At what age do people become interested in politics? There isn't a single answer obviously. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if someone showed that Israeli youth do so earlier than their peers in most free countries do, since the issues the Israeli youth face are so dramatically more existential - and immediate - than those elsewhere.
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a Danish journalist. Before we talked, he had been interviewing Yossi Klein Halevy, one of Israel's more intelligent journalists. Klein Halevy is of my generation; it turns out we shared the experience of having sons fighting in Gaza. According to the Danish fellow, Klein Halevy observed that his son and friends have a rage against the Palestinians that he (and I) didn't have.
I don't know abut the rage, but upon reflection, I certainly agree our children see the conflict with the Palestinians differently than we did. If we assume Israelis begin to relate to politics in their mid teens, then a formative experience for Israelis from their mid-twenties and younger was the violent Palestinian rejection of the Oslo peace process. I'm not going to get into the question of who bears blame for that and exactly what each side should have done better. The point is different. When Klein Halevy and I were becoming aware of political issues, or later, when we were young adults, we understood that the Palestinians had some sort of case against us. Some of us felt it to be a serious case, what with settlement construction and refusal to negotiate with them; others felt that was all wrong, but recognized that many of their fellow Israelis saw it that way. From sometime in the early 1970s onward, there was a growing awareness among Israelis that Israel bore some share of the responsibility for the ongoing conflict. Public opinion polls showed that by sometime in the 1980s a majority of Israelis recognized that someday there would be an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, whether they thought this was a good idea or were merely resigned to its inevitability.
I remember that in the 1980s political arguments about this were a mainstay of how we spent our time in the reserve service; actually, the whole country argued about it all the time, and if you go back to the record you'll see that those were years of high political tension (and electoral campaigns, hard as it may be to believe, were extraordinarily charged national exercises).
By the late 1990s, after Rabin's assassination and Netanyahu's continuation of the Oslo process, from his position as the leader of a Likud government, the principles of the argument were over, and we settled down to the horsetrading part. That was what enabled Barak's wide electoral victory in 1999: the voters recognized that the difference between Labor and Likud wasn't really that great anymore.
The Palestinian strategic decision in 2000 to prefer a campaign of murder of Israeli civilians over negotiations that had already given them Israeli acceptance of statehood and dismantling of many settlements, flipped the consensus of the late 1990s in the opposite direction. Rather than a majority preparing for partition and peace (welcoming it or merely accepting), an even broader consensus now assumed the Palestinians were aiming it Israel's destruction, one way or another, not at partition. If I'm correctly understanding Klein Halevy's thesis, an entire generation now has lost the feelings of guilt their parents had or at least recognized towards the Palestinians, and have replaced it with anger at the rejectionism of the Palestinians. Even as, I might add, they are willing for partition in a way their parents were not yet.
Taking this one step further, and focusing not on twenty-somethings but rather on the 16-22 year olds, their most formative introduction to politics wasn't even the Palestinian rejectionism, it was the retreat from Gaza, in which Israel abandoned Gaza and disbanded its settlements, giving the Palestinians the opportunity, on a silver platter, to prove their commitment to a State. The readers of the Guardian can pretend to themselves that Israel never meant it, and continued to strangle Gaza from outside its fences, but the young Israelis know this is factually nonsense, and remember that in the 2nd half of 2005 Israel really had left, and was not blockading Gaza - that came later.
If this analysis is correct, and I think it broadly is, it offers a bleak perspective. The Palestinians have always seen themselves as victims of Zionism, and have felt infinitely sorry for themselves. Yet in the 1980s they managed to convince many Israelis there was some, partial, justification for this. The young generation of Israelis growing into adulthood this decade, however, takes for granted the eventual partition in a way their parents didn't, but have no patience for the Palestinians feeling sorry for themselves, and are convinced that the Palestinians have only themselves to blame for their predicament.
This is probably as reasonable an explanation as any for Netanyahu's electoral victory next week. Maybe I'll blog about the elections tomorrow.