The Role of Students' Councils in Palestinian University in Prompting Political Participation of Palestinian Students' Movement and the Effect of this Role on Making Political Development in Palestine

Discussion Committee: 
Prof. Abd Asattar Qassem
Jehad Yousif Abd Alrahman Isaid
This dissertation chronicles and analyzes the role of students' councils in leading the Palestinian students' movement through different stages, mainly before Oslo agreements and after it, at the time period 1979-2000. I chose Al najah University and Beirzeit University for two reasons: First, they are the largest two universities in two main geographical areas. Second, most of the Palestinian students' organizations, university councils and even the student movement were born in those two universities. The main objective of this study is to measure the political behavior of students' councils, as an elected leadership for the students' movement in Palestinian universities, according to the concept of political participation. Elements of the study concentrate on discussing the following topics: Students movement yearly elections, students' movements' political behavior after the elections, students movement leadership and finally the future of the Palestinian students movement. The study is preceded by a theoretical discussion about students' movements in the world, in addition to an identification of concepts. Very few studies are available about the students' movement in Palestine, this thesis is the first about the subject. I collected and analyzed hundreds of documents which are related to the students' movement from 1979, when it started to be organized and politically active until 2000.And I interviewed most of the student previous leaders who led the students' activism in different stages. The results of the study show that students' movement in Palestinian universities is not particularly identified, we are talking about unorganized movement but largely politicized. The political parties and movements in Palestine, Islamic and national movements, affected the students' movement to be politicized in away that those parties and movements want; also it affected the students' movement to be not united. Students' council's yearly elections are a step forward towards political participation, but it couldn’t create full legality for the students' councils to represents the students' movement. The Students' movements' political behavior after the elections is neither organized nor united, and made the speech of the students' movement also different. This fact is mainly caused by the political movements which support the students' organizations that form the students' movement. A great responsibility lays upon students leaders. They need to create new "culture of dialogue" between the students' organizations. The conflict comes from leaders' belongingness to political movements and parties and membership in the students' movement. I clarified the difference between the role of political movement and the role of students' movement as a social group. A student leader can benefit from his experience and activities in a political movement to promote the role of the student movement in the society, but a student leader mustn’t change the student movement into political party which can serve his personal or political aims. Most of the Palestinian student movement leaders were members in political movements and they served their aims through students' activism. Students' councils could not lead the students' movement to play an active role in political participation after the elections or what is called "participatory democracy". For example they could not succeed in organizing protests against the Palestinian Authority's bad behavior although they don't agree with the PA in their speech. The results also show that Oslo Agreements played a critical role in dividing the students' activism into "with or against Oslo". Students' organizations that has different ideologies, Islamic movements and Marxist movements, succeeded to build an agreement against "Oslo Groups" who are supported by PN. Within this struggle between political movements, which used their supporting students' organizations, the students' movement didn’t balance between political objectives and democratic objectives as a social group. For example they didn’t show concern in students female interests, no female student led a university council except once in 1970s when the leadership of Beirziet University council were arrested. I think that students, through a well organized movement can play a main role in creating political participation and then promoting political development. I suggest that students' councils must be united into a comprehensive and fixed establishment which can lead the students' movements independently to achieve the students' interests and participate in making politics in Palestine. This establishment could be the existing but not working Palestinian Students Union. The Palestinian Students Union is related historically with the PLO. Islamic movements are not implied in it since they are not sharing in the PLO. As the recent, not elected, leadership of the Union says "they are ready to change many point in the unions system that make problems for the Islamic groups, such as considering the union as a PLO organization. Long negotiations were held between all parts including the Islamic groups to rebuild and renew the role of the union, but no success was achieved. The PN affected this fail. I suggested that negotiations must be renewed to achieve this goal.
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