meet for the first time in 20 years and potentially elect a new executive committee, which is also headed by Abbas.

If that happens in the coming weeks, Palestinian officials say, Abbas would again be reaffirmed. But critically, his deputy in Fatah may also be named as deputy head of the PLO executive committee, all but enshrining that person as leader-in-waiting.

“There are lots of hurdles to jump, but this is the way it is shaping up. Changes are coming,” said a senior Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to divulge internal discussions.


Abbas is much maligned inside and outside the party, despite retaining a large degree of influence. His leadership is seen as lacking the inspiration of Arafat, he has failed to secure the end of Israel’s occupation or an independent Palestinian state, and the split with Hamas has worsened on his watch.

None of that will change after the congress. But if a clearly anointed successor emerges in the weeks and months ahead, diplomats and Palestinian officials say it may help mend internal divisions and encourage the world to re-engage.

Trump said this week he wanted to tackle the Middle East issue and believed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could take on the role of peace-broker in the region. It remains to be seen how serious a proposal that is and whether Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, would be an acceptable, independent interlocutor.

But among the Palestinians being talked about as potential successors to Abbas, at least one, Nasser al-Qudwa, shares common ground with Kushner — he has lived in New York on and off for the past 30 years and retains a home in the city.

(Writing by Luke Baker, editing by Peter Millership)