We are witnessing a failure of the political leadership in the Middle East. In
the Arab world, it takes the form of a rebellion by the youth, which in Egypt
and Tunisia toppled two dictators and in Syria, Lybia, Bahrain, Yemen and
elsewhere is creating upheavals that ultimately could result in regime changes
across the Arab world.
In Israel, we are seeing a social rebellion of the
middle class – the tents of Rothschild Avenue are some sort of Israeli version
of Tahrir Square. Not a revolution against a dictatorship, but repulsion of the
political leadership, fueled by the anger of the young middle class – a sense of
empowerment by a generation demanding change, be it in housing prices, the low
salaries of young physicians, or the high cost of basic goods.
important in this outcry is not necessarily the outcome of the various specific
issues, but the fundamental change in the political process, to a large degree
brought about by a young generation and the social networks.
international phenomena, it actually began in the United States, with the
election of President Barack Obama, a representative of this new
Obama became the first president elected by the young, his
campaign organized through the Internet and carried out on social networks,
including the fundraising.
It was therefore not surprising that he began
his campaign for a second term with an interview on Facebook. Yes, Obama
understands the power of the Facebook generation, and we must, too.
young, 60 percent of the population in our region, have gained a new sense of
their role in the political-social process.
They sense a greater capacity
to bring about change through their own selfempowerment – less through belonging
to a nation state than through belonging to a community with common interests
and views. They also have less respect for and fear of the political leadership,
which seems to them disconnected from their day-to-day realities. This has
fundamentally changed the relationship among the citizen, the society, the
leadership and the social-political process.
From now on, it is not
merely a matter of challenging political leaders every four years in elections,
but an ongoing challenge linked to daily issues of importance.
is set by the people no less than by the leaders. It is not only a question of
how the young utilize Facebook and its ilk, but also of how the social media
have affected the young. They are more individualistic; they have no need for
matchmakers in society and politics; they speak a direct, down-to-earth,
pragmatic language; they have the capacity to interact quickly with a large
number of peers. A Facebook friendship takes minutes to establish. The role of
the young within and between societies has changed, probably for good, and for
What are the implications for Israel? First and foremost, the
government has to adopt an uncharacteristic trait: It has to listen. It must
listen to the voices and concerns of its constituency, and not see in every
grievance a conspiracy by opposing forces. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
advisers should not only broadcast dialogues on YouTube in which he preaches in
his slick “hasbara” style, but also have him read the vox populi on Facebook.
The government needs to meet the needs of the people, mainly the young middle
class – create affordable housing, pay reasonable salaries, not make Israel a
record-holder in basic food prices, and be an acceptable country in the family
of nations. This demands some budget reforms as well, such as less money to
political allies and settlements in the occupied territories.
changes affect the domain of peace-making. Young Israelis want to live an
affordable, peaceful life, in a country that has good relations with the rest of
the world. In this, they are not much different from many of their peers – the
Facebook generation in the Arab world. It must be clear to our government that
peace can no longer be merely with Arab governments. Every Arab leader,
including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and whoever succeeds
Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, will have to listen to the wishes of their youth;
therefore, we must make peace with the Arab people – with the Arab youth, and
specifically the Palestinian youth. The contours of a final agreement are clear
to virtually anyone in their right mind; the partners have changed, for the
We must build a bridge between the young in Israel and the young
in the Arab world through their means of communication – the social networks,
In this vein, I have launched an initiative on Facebook
to enable such communication: YALA – Young Leaders Movement.
months, the movement has attracted approximately 35,000 active users per month –
thousands of Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians, hundreds of Jordanians,
Tunisians, Moroccans, Saudis and Algerians, communicating with each other; not
united in their views, but united in their wishes to see the young lead the way
to peace and in their disillusionment with the political leadership, united to
take part in what globalization has to offer.
They are planning a virtual
peace conference by and for the young of the Middle East, at the beginning of
2012, taking care of their well-being and rights.
Change will have to
come about, both in Tel Aviv and in Cairo, by heeding the voices of the Facebook
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and
served as Israel’s chief negotiator in the Oslo Accords.