As US presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s Middle East plan was revealed, news outlets in Iran, Turkey and Qatar eagerly awaited the Gulf’s reaction, particularly that of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The same news outlets then quickly ran headlines claiming that there was wholesale support for the peace proposals from the Saudis and the Emiratis.
Muslim Brotherhood-linked outlets such as the London-based Middle East Monitor, claimed that Saudi Arabia unilaterally backed the plan, and was pressuring the Palestinians to accept the deal.
But none of them reported or had op-eds on the Kingdom’s statements, which followed the announcement of the plan, which declared support for any Palestinian decision and for the Palestinian cause.
Reporting rumors and omitting facts is an important aspect of whipping up a narrative in politics when there is nothing concrete in a story. The theme of betrayal is a great story to tell in the Arab world, and one used against the enemy by Islamists. Betraying the Ummah, or the Arab people, is equivalent to being the enemy of all Muslims or Arabs.
The similarity between the reporting of the latest Manama conference and that of previous years is stark.
For instance, the narrative of Qatar-linked news outlets, such as the Middle East Eye, generally portray the participation of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Manama conference as being part of a larger conspiracy to work with Israel against the Palestinians.
This is best exemplified with claims that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been marginalizing the Palestinians in favor of a front against Iran. The same claims have undoubtedly left out the fact that Qatar was a participant in the Manama conference as well and had “welcomed” the latest 2020 peace plan.
Simultaneously, the constant claims of Saudi Arabia’s position has itself developed on the stereotype of betrayal that Islamists have mimicked from the time when pan-Arabists in Egypt and Jordan were beginning to normalize relations with Israel, which was accompanied by a public backlash across the Middle East and Muslim world.
Using this theme as a weapon is a strategy to pin the Gulf states that are barring Qatar, as betrayers and turncoats, wherein any discussion with Israeli authorities or a medium between, should be seen with much suspicion.
As argued by Al Jazeera columnist Marwan Bishara, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are trying to “sell-out” Palestine, to appeal to the US for protection, whereas Jordan and Egypt were “forced” to do so because of the circumstances at the time.
The selective benefit of the doubt given to certain nations participating, and the singling out of others, is mobilized in these scenarios to instill suspicion and betrayal of Palestinians, which is, in turn, equated to boycotting Qatar in the new scenario.
As another key player in this convoluted narrative, Iran, has its own strategy in portraying itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause.
It has organized Quds Day rallies in the West and across the region, using its locally linked NGOs such as the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, to drum up public support for the Palestinian cause, while spreading propaganda leaflets and information that align with the Iranian state. Hezbollah flags were famously flown during the 2017 Quds Day rallies in London.
In other ways of protest, Iran has sought to push a more seemingly grassroots-outrage strategy, as during the Manama conference.
In June 2019, in the aftermath of the Manama workshop, in Iraq, Iranian-sponsored militias participated in the storming of the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad, the chief culprit being the paramilitary group Kata’ib Hezbollah, during which Israeli and Bahraini flags were torched and the embassy’s flag was replaced with a Palestinian one.
Throughout the contemporary history of the region, especially in the post-intifada period, these actions have served as photo opportunities for propaganda and less for the Palestinian cause. Militias followed orders to protest and organize maximum hysteria on social media and in news coverage, therefore demonstrating the immensely dangerous weaponization of the Palestinian cause.
Nothing of this sort happened this time around in direct connection with head of Iran’s Al-Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, meeting his demise at the hands of the US.
Further, the storming of embassies is now largely selective, now that the US has established red lines in the Iraqi playground. The ongoing protests in Iraq have most probably hindered Iran’s ability to deploy militiamen as protesters, while embassy storming is now seen as a risky strategy in mobilizing outrage for Palestine.
Dangerous propaganda by countries such as Iran and fake news by outlets like Al Jazeera truly work to rob the Palestinians of their cause, turning them into a mere chess piece to be used and abused against enemies of their plea for a nation state.
The Palestinian cause in the second decade of the 21st century has had less leadership personalities such as Yasser Arafat (former leader of the PLO), and more divisions, with the Islamists of Hamas and nationalists of Fatah.
This political vacuum on a local level has created fertile ground for a void of leadership undertaken by other neighboring nations who assumed the mantle, and have been steering the Palestinian ship toward a direction they please, thus shaping the movement and their bid to nationhood by their own terms.
Palestinian organizations, and politics in general, do not have a glaring voice of what Palestine would be, and the struggle has been reduced to an Islamist one.
Those who take advantage of the Palestinian cause such as Iran, Turkey and Qatar, do not just want a Palestine, they want an Islamist Palestine, one aligned with them, ready to do their bidding as a player in the Middle East.
Palestine’s champion is neither Iran nor Turkey, not to mention Qatar. Palestinians themselves are and ought to be champions of Palestine.
Reducing the movement to a weapon that is then subsequently used to smash one’s enemies is a disgrace to all of the people who fought genuinely for a free Palestine.
Showing solidarity with Palestine is noble but using claimed solidarity against other nations reduces it to nothing but a cheap political move.
While Saudi Arabia found itself mobilizing aid programs and donating the largest sums of cash to Palestine in the Middle East historically, other countries were too busy using them for Islamist propaganda pieces, anti-imperial case studies and to inflame the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to militancy.
In their unifying rhetoric and brotherly embrace, nations across the region (and beyond) should look to empower Palestinians in deciding their future and speak for their nations, with minimal input and leverage, minimal steering from the view of Israel’s aggression to other Arab nations fueled by media hearsay, or the Islamist lens of West versus Islam.
Efforts should be focused on providing leverage for the Palestinians diplomatically, platforming their cause in diplomatic missions, and encouraging a settlement and solution that does not promote narratives of armed conflict such as “wiping Israel off the map.”
True sustainable political justice for Palestine is achievable only through a united front and empowerment of Palestinian movements that represent stability, because Palestine is nobody’s client state.
Ibrahim Alkhamis is an expert in media and Gulf politics who focuses on issues and controversies in modern media, with a special emphasis on fake news.