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Palestinian youth `should be heard`
Alex Sehmer
Al Jazeera
3.12.08

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2008/12/2008122165249612152.html


The Palestinian leadership needs to know `when to step aside` and make way for younger leaders, Hanan Ashrawi, the noted Palestinian legislator and rights advocate, has said in an interview with journalists and students in Doha.

`We need the young. People my age should know how to step aside and how to provide a system of support and solidarity for the new leaders,` Ashrawi told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

Although Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, himself 73, recently threatened to call a general election if Egyptian-brokered talks between the Fatah and Hamas factions fail to move forward, it seems unlikely that young Palestinians will get their chance in politics any time soon.
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`We have a disastrous situation of a leadership that doesn`t know the meaning of a graceful exit,` Ashrawi said.

Ashrawi, who has served as an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, affirmed she would refuse to stand in any up-coming election.

`I`ve decided I`m not running. What you can count on me doing is supporting young women, young leaders - the new generation - to run for office,` she said.

`Political activities`

While Hamas and Fatah have their youth wings, analysts say that young Palestinians are much less likely to be affiliated with a political party. Some reports say that about 60 per cent of young Palestinians are not affiliated with any political faction.

Palestinian youth may be involved in `political activities`, when such things are defined as throwing stones at Israeli forces in the occupied territories, but many young Palestinians feel that they are marginalised from the actual political process.

`Political parties are not taking advice or listening to young people in Palestine,` Hindi Mesleh, a 26-year-old film student and activist, said.

Mesleh has been involved in several `actions` against Israel`s separation barrier, which carves into Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

`There are young people with the parties, I have friends in Hamas and Fatah, but they`re not supporting everything that they`re doing ... I can tell you a huge part of Palestinian youth refused to take part in the civil war [which led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007] - that was only something started by the big politicians,` he told Al Jazeera.

Making a difference

A growing number of initiatives have emerged in the West Bank to try to promote young people`s participation in politics, but they are based mainly in the cities and progress has been slow.

The 70-years old President Abbas has threatened to call a general election [AFP]
`It`s progressing at a slow rate, but it is progressing,` Nahed Natsheh, a project manager with the Bader Youth Council, an initiative set up in Ramallah in 2006 to empower Palestinian youth, told Al Jazeera.

`We`re trying to provide them with skills and information, but also we`re trying to motivate them ... Young people are often not given a chance. They`re not trusted and they`re not involved.`

If Abbas was to call a general election next year, an opinion poll by An-Najah University in Nablus, has suggested that Fatah would win.

But poll results are never completely accurate. Opinion polls prior to the 2006 elections, which Hamas won, also put Fatah ahead.

The question is what kind of role the faction leaders will allow Palestinian youth to play in the process.

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