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Palestine's battle for hearts and minds in the Arab world

A new Palestinian PR campaign attempts to recast the conflict by comparing Israeli violence against Palestinians to methods used by Islamic State.

By Jacob Wirtschafter

CAIRO — Eager to re-enlist Egyptian public opinion to their cause, the Palestinian Embassy in Cairo hosted a rare press conference Thursday outlining Ramallah’s current diplomatic agenda. The agenda includes a definitive UN Security Council resolution with a timeline for two states, deployment of international forces to protect the population of the West Bank, and an international fact-finding mission to determine the “root causes” of the current phase of the conflict.

It’s a hard sell, especially as Egypt’s military has intensified security coordination with Israel and after a two-year war by the Sisi administration against the Muslim Brotherhood. A substantial chunk of Egyptians have absorbed the consistent official message linking the banned party of deposed President Mohammed Morsi to terrorists from Hamas and Islamic State.

Last week Karem Mahmoud, Secretary General of the Egyptian Journalist Syndicate, condemned the sporadic coverage of the unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank characteristic of the large commercial TV channels.

“Some big newspapers in the Middle East have been adopting Israeli narratives. We need to change the Arab media’s narrative to a pro-Palestine one,” Mahmoud told the Cairo daily Al-Ahram.

The new Palestinian PR campaign attempts to recast the storyline by comparing settler and right-wing violence against Palestinians to methods used by IS.

“It is the settlers that work day and night to destroy the two-state solution. They kidnapped and burned Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem and they firebombed the home of the Dawabsheh family in Duma. These are ISIS tactics,” said Palestinian Ambassador at the press conference.

Similarly El Shobaky advanced the argument that ambivalence over moving forward with a two-state solution is emanating from the Israeli government and not from the Palestinian Authority.

“Egypt has a strategic interest to put an end to the conflict and bring the stability to the region,” El Shobaky added, “and we appreciate the effort being made here to get a Security Council resolution passed. They have also taken the same position we have both on settlements and Al Aqsa.”

Palestinian worshippers walk toward the Dome of the Rock at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound before Friday prayers, the Old City of Jerusalem, November 14, 2014. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Palestinian worshippers walk toward the Dome of the Rock at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound before Friday prayers, the Old City of Jerusalem, November 14, 2014. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

In addition to emphasizing that Netanyahu’s government includes politicians who favor of a change in the status quo arrangements at Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock, Palestinian public diplomacy increasingly contests the interchangeability of terms in the media for the Haram al Sherif (Noble Sanctuary) and the Temple Mount, which is the Jewish term for the site.

“People need to remember that some of those calling it Temple Mount really do want to rebuild Solomon’s there,” said El Shobaky, adding that “they are the ones primarily responsible for tuning this from a national into a religious conflict.”

The PA official says his government supports recent accords reached between Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan to monitor the situation in and around Al Aqsa by installing cameras, while insisting that the video equipment be operated and controlled by the Muslim religious trust, rather than by Israeli authorities.

“Most of this violence in happening in areas under Israeli military control both in Jerusalem and in Hebron where settlers have taken over half of the city,” said the senior PLO diplomat who while acknowledging the contest between secular and Islamist strands in Palestinian politics, asserted “that there are no militias of Da’esh [IS] in Palestine.”

Egyptian and Israeli security services disagree with the assessment. For the better part of a year, Cairo has deployed military conscripts shoveling away at what amounts to a 14-kilometer long moat between Gaza and the Sinai to prevent cross-border arms transfers.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini will meet President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi next week in Cairo. The daunting agenda includes international efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Libya, Syria, and the widening coalition against Islamic State.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on July 22, 2014, to discuss a possible cease-fire between Israeli and Hamas forces fighting in the Gaza Strip. (photo: U.S. Department of State)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on July 22, 2014, to discuss a possible cease-fire between Israeli and Hamas forces fighting in the Gaza Strip. (photo: U.S. Department of State)

Egyptian officials say work will continue on the French draft UN Security resolution calling for two states, but admit there is little momentum behind the Palestinian call for a “protection force” in the West Bank.

By contrast, El Shobaky said the Palestinian Authority was committed to pursuing ways to enlist an international contingent which could include NATO and even American troops to deploy in the West Bank “to calm the situation and put an end to the occupation.”

The ambassador said he was not aware of the unanswered invitation of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to come to Paris for an urgent parlay on advancing the two-state solution through diplomacy.

However, he made it clear that if such a meeting were to take place, there would be no purpose in turning the occasion into an opportunity for a mediated session with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“Everybody knows that President Abbas accepted an invitation to meet directly with Netanyahu, but U.S. Secretary of State Kerry insisted that this meeting not happen because it was too likely to explode into irreconcilable differences that would harm rather than help the situation,” said El Shobaky.

Currently in Cairo with Associated Reporters Abroad, Jacob Wirtschafter has covered the Middle East from Kuwait City, Amman and Jerusalem. He was the co-founder of Syria Direct and former Deputy Bureau Chief for ABC News in Israel. Wirtschafter is a frequent contributor to Arise TV and i24 News.

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    1. Ginger Eis

      Oh Yes, this is how the Arabs who call themselves “Balestinians” “fight for the hearts and minds of the Arab world” and their Arab brothers:

      Read. And Weep!


      Indeed, the Balestinians fight for the hearts and minds of the Arab and European world by butchering innocent Jews on the streets of the Jewish State: children, women and men!

      The Balestinians fight for the hearts and minds of their Arab brothers and Europeans by showing them the biological anatomy of Jews and in what part of the body they stab Jews to cut their internal organs, spinal cords, the nerves and arteries connecting the their hearts to their brains and central nervous systems in order to affect a certain painful death of their Jewish victims.

      That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true face of modern evil. What the Arab Palestinians are doing to Jews today is NOT different from what their Arab brothers in ISIS/ISIL are doing in Iraq and Syria today! The way to “fight for Arab hearts and minds” is through the butchers, beheadings, rapes and mass murder of innocent people! That explains why ISIS/ISIL has over 80% support in the Arab world (according to Al-jazera poll!) and why the “Palestinians” are doing the same thing to Jews in Israel. That is also what our so-called “progressives” and “liberal” at +972mag and elsewhere cannot muster the moral courage to speak out against and condemn forcefully – sustained and in no uncertain terms. That also shows you not just how decayed the Muslim Arab society is, but also the breathtaking and anguishing degree of the moral decadence to which the Western liberal Left has descended to. The Western Liberal Left and Islamic barbarism are together a direct and imminent threat to humanity.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Eliza

      On what basis does Wirtschafter base his notion that the Egyptian people need to ‘re-enlist’ their support for the Palestinians?

      Yes, its true that there is security co-operation between Egypt and Israel under the al Sisi administration, but there has always been co-operation between Egypt and the political elite which in Egypt is the military. Its also true that al-Sisi is clamping down on the MS but it is also reducing the public space for the liberal secular forces within Egypt as well as the MB. Freedom of the press is hardly a feature of Egypt under al-Sisi. We only have to consider the sham trial of the al-Jazeera journalists, Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahay and Baher Mohamed to understand that there are big constraints re what can and cannot be published in the media in Egypt.

      All of these things do not translate into the Egyptian people not supporting the Palestinian cause. They do not translate into a sense of alliance between the Egyptian and Israeli people. Israel has only ever had the support of the various kings and dictators of neighbouring States – never the people.

      The violence against Palestinians referred to; the killing of Khdeir and the firebombing of the Dawabsheh family are reminders that Israel is unable or unwilling to ever bring to justice any act of violence against Palestinians committed by Israeli Jews. However, you spin this, there is impunity for Israeli Jews where the victim is Palestinian.

      Why do Israelis mistake the support of the political elite (and lets not forget the American aid dollars going to Egypt to ensure the support of the elite for Israel) with the Arab street? It really does not make any sense. Why fool yourselves?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Hercules

      Oy, Palestinians “battling for hearts and minds” with axes and machetes? Oh boy, I gotta try that. Perhaps I’m gonna get me some new hot babes soon – with axes and machetes?! Sheesh, how come I never figured out that one soon enough. ‘Palestine’ is a genius!

      Reply to Comment