Gershon Baskin addressed the issue of how has the Arab Spring affected media coverage of the question of Palestine at the United Nations Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East.The Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East held a panel discussions to explore the impact of the Arab Spring on media coverage of the question of Palestine.
Participants in the first panel session spoke about the coverage of Palestine and the Arab Spring by the Israeli media and the perspectives of Israeli society and how it has viewed events in the region over the past 18 months with fear and uncertainty. Before the Arab Spring, the world saw Muslims as a security threat and incompatible with democracy; after the events in Tahrir Square a shift happened in the Western media, which wanted to know more about the Muslim world, but this shift did not happen in Israel. The Arab Spring was a story that was still happening and also a story that was still at its beginning; it would therefore be premature to draw a conclusion on the permanent impact of the Arab Spring on the Palestinian cause.
The panelists included Gershon Baskin, Co-CEO of the Israel Palestine Centre for Research and Information; Rula Jebreal, Journalist, novelist and screenwriter; and Ghassan Khatib, Director of the Government Media Centre of the Palestinian Authority.
Gershon Baskin said that his perspective was that from Israeli society, how it viewed the Arab Spring and how it affected the Israeli society and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab Spring and the awakening in the region were viewed as something to be afraid of. There were concerns that the events in Egypt would change the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement and fears that there would be another Muslim Brotherhood emerging in Syria. Israelis saw in the Arab Spring guns and rockets pointed in their direction and the neighbourhood, that was never friendly to start with, was becoming less so, with backward trends prevailing. Israel had never been interested in understanding that neighbourhood and the region; the Israeli public and the media were not interested. Media outlets had to fight for every minute of coverage on Palestine; the public simply was not interested. The average Israeli stopped dreaming about integrating in the region; that romanticism of the new Middle East no longer existed for many Israelis; the Israeli perspective of the Arab world was seen through the prism of one thing only: security. Everything happening in the region was seen through the simple prism of security. All regional events were evaluated with one question: “Is it good for us?” People were afraid and fear created hatred.
A participant asked how Israel could participate in negotiations when it was clear from their actions that peace was not objective; how could such disconnect between the policy and practice be explained.
Mr. Baskin said there were many who criticized and condemned Israel and that, looking at any other parties to the conflict, the aim was to be the side that won and not the side that lost. Israel, with Palestine, was a party to a conflict in which trust was lost and there was no agreement on how to resolve that conflict. Both sides substantively breached commitments they took upon themselves.
A participant noted that every aspect of Palestinian life was controlled by the Israelis and asked how this could re-define the Israeli story.
The Israeli public did not want to know the Palestinian story, said Mr. Baskin. The peace that the Palestinians had provided, compliance with the road-map and dismantling of terrorist infrastructure, which stopped terrorist attacks, meant that for the Israeli public they were not a threat any more and they did not want to know they existed.
Mr. Baskin also added that if there was a stable and guaranteed peace in the region, the attitude of Israelis would change straight away.
Israelis were very successful in creating and maintaining a narrative about the conflict and ensuring that the Palestinian perspective was kept off the table. Did the participants believe that the Arab Spring would eventually come to Palestine?
Mr. Baskin agreed that the narrative was controlled with a great degree of sophistication and anyone who tried to change it was discredited and even accused of anti-Semitism. Part of the problem was that the Palestinians disengaged too. If Palestinians refused to engage with Israelis and explain the story to the Israeli public, Israel was not left with much to do. The picture of the state of mind of the Israeli society was an accurate one. There was a rooted position, connected to fear in the Israeli leadership, against peace; it was easier to continue with the position of fear and stay in the kingdom of Tel Aviv and away from others who wanted to destroy Israel. Why did Israeli leaders not want peace?
Mr. Baskin noted that the society was in fact afraid from what happened through the peace process, and not peace itself. The solution was in the peace imposed by a third party, but that was not going to happen.
United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
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