In West Bank, web-savvy are biding time

By Toby Greene, April 7, 2011

Facebook's decision to remove a page calling for a Third Intifada has drawn attention to the impact of social media and the Arab Spring on Palestinians. Young Palestinians have certainly been inspired by regional events. Anyone following #Mar15 on Twitter three week ago would have seen a flood of excited messages from activists taking to the streets in Ramallah and Gaza to start their own social media-driven revolution.

But why has this March 15 movement not yet become a sustained mass demonstration? Palestinian society is young, with relatively high literacy rates and internet access. The lack of progress towards independence and the corruption and division within the Palestinian political sphere provides much to protest about. Palestinian campaigners and their supporters are no strangers to using the internet. However, there are factors that may count against a Palestinian uprising.

Perhaps the most significant is the lack of a clear unified goal for the young and web-savvy Palestinian generation to unite around. While some are calling to directly confront the Israeli occupation, others are focusing on the need for Palestinian leaders to unify.

In the West Bank, PA President Mahmoud Abbas can claim that he has called for Palestinian unity and new elections, and blame Hamas for refusing. He and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad can also point to significant improvements in governance and living standards. Perhaps reflecting this, a recent survey by the Palestinian Centre for Survey and Policy Research indicated that only 24 per cent of West Bank Palestinians were ready to demonstrate for regime change in the Palestinian Authority, compared to 50 per cent who were ready to demonstrate for regime change in Gaza.

The PA would try to prevent a new violent uprising against Israel, which would threaten its own position. It is seeking to channel frustration at the political stagnation into the Palestinian state building project and into non-violent activities. A young PA official in Ramallah told me last week that he expected that the next form of grassroots protest against the occupation would be attempts to express Palestinian sovereignty throughout the West Bank. This might include digging wells or constructing buildings in Israeli controlled areas.

There is greater appetite for protest against Hamas in Gaza, but so far the regime has retained a secure grip. As the Arab Spring has shown, the direction of revolutions is difficult to predict. Given that there is a history of non-violent Palestinian protest turning violently against Israel, the authorities in Israel will be watching closely.

Toby Greene is head of research and analysis at BICOM

Last updated: 12:24pm, April 7 2011