Massive Qatari media campaign targets Arab opinion following UAE-Israel peace deal

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Qatar has begun a massive campaign in order to influence Arab public opinion via media channels it funds following the landmark UAE-Israel agreement signed on Thursday to normalize relations.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a historic peace deal on Thursday that will lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern nations in an agreement that US President Donald Trump helped broker.

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The UAE became the third country after Jordan and Egypt to normalize ties with Israel.

The Doha-based and Qatari-owned Al Jazeera ran a half-hour program on Thursday following the UAE’s announcement, hosting Nabil Shaath, adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on international relations.

“I felt ashamed after the state ruled by the sons of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, may God have mercy on him, did. What the UAE is doing is a betrayal of Arab decisions and the Arab League,” Shaath told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera’s “al-Hasad” program also hosted Kenneth Katzman, a senior analyst of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Arabian Gulf Affairs at the US Congressional Research Service. Katzman attempted to tie the Emirati decision to normalize ties with Israel with the UAE dispute with Qatar.

“The UAE and Qatar are in dispute, as the UAE has hindered a solution to this Gulf dispute with Qatar. The agreement with Israel increases the pressure on Qatar and may push the Trump administration to sympathize with the UAE with this dispute,” Katzman said.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani greets Israel's then-vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres in Doha on January 30, 2007.. (File photo: Reuters)
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani greets Israel's then-vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres in Doha on January 30, 2007.. (File photo: Reuters)

Qatar has long had diplomatic relations with Israel. In 2007, Israel’s then-Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres arrived in Qatar, where he spoke to students at Georgetown University’s branch campus in Doha. Peres’ visit to the campus in 2007 was not his first, having received an official state visit in 1996 by then-Emir Sheikh Hamad ibn Khalifa al-Thani when Peres was serving as prime minister of Israel.

Israel's then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was a guest speaker in Doha at the eighth Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade, in April 2008.

The UAE confirmed on Thursday that Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s initiative to reach a peace deal with Israel was centered on the halting of the annexation of Palestinian territories. Abu Dhabi also confirmed it would not open an embassy in Jerusalem without first reaching a Palestinian-Israeli agreement on the conflict, according to a statement.

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Al Jazeera also hosted another guest who then attempted to steer the narrative away from the Palestinian issue by pegging the Emirati-Israeli agreement to the UAE’s supposed border issues with Oman and Saudi Arabia.

“One of the main goals for the UAE is influence in the region and expansion, and it cannot obtain this role without normalization with Israel. There is a border problem with Oman, Qatar, and perhaps Saudi Arabia in the future. The problem of the UAE with Oman and Qatar needs support, especially with Oman, because there are border problems between them, and it wants the help of the Israelis in exchange for Oman and Qatar,” said Lokka Makki, a senior researcher at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies based in Doha and who is affiliated directly with the Al Jazeera Media Network.

Osama Hamdan (right), the political Islamist group’s chief of International Relations, appears on Al Araby television channel. (Photo via Al Araby)
Osama Hamdan (right), the political Islamist group’s chief of International Relations, appears on Al Araby television channel. (Photo via Al Araby)

Qatari-funded, London-based Al Araby television also weighed in on the campaign, hosting a researcher with the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, which was founded by Azmi Bishara, a former member of the Israeli Knesset and now consultant to Qatar's emir and his father.

“If we take the Arab initiative as a reference basis, then it is a suspension of legal annexation or the so-called imposition of sovereignty, not a fait accompli. The UAE wants to reposition itself by the agreement and present itself as the moderate reliable ally of the United States,” said Osama Abu Rasheed of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

Al Araby also hosted Hamas official Osama Hamdan, the political Islamist group’s chief of international relations.

“The agreement represents a stab at the heart of the cause, the Palestinian people, and the unified Palestinian position rejecting the Deal of the Century. Betting on the Zionist entity is considered wrong due to its perversion and its tendency to disappear,” Hamadan told the Qatari-funded Al Araby television.

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Abu Rasheed also attacked Saudi Arabia during his appearance on the Qatari-funded channel.

“Saudi Arabia has opened its airspace to the Israeli airlines. Saudi Arabia is heading in the same direction as the Emirates. Saudi Arabia has many obstacles that slow down its movement in the face of the UAE's rapid protocols, in which there is only Mohammed bin Zayed,” Abu Rasheed said.

“The phrase that ‘Israel has halted annexation that Netanyahu pledged to’ can only be accepted by the stupid, and we are a smart people. If someone decides to join the ride that the Emirates took, then he must realize that the Palestinian people are going by their own way and will,” Hamdan added.

Al Araby also spoke to Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who said the UAE-Israeli agreement represented a “departure from Arab concensus.”

“The Emirati agreement represents a departure from the Arab consensus and Arab peace initiatives and a stab at the Palestinian people and their sacrifices. The agreement is considered a reward for Israel for its policies of Judaizing Jerusalem and its procedures at the Ibrahimi Mosque. What the UAE did is a betrayal of all Arab peoples and a major blow to the Arab consensus,” Majdalani said.

Turkish riot policemen stands guard as part of security measures in front of TRT (Turkish Radio Television Association) during a demonstration. (File photo: AFP)
Turkish riot policemen stands guard as part of security measures in front of TRT (Turkish Radio Television Association) during a demonstration. (File photo: AFP)

The campaign against the UAE-Israeli decision also expanded overnight to include Turkish state broadcaster TRT, which hosted guests slamming the announcement despite the fact that Turkey has had a longstanding relationship with Israel, being the first Muslim majority country to recognize Israel in 1949.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a reconciliation agreement in 2016 with Israel after a six-year rift at the time and each sent an ambassador by the end of that year.

Turkish state broadcaster TRT’s Arabic channel hosted Osama Essa al-Shaheen, a Kuwaiti Member of Parliament, to discuss the agreement which he described as “shocking” and a “bullet being shot” at the backs of Arab countries.

“The three-way Zionist-American-Emirati declaration shocked us, and we look at it with astonishment. We record our astonishment and our disapproval of the unjustified position. The Gulf system suffered a severe blow in the Gulf-Gulf blockade. I call on the government of my country to play a practical role in the bullet that went off,” al-Shaheen told TRT.

Palestinian officials also weighed in on international media outlets to voice their frustrations with the deal, appearing on channels like France 24 and others overnight.

Palestinian Ambassador Salman El Herfi pictured in August 2005. (File photo: AFP)
Palestinian Ambassador Salman El Herfi pictured in August 2005. (File photo: AFP)

Speaking to France 24, Palestinian Ambassador to France Salman El Herfi said the UAE “betrayed the Arab Peace Initiative presented by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to which all Arab countries adhered to.”

“The announcement came as a surprise, but this was to be expected. We expected the UAE to normalize relations with Israel, as evidenced by its previous statements and stances toward Israel,” El Herfi said as he shared airtime with Israeli spokesperson to the Arab media Ofir Gendelman.

“The Emirates has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause, and what it has done is a betrayal of Jerusalem. The Emirates betrayed the rights of the Palestinian people.”

El Herfi took one step further in threatening repercussions against the UAE following its decision on Thursday.

“We warn and appeal to everyone not to follow the example of the Emirates, which betrayed Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. There will be a response for the Palestinian people, and it will come soon. We ask the UAE not to interfere in Palestine's affairs, and we are not unable to respond. We do not threaten anyone, but the Palestinian people are not a vehicle that anyone can use to reach their goals,” El Herfi said.

France 24 also hosted Tawfiq Taemah, a political analyst and researcher based in Los Angeles, who described the UAE-Israeli decision as a “betrayal and a stab in the side of the Palestinian people and their cause” and predicted more Arab countries to follow in the UAE’s decision to develop relations with Israel.

“There are many countries that will develop their relationship with Israel and will enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and I think these countries will be: Bahrain, Oman, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia,” Taemah predicted.

“Arab regimes are oppressive and dictatorial, and they do not care about human rights or democracy. The role of the Arab regimes has declined in recent years and may be over,” Taemah told France 24.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, also spoke on national Palestinian television overnight to discuss the UAE-Israeli peace deal in which he presented an ultimatum to the head of the Arab League to either condemn the agreement or resign.

“Everything on which international agreements are based on have been torpedoed by this behavior. That is why I say that His Excellency the Secretary of the Arab League, my brother Ahmed Aboul Gheit, should issue a statement condemning and denouncing this step, and if he is unable to do so, I think that his resignation is appropriate,” Erekat told Palestine TV.

“What happened was a flagrant violation of the Arab League’s charter, mainly when the Arab League was established because of Palestine. Likewise, what happened was a flagrant violation of the Arab Peace Initiative and its cancellation, and this is a reward for the occupation,” Erekat added.

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