Don’t underestimate al-Jazeera’s latest reports on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The revelations made by the Qatari network Sunday and the ones that were expected to follow may exact a heavy price from both sides.
The live ambush prepared by the network to senior Palestinian Authority officials was not predicted by any of them. This was certainly the case for chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who found himself burned at the stake. Erekat, who was infuriated and speechless – not a small matter for such a skilled orator – saw excerpts of words he uttered, presented without offering any explanation or context.
The opening shot declared: “Erekat to Livni on June 30, 2008: We are offering you the largest Jerusalem in history.” It was followed by several spectacular headlines about supposed Palestinian concessions. No background information was provided and no explanation that the sides concurred earlier that “until we reach an agreement on everything, it’s as though we agreed on nothing.”
Meanwhile, in ambush-like coverage planned in advance, network reporters were deployed in the field. The Al-Jazeera correspondent in Lebanon was sent to the Burj al-Barajne refugee camp in order to elicit reactions to “the Palestinian renouncement of the right of return.” Meanwhile, several commentators in the studios were fuming, including the editor of the hawkishLondon-based al-Quds al-Arabi, Abdul Bari Atwan, a Palestinian who constantly slams senior PA officials.
“Who gave you the right, Saeb Erekat, to renounce Palestinian rights?” Atwan declared loudly. The chief negotiator attempted to defend himself in the short time allotted to him. “You didn’t tell me this was the theme of the show. We have nothing to hide,” he said. “You’re showing a map. I have the original map, here.” Yet to no avail. The message was sharp and clear: Senior Palestinian Authority officials “sold out Palestine” and gave up all the sacred principles.
Volatile timingMany people in the Middle East must have been infuriated over Sunday’s broadcast, for their own respective reasons. Some were mad about “selling off Palestine,” while others may have been outraged by the missed opportunity to secure an agreement. In any case, one should not be making light of al-Jazeera’s effort (and not for the first time) to present PA officials as willing collaborators with Israel, who sell off their people and make concessions behind closed doors. This was the case during Operation Cast Lead as well.
Now try to explain that “renouncing the settlements in east Jerusalem” is a notion presented by President Bill Clinton. As to the large settlement blocs, anyone who has ever spoken to a Palestinian who does not share Hamas’ views knows that these blocs will not constitute a problem, and will likely remain in Israel’s hands one way or another. The refugee issue is also expected to be resolved outside Israel’s borders.
Nonetheless, the overall package presented by the Qatar-based network was a resounding “You sold out Palestine.” When this message is conveyed to a Palestinian who lives in a Lebanon refugee camp, or worse than that, to a Palestinian living in a West Bank refugee camp, what can you expect them to feel?
The situation throughout the Middle East is volatile ever since the Tunisia upheaval. Arab rules are waiting for the dust to settle and for order to be restored. Yet precisely at this time, al-Jazeera arrived with its bombastic reports, which directly undermine the legitimacy of Palestinian Authority leaders, even if most of the “concessions” were already known in advance and thoroughly covered by the media before.
Such reports and claims, which have been repeated in various forms and more forcefully in recent years, are gradually weakening the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority. It is being portrayed as a weak, submissive, failed and corrupt entity, as opposed to Yasser Arafat’s era, for example. And when this is the impression created by the most popular network in the Arab world, can one assume this will not have future implications?
Even if the likelihood of this is slim at this time, we should take into account the possibility that ongoing erosion in legitimacy and image may one day provoke riots against the PA, or at least prompt a power struggle amongst its leaders, thereby dramatically toughening its positions.
If one day we see bloody riots in the West Bank similar to the ones we saw in Gaza, it would be worthwhile to go back to the latest al-Jazeera project. This is yet another step, and apparently a deliberate one, in weakening the PA, a move that one party stands to benefit from: The Hamas movement. It is for good reason that Hamas already uses the term “popular revolution” in its reports. And should such revolution indeed take place, heaven forbid, it won’t benefit Israel. This is some food for thought for those who are overjoyed by our neighbors’ troubles.
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