The Palestinian youth are a ticking “time bomb” with a lost generation increasingly making the Israeli occupation more challenging to sustain, says one of Israel’s highest military officers.
Israel’s former chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), has warned that the country is heading towards a one-state reality with the Palestinians, and with it, the “destruction of the Zionist dream.”
Eisenkot, who headed the military from 2015 to 2019, said the country needs to consolidate the country’s illegal settlements, which Israel thinks are legal. Still, there is a consensus under international law that all set settlers living beyond 1967 borders are illegal.
“One does not have to be a genius to understand the significance of millions of Palestinians mixed in with us along with the complex situation with Arab-Israelis,” said Eisenkot.
The former chief of staff warned that the country’s politicians have no vision for what a settlement with the Palestinians would look like resulting in an increasingly unstable political climate in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Eisenkot also warned that recent Palestinian flareups bode ill for the future occupation of Palestinian land and that Israel was “a hair’s breadth away” from a third intifada – a general revolt by Palestinians.
Increasingly young Palestinians who have known nothing by the Israeli occupation call themselves the “lost generation”, Eisenkot said. Israeli intelligence, warned the former IDF military officer, is finding it increasingly difficult to predict what this generation could do, calling it a “timebomb.”
“One day, sometime in the future, some esoteric, completely marginal event will happen, and the government will think it’s nonsense and will use some force, tackle the issue with a hammer on the head, and only after a few weeks will understand that the genie came out of the bottle and has no intention of returning,” Eisenkot said about how easily a conflict could erupt in the occupied territories.
Even as Israel sought to clamp down on the Palestinian resistance movement that controls Gaza, Hamas, according to Eisenkot, remains wildly popular in the West Bank with support in the region of “70 percent and 80 percent.”
A poll released in June of last year, however, found that 53 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas is “most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people,” while only 14% prefer the incumbent Fatah party.
Hamas’s popularity was in part a “direct result of our policies,” said the IDF chief, who advised the country’s establishment to engineer “an alternative” that Israel could live with.
“The question is not whether there will be another outbreak, but when and how intense it will be. It is quite clear that this will happen. There’s no way that it’s not going to happen,” he said in an interview with the Israeli publication Maariv.
A divided house
Eisenkot also warned that Israeli society is increasingly polarised and divided owing to the country’s fractious politics.
“I think that the rifts in Israeli society, and the attacks from both sides, the decline in governance, the decline in faith in state institutions, in the courts, crime — all these are the greatest threats for the country’s future,” he said.
In May of 2021, Israel declared a state of emergency in the central city of Lod after protests by Israeli Palestinians against discrimination and, in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank, threatened to spill over to other areas of the country.
Israel, which prides itself as being the “only democracy in the Middle East”, has long presented so-called “mixed cities” like Haifa and Lod as a model of coexistence between Jews and Palestinians.
Long-standing grievances among Palestinian citizens of Israel – over police brutality, government surveillance, and being forced to suppress their Palestinian identity – exploded, and inter-communal violence spread in several places.
It’s against this backdrop that Eisenkot warned in his interview that “people are worried, not because of the Iranian threat, but because of internal weakness, loss of cohesion, inequality, friction between different communities. Entire groups of the public are not being absorbed into society.”
“We need to understand that there is no national security without societal solidarity, and there is no societal solidarity without national security,” he added.
A declining sense of social solidarity is also resulting in reduced participation in the IDF, said the former chief. In 1978, Eisenkot said 88 percent of those eligible to join the army enrolled but by 2015 that number had dropped to 67 percent.
Increasingly he said younger recruits are afraid or unwilling to volunteer to enter combat units where they would have to kill Palestinians or face being killed themselves.
“The willingness to go to combat units, to kill or be killed, to go into danger, is in decline,” he said.