Friday, September 29, 2006

Arab PR tricks

From GLORIA, September 26, 2006, by Barry Rubin ...

To understand what is going on now in the Middle East, and in Western perceptions of the region, it is a revelation to recall the brilliant prophecy made by Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharaa in January 2000.....

..... In his January 2000 speech to the Syrian Writers' Union, Sharaa opened on a pessimistic note. After their defeat in the 1967 war, the Arabs seemed to be "really cornered and faced with one of two choices. Either we have to accept a peace that is akin to capitulation and surrender, which can never be the peace we want, or we have to reject peace without a solid ground on which to base this rejection."..... Rejecting peace without a solid basis meant just sounding extremist by preaching perpetual war on Israel.

For decades, Arab states had publicly insisted they would never make peace with Israel. After Egypt did so in the late 1970s, every regime tried to prove it was not a traitor like Sadat. Then Arafat made a deal in 1994, and Jordan signed a peace treaty thereafter. The old position was not just untenable, it was recognized as a public relations' disaster.

Here is how Sharaa put it prophetically in 2000, a few days before Syria rejected getting its land back through the peace process: "If we do not get our land through the peace process, we will win the world and Arab public. For Israel has continued to claim that it is always with peace and that the Arabs are against it. True, the media are directed against us and are in favor of the enemy to a large extent, but it is possible to penetrate these mighty, hostile media.... Our strong, solid, and persistent position and the reaffirmation of our constants in a convincing way are bound to have an effect."

In other words, as long as the Arab side explicitly rejects peace, Israel will have the diplomatic and media advantage. What must be done is to say the Arabs were ready for peace, to repeat demands and so, "in a convincing way," persuade the international community that Israel was at fault for the conflict since it rejected these demands.

When Israel did offer almost everything the Arabs sought, new, other issues were found to explain why the Arabs said "no." Such issues include the Palestinian demand that all refugees should return to Israel (where they can sabotage it from within.) Then, there are always tiny, forgotten pieces of territory, as with the Hizballah's claim that Israel is occupying a small piece of Lebanon (the Shabaa farm), which everyone else (including Syria) regards as Syrian territory; or the Syrian demand for Israeli land illegally occupied by Syria in 1948, which would give Damascus a claim on Israel's main water source. There is always the pretext of prisoners being held by Israel (those who committed the last round of terrorist attacks) or quibbling over language. Has Hamas recognized Israel's right to exist? Well it has, maybe, perhaps, sort of implicitly, hinted, if you read between the lines and ignore what Hamas leaders say in Arabic to the contrary.

"A strong argument is important in the media," said Sharaa back in 2000. "We only want our land and rights. They are the ones who are exposed now because they want to keep the land...." And so, six years after Israel offered to give up all the land it captured in 1967, it is possible to persuade the world that... Israel has not offered to do so. Immediately after Israel withdrew from all the Gaza Strip and proposed large withdrawals from the West Bank, much of the Western media, and even governments, were convinced that the problem was that Israel is still an occupier.

No wonder Sharaa concluded, "So, in either case, we will not lose."

With Arab regimes insisting they did want peace--but avoiding any irreversible step in that direction--the world's diplomats beat a path to their door. Even after Arafat and Syria rejected peace in 2000, an Arab leader merely had to say he wanted peace--with whatever subtle qualifications or differences between English-language flexibility for Western ears coupled with Arabic intransigence for the folks at home--and the onus was put on Israel for the failure to make a breakthrough.....

Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center university. ... Prof. Rubin's columns can be read online at:

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