Taking a look at how this huge story was viewed in the press
Last month, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) formally ended its boycott of Israel and signed an agreement normalizing the two countries’ relationship. Only the third Arab country ever to recognize Israel, in some quarters this was hailed with fanfare. In others, that was not the case.
But first, some background. Much of the Arab world has long held that peace with Israel would not come until the issue of the Palestinians’ lack of statehood was resolved. The last few years have moved the two sides further from the negotiating table than ever before. When the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, keeping a promise actually made decades ago, Palestinians cut off contact with the US. As a result, when the US put together its proposal for peace, the so called Deal of the Century, Palestinians rejected it out of hand since they hadn’t been a part of the process of putting it together. They also were upset with Saudi Arabia and others for participating. And when Benyamin Netanyahu interpreted the deal as giving Israel a green light to annex territories, Palestinians then cut off contact with Israel, which especially affected cooperation between their two security forces.
Simultaneously during the last few years, the Gulf nations have begun agreeing with Israel that the biggest danger in the Middle East isn’t the “conflict” as it is known, but Iran. Iran funds proxy groups in many countries and these groups add to instability. Hezbollah has grown its power to be a political party with representation in government in Lebanon and has trained paramilitary groups in Syria and Iraq; Houthi rebels in Yemen and others elsewhere are supported by Iran too. Iran and Hezbollah also support Hamas. Just last month, the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, actually sent a letter to the United Nations, supporting and extension of its arms embargo against Iran.
Since the news of the new relationship between UAE and Israel broke, for the first time an airplane from Israel flew to UAE with Saudi Arabia allowing it to cross its airspace and Bahrain now permitting planes to cross its as well. The expectation is for the two countries to do business together in energy, tourism and tech; it even appears that Bahrain, Oman, Morocco and Sudan may possibly follow suit.
One of the stipulations for the deal was that the UAE would only sign if Netanyahu took annexing West Bank land off the table, which he did. Theoretically, this gave the Palestinians no reason for them to continue their security force’s cessation of cooperation with Israeli counterparts, and yet that hasn’t resumed. And theoretically it also gave Palestinians a talking point that they could use with other nations looking to establish formal relations with Israel – that bargaining chips strengthening Palestinians be part of any mix. But neither has happened.
In the press, the coverage is mixed depending on who the audience is. On the positive side, Media Line reported that the Israel-UAE Accord ‘Big Deal’ for Travel and Business and Forbes headlined with Seven Reasons The Israel-UAE Peace is a Great Business Move, while Fair Observer called it nothing important (The UAE and Israel: Not So Big a Deal) and the Asia Times had a wary eye (UAE should be cautious about its new friend, Israel). Iran’s Khamenei, like others in the Arab world, called out the UAE, saying they “betrayed the Islamic world and the Palestinians.”
Mideast Eye even reported US Jewish groups denounce Israel-UAE deal as ‘nothing to celebrate’. Then again, it cited IfNotNow, which is anti-Israel. Understandably, Palestinians feel abandoned but could instead look to leverage what has happened. Their supporters, who in my opinion conflate pro-Palestinians positions with anti-Israel ones, either publicly condemn a peace deal or play it down, instead of looking at it on its own merits. Understanding this split is I think, key to understanding how the public opinion has reacted or not reacted to the historic news of this agreement.
The Jewish press, also understandably, offers a different view than Mideast Eye, a la Jewish and pro-Israel groups from both left and right laud Israel-UAE announcement or The Israel-UAE deal exposes hypocrisy of pro-BDS Jewish groups.
In an interesting study of how news stories can grow and take on a life of their own (How anti-Israel media in MidEast ‘launders’ rumors about UAE, Israel), the Jerusalem Post today tried tracing the roots for a story which just appeared in an Israeli paper and claimed that Israel and the UAE would be creating intelligence bases. It takes the reader on a trip from a Beirut-based Arabic language news site to something called SouthFront to French and Turkish sources. As a story like this continues to take off, it will inflame opinions on the deal itself. This is how fake news packs a punch above its fighting weight. People read without checking sources.
From a public relations’ perspective, how can this be controlled when social media serves as a platform to spread information and misinformation and opinions quickly and widely and when the public consumes only what they want? In a pick-and-choose news world, the challenges for any public relations professional have to be daunting. When news is framed for a particular audience, the only way to control it is to be big enough to acknowledge all aspects of it.
For that to happen, in my opinion, what is needed is the is the kind of transparency and disclosure that we have discussed in my International Public Relations class in the context of corporate social responsibility. The story can be reported as the historic breakthrough it is while also acknowledging the Palestinians’ sense of betrayal. Public relations professionals for the entities involved can promote their narratives and agendas while also acknowledging the other side’s position. When stories are approached in their entirely, credibility is stronger for all the different audiences.