Revolutions, it is often said, eat their young; the Palestinian revolutionary movement, in all its splinters, certainly has swallowed generations of Palestinian children. A poll by the Arab World for Research & Development (AWRAD) shows signs, however, that the revolution may be in serious trouble with its own young people, who have been influenced variously by Israel and events in the wider Arab world. Oddly, the US administration just forked over $260 million to prop up the old dictatorship and try to save an increasingly out-of-touch Mahmoud Abbas. President Obama said the money was “important to the security interests of the United States.”
Abbas is the last of the senior, secular, revolutionary cronies Yasser Arafat imported from Tunisia – a Soviet-educated octogenarian in a post-Soviet world. Israelis sometimes agree with him that “après moi, le (Islamic) deluge,” and better a secular dictator than a jihadi one, but a year of Arab revolution shows that even if you like your dictator you can’t keep him forever.
The Revolution has for decades produced new, inventive and bloody ways to hang on to its demands, drain money from Western coffers, subvert Israel and avoid penalty for the multi-generational ruin of its own people. Status quo in a revolutionary society is untenable. Always change the subject, always be the victim, always change the threat and never end the conflict.
Now, however, Abbas is faced with a disinterested Arab world and rising dissatisfaction among Palestinian youth, who are increasingly seeking employment and education, and are worried about corruption in Palestinian government. That is, in Abbas’s government, along with the Hamas government in Gaza.
The AWRAD poll asked Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 30 about their priorities. Corruption topped the list (78% said it was “very important,” and 18% said it was “important”). Then came Personal Freedom (76% and 20%); Unemployment (72% and 13%); Education Expenditures (63% and 15%); the “Unstable Social and Psychological Situation,” a presumed reference to the “occupation” (60% and 25%; Boredom (55% and 23%) and the Expense of Marriage (48% and 21%).
Asked to prioritize four from the list above, Palestinians chose Unemployment, Educational Expenses, Corruption, and Personal Freedom. The question presumably relating to “occupation” didn’t make the list. Which is not to say younger Palestinians like Israel (although in an earlier poll, substantial numbers of Palestinians said they would want Israeli citizenship if Palestine became an independent state); more than 70% of the Palestinians in the AWRAD poll said they would demonstrate against Israel. Still, only 42% said they would demonstrate if the PA told them to; 28% might, depending on the circumstances; and 29% would refuse.
That doesn’t sound like a generation ready to throw itself on the rocks for its leaders.
Although more than 90% said corruption in government was an issue of importance, only 18% would demonstrate against the PA and 21% would demonstrate against Hamas in Gaza. The number is understandable. The PA has been increasingly dictatorial in its treatment of those who speak, write and blog against its authority or its cronies. Abu Rihan’s anti-corruption group on Facebook has more than 6,000 followers; Abu Rihan is in jail, while Hamas has announced it will hang “collaborators with Israel,” and has done so. The definition of “collaborators” has historically been loose at best and has been used to dispatch regime adversaries.
Where does this leave the Palestinians?
Longtime observer and analyst Jonathan Schanzer believes Abbas will a) step up his international campaign against Israel; b) continue to try to induce Hamas to accept him as leader of the on-again-off-again “unity government;” and c) try to gin up “non-violent” demonstrations in the West Bank against Israel. This last, he fears, could become violent without warning. Adrian Blomfield of The London Times thinks violence may be in the air as well, but against the PA – with frustration among Palestinians for the failure of the PA to hold promised elections boiling over.
Violence (both the use of and the incitement to), repression, the delegitimization of Israel, canceling elections and jailing and hanging opponents — these are all part of the desperate efforts of Fatah and Hamas to hang onto power by whatever means they can. Why the US would help Fatah (and Hamas, by allowing Fatah to pay Hamas’s bills with American money) is impossible to fathom.
To avoid a repetition of the violent intifadas that produced more misery for Palestinians than anything else, the United States — perfectly willing to throw longtime ally Hosni Mubarak under the bus in the name of “the people” — should stop trying to prop up the dictatorship of the old Palestinian Revolution and start listening to what “the people” have to say.
The caveat is that the Palestinian Authority has been educating children with its own anti-Israel and anti-Semitic textbooks and curriculum for years. The Palestine Broadcasting Authority has children’s programming extolling death on behalf of Palestine, and even told children that the IDF ate Mickey Mouse. Hamas teaches much the same to children in Gaza, including that the IDF killed the Hamas Bunny. At some point, this sort of education may create a generation of young people unable to see the world in front of them for what it is – and the Revolution could begin again.