February 05, 2020
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.