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.”
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.
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.