Twitter spats replace Mideast peace talks

As long as American and Israeli officials turn their backs on any meaningful negotiation for peace, war in the Twittersphere will continue.
Sunday 16/06/2019
Fighting back. A 2018 file picture shows Palestinian women using social media to support protests at the Israel-Gaza border. (Reuters)
Fighting back. A 2018 file picture shows Palestinian women using social media to support protests at the Israel-Gaza border. (Reuters)

The chances that US President Donald Trump will be able to broker a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis appear dimmer by the day. Trump, however, does seem to be having another kind of influence on all the parties involved: Twitter spats.

US, Israeli and Palestinian officials appear to be following Trump’s lead on how to behave on Twitter: Instead of being involved in secret peace talks, they are engaged in open public relations warfare.

The Palestinian leadership severed ties with Washington after Trump’s December 2017 announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since then, Twitter has been the main communication channel between US and Israeli officials from one side and Palestinian officials on the other.

Examples of this digital diplomatic offensive are hard to miss.

In February, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief peace negotiator, tweeted: “The US so-called peace team not only added to the separation of Gaza from the West Bank but has destroyed any chance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, responded by tweeting: “Saeb: I saw your many tweets today. Your fears/emotions show — that won’t help Palestinians. I don’t agree w/ your assertions & you have offered no realistic solutions. Time to get serious & use your intellect. Palestinians deserve it. My door is open — don’t waste more time.”

Greenblatt also took aim at Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, tweeting in April: “Basically, you’re saying: Give us the deal we demand or no deal. That’s consistent with Palestinian prior attempts. How has that worked out for Palestinians? Do you want to lead your people to opportunity & prosperity or just keep saying the same tired lines over & over again?”

Shtayyeh replied: “Any political initiative that does not call for ending Israeli occupation and establishing an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on the borders of 1967 with settling the refugees cause is not acceptable to the Palestinians.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Executive Committee, is one of the most active Palestinian officials on Twitter. This has exposed her to attacks from pro-Israel trolls. “Once again: I have blocked & will continue to block Israeli propagandists to prevent them from gaining access to my account & using it to spread their distortions & lies. I will not expose my interlocutors & friends to their venom,” she tweeted in April.

Ashrawi criticised the US-sponsored conference on the Palestinian economy, scheduled for late June in Bahrain. Palestinian officials are boycotting the conference because they accuse the United States of seeking to impose its policies, which the Palestinians say favour Israel.

“So #JaredKushner disclosed to Al-Quds newspaper that Jordan, Egypt & Morocco will be attending the Bahrain ‘workshop’ & that their official declaration will be forthcoming! Strange spokesman indeed,” she tweeted on June 11.

Other Palestinian officials active on Twitter include Ambassador to the United Kingdom Husam Zomlot, Palestinian president’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh and former Gaza Health Minister Basem Naim, the only Hamas official tweeting in English.

Israeli officials have not stood idly by on Twitter. When they’re not attacking the Palestinian side themselves, Israeli officials would often express support to their American counterparts in the online spats with Palestinians.

Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Eli Ben-Dahan was vocal in his support for Trump’s decision to cut funding to the Palestinians and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “Finally, the US President tells the Palestinians the truth. These Arabs have cheated the world for years. They took money from donor countries and instead of building a state, the leaders lined their own pockets,” he tweeted last year.

Such a high volume of Twitter spats among US, Israeli and Palestinian officials was unheard of before Trump’s presidency.

Twitter diplomacy has become the only means of communication. It’s not known for how long it’s going to last but as long as American and Israeli officials turn their backs on any meaningful negotiation for peace, war in the Twittersphere will continue.

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