Why peace is no longer a priority for young Israelis

By Nathan Jeffay, April 7, 2011

As youth across the Middle East campaign for democracy, among Israeli youth, its importance seems to be in demise.

In 1998, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation asked Israelis in their teens and early 20s what they see as the most important goal for Israel. Among Jewish respondents, democracy came in second place, chosen by 26 per cent. Today, just 14 per cent chose democracy as their top priority - relegating it to third place.

In the 1998 poll, top priority, selected by 28 per cent of Jewish respondents, was that Israel should be at peace with its neighbours. In the latest poll, this has dropped to second place,
chosen by 18.2 per cent.

But while Israeli youth does have less appreciation of democratic values and less enthusiasm for peace than before, the main explanation for their poor showing in the poll is the growing enthusiasm for another option offered to respondents - Israel retaining its Jewish status. Back in 1998 this ranked third, chosen by 18 per cent of Jewish respondents. In the latest poll, it came in as top priority, chosen by 33 per cent.

This would seem to have Israel
flying in the face of most established democracies, where ideology is weakening. It also runs counter to pretty much every sociological study on Israeli society, their common conclusion being that national and collective identity are in demise while everything related to personal rights and identity is becoming more important. In a few weeks, on Israel Independence Day, newspapers will be full of the normal articles saying how the day has lost its national significance and just become an excuse for a barbecue.

On careful analysis, the poll tells a far more complicated story than it would seem. In 1998, backing for a two-state solution was much stronger on both sides, and there was not the sense of doom that there is today - that the region could be heading towards a one-state solution. In short, the survival of Israel as a Jewish state was taken as given.

But fear that Israel would not survive as a Jewish state has gradually become the decisive factor in Israeli politics. Why did the Kadima party become the dominant force of the day? Because its ideology is subtly different to the pro-peace parties of the past. Its key claim was that peace was essential for Israel's survival - because the amputation of Gaza and heavily-Palestinian areas of the West Bank was the only way of ensuring a Jewish majority in Israeli-controlled territory.

Last updated: 12:22pm, April 7 2011