Generational divide among Israelis and Palestinians may be explained

The Irish fund has long been considered to be a model for promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation because it enabled Unionists and Irish nationalists to come together and understand each other.

July 28, 2019 00:37
4 minute read.
Youths ride a motorcycle past a closed school in the southern Gaza Strip in May.

Youths ride a motorcycle past a closed school in the southern Gaza Strip in May. . (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)

The introduction of the Partnership Fund for Peace Act to Congress last month comes at a critical time. The bill would have the United States invest $50 million in Palestinian economic development and in coexistence and reconciliation projects between Israelis and Palestinians. Many see this as the next step toward the establishment of an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, modeled after the International Fund for Ireland.

Indeed, the Irish fund has long been considered to be a model for promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation because it enabled more Unionists and Irish nationalists to come together and understand each other’s narratives, creating the public support necessary for the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement. However, there is another reason why an international fund for peace would be especially helpful for Israelis and Palestinians, however, it may be overlooked because of one of the differences with the Northern Irish conflict.

When I visited Belfast, Northern Ireland, last year I noticed a generational divide among the Catholic and Protestant communities on their perspectives about the future. For instance, when I spoke with a middle-aged man who was a former member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), he said that while he supported the peace agreement for now, his long-term goal had not changed. He still hoped for a united Ireland and that the British would “go back to where they came from.” However, when I spoke with another Irish Catholic man in his twenties, he gave a very different perspective. He said that while he upheld his people’s collective narrative of the conflict, he neither expected nor wanted the British to go anywhere, adding that he believed Northern Ireland was their home, too.

These contrasting perspectives between the older and younger generations were a common pattern I noticed among both groups in Belfast. The generational divisions may be explained by the different periods they lived in. The older generations of Protestants and Catholics lived through and still remember the bloody years of “the troubles,” and therefore may harbor hostility toward each other. In contrast, the Irish and British youths were born into the era of the Good Friday Agreement in which there has been virtually no violence for more than 20 years. They are thus more optimistic about living together in peace.

However, the opposite trend seems to be taking place between Israelis and Palestinians. For example, a 2018 Israeli-Palestinian joint poll found that younger Israelis tend to be less supportive of a two-state solution, while older people are more supportive of it.

AMONG ISRAELI Jews ages 18-34, only 27% said they support a two-state solution; among 35-44, 45% support it; and 51% of older Israelis said they support two states. This seems to be the case for Palestinians as well. For instance, a 2015 Israeli-Palestinian Joint Poll found that the least supportive age group among Palestinians for two states were participants between the ages of 18-22.

These generational divisions may also be explained by the different eras in which they have lived. Older Israelis and Palestinians lived during the time of the Oslo Accords, when there was greater freedom of movement and interaction between them and a stronger sense of hope for peace in the environment. In contrast, Israeli and Palestinian youths have only witnessed violence. Many of them grew up when the Oslo Accords collapsed and they saw the violence that came out of the Second Intifada and the multiple wars in Gaza. They have also had less opportunities to interact with and humanize each other, and have not witnessed any public handshakes between their respective leaders, and are thus more skeptical about the possibility of making peace with their adversaries.

Another explanation for the generational divide may be the change in demographics. Israeli Jewish youths are becoming increasingly Orthodox due to higher birth rates within haredi and other religious communities. Orthodox communities may be more opposed to a two-state solution for several reasons. One is that they may not want to divide the land for religious reasons. Another factor may be that the religious communities in Israel have been neglected by Israel’s peace camp. Indeed, Israel’s peace camp has been historically dominated by the secular Ashkenazi communities, and they have failed to branch out to the Mizrahi and religious communities in Israel, preventing them from having as many interactions with Palestinians.

An international fund, however, may be able to help overcome these obstacles. With more financial capital, grassroots movements could start to bring more Israeli and Palestinian youths together so they can re-humanize each other and develop a culture of peace. Moreover, an international fund would give grassroots movements the financial capacity they need to broaden their base outside of the secular communities and bring more people from the next generation of religious Jews and Palestinians into contact with each other as well.

The next generation of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are ready to continue the state of peace they have lived in. But if the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians want to see a similarly bright future, they will need help. With the establishment of an international fund for peace, people-to-people organizations may finally receive the financial assistance they need to prepare the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians for a more peaceful future.

The author is a contributing writer for the Israel Policy Forum.

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