Sunday, September 12, 2010

U.S. Taxpayer Dollars Pays for Ludicrous (and Counterproductive) PA Propaganda Campaign

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The following article appears in PajamasMedia. For your convenience I have included the text here with some additions and improvements.

By Barry Rubin

Over and over, the Obama Administration shows its capacity for misunderstanding Israel and increases its own unpopularity there. Even while bilateral relations are good, it reminds Israelis of why they don’t fundamentally trust this government and how Washington doesn’t understand them at all.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), which is supposed to help countries raise their living standards, gave a $250,000 grant to the H.L. Peace Education Program of the Geneva Initiative. I wonder if the U.S. Congress considers this to be within AID’s mandate!

The money isn’t paying for potable water, health clinics, or small factories but billboards featuring the faces of some Palestinian and Israeli officials asking: "We are partners--what about you?" Typical, isn’t it? The implication of the signs and film clips to Israelis who see them is that the Palestinians are ready for peace but the question is whether Israel wants peace. Oh, that will be very effective with Israelis, right?

 If you have any doubts on that point, read the article about what went on behind the scenes from Israel's leading newspaper, Yediot Aharnot. Even the Israeli film crew members were making sarcastic cracks about what the "partners" were saying off camera. It is rather funny to watch the left-wing Israeli politico prodding the "moderate" Palestinians to say dovish things according to his script when they are clearly unwilling to do so.

By the way, on one occasion, during the 1990s' peace process era, dovish American Jews wrote the speech for Yasir Arafat to make to an American Jewish audience so he would say the "right" things even though he didn't mean them. This kind of thing is totally unproductive, isn't it, since it portrays a moderation that really isn't there. A colleague of mine still has a copy of the speech marked up by Arafat's hosts to clean up his image.We all saw how well that worked out in the end!

I should mention that there is also a series of billboards aimed at Palestinians with Israelis featured. Not a single heart or mind will be changed by this waste of money. One of the main Israelis featured is Yossi Beilin and others in the opposition in Israel but who were involved in some cases with the sponsoring group. In a sense, then, the campaign is an advertisement for themselves, not for peace, since these people aren’t in the government.

Let me tell of a personal experience with Mr. Beilin. When writing a biography of Yasir Arafat I had a long interview list of Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans. One of the few who simply would not respond to my requests was Beilin. One day a friend with whom I was having a coffee said he was next going to meet Beilin so I asked him to pass along my interview request.

An hour later I spoke again to the friend and asked him what happened. He responded, “Beilin told me that he won’t do it because if he gives an interview he will have to speak well of Arafat and, he told me, he doesn’t want to say nice things about that SOB.”

In other words, Beilin, pretty much forgotten on today’s Israeli political scene, is a propagandist who believes in what I call “lying for peace” and in this case he is also promoting himself by putting his picture on billboards.

Indeed, this is a public relations’ campaign for the Geneva Initiative group financed by the United States. Even assuming that the U.S. government wanted to do this kind of thing they went about it in a very stupid manner.

Those on the billboards from the Palestinian side include Saeb Erekat, Jibril Rajoub, Yasser Abed Rabo, and Riad Malki, PA foreign minister. These are not the most hardline people in the PA. But they’ve said, not so long ago, some very extreme things about Israel and Israelis know it. Malki, to cite one example, was for years the West Bank leader of the PFLP at the height of its terrorism. Abed Rabo was a hardliner during the Oslo process.

Jibril Rajoub’s record is mixed and he can be called a relative moderate. Still, when an Israeli hotel near Sinai was attacked by terrorists in 2004, Rajoub blamed Israel for the bombing, calling Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a terrorist who was engaged in “continuous and unprecedented aggression against the Palestinian people.” In 2009 alone he criticized a speech by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as too moderate toward Israel. He extolled the unity efforts between Hamas and Fatah while cheering the Fatah conferences decision to adhere to its original program, which called for Israel’s destruction and explicitly stated that Fatah still retained the option of armed struggle.

They also have something else in common: none of them is a mainstream Fatah person, though Rajoub comes closest to being so. When it comes down to it, they don’t have much real power. Israelis know that as well.

Yet aside from all of this, there is something very revealing in this project regarding official and mass media attitudes in the United States. They think that the lack of peace is based on some misunderstanding or inexplicable Israeli suspicion. What they refuse to face is that the barrier to peace is Palestinian intransigence due to the PA’s weakness, the radicalism of Fatah, the effect of continual incitement on Palestinian public opinion, and other problems I’ve discussed in detail.

This project, then, radiates naiveté, a characteristic Israelis find most repugnant when it comes to securing their future and survival. Aside from wasting taxpayer money at a time of economic crisis, this public relations’ scheme will have the exact opposite effect from what was intended.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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