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Israel gladly fills void left by disengaged Palestinians

Palestinians are absolutely correct that US President Donald Trump’s efforts on the Arab-Israeli conflict have been extremely pro-Israel. But is it a smart strategy for the Palestinians to disengage from the process completely and remain absent from what Trump is doing?

The Israeli government has obviously welcomed the imbalanced diplomatic impasse, engaging the extremely pro-Israel actions and representatives Trump has sent to shepherd his Middle East efforts.

How Palestinians have removed themselves from this bad situation, only to make it worse by not directly pushing back with Trump, is a course they have pursued from day one. It is a pattern the Israelis have exploited since even before the creation of their state.

Rejection is not a strategy. In fact, it is symptomatic of the absence of a strategy. Rejection is the act of taking protest way too far, beyond the productivity of a boycott, for example, which has highlighted the powerful push made by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel’s oppressive and illegal violations of international law.

Palestinians forget that, unlike in the Arab world, American leaders are only in influential public offices for relatively short periods of time. Trump has been serving as president for two years and will serve a maximum of six more before his influence will come to an end and he is replaced. Four or eight years, depending on election results, may seem like a long time, but the Palestinian tragedy has been ongoing for more than 71 years already.

Why step back from engagement, even in a negative environment, and rely solely on empty words of anger, protest and even name-calling? Israel’s actions have always been based on one fundamental strategy: Take whatever you can and build on it by remaining engaged. It doesn’t matter whether the circumstances are positive or negative, just stay engaged. The Israelis address every diplomatic turn with a new strategy that builds on their goals.

However, remaining politically engaged might not work for Palestinians because they have failed miserably on another front: The engaging of public perceptions and understanding through effective strategy and public relations. Palestinians, like many Arab countries, lack any professional public relations strategy when it comes to politics.

But Palestinians do have a discerning voice in Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a strong woman from Ramallah who is both articulate and measured in her public comments. She doesn’t lose her temper and get emotional, as many Palestinian and Arab spokespeople and activists invariably do when confronted by negative developments.  

Ashrawi is currently the spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is fast superseding the powerless Palestinian Authority government of Mahmoud Abbas because of the latter’s disengagement. She is definitely Palestine’s most articulate champion, but one champion without enough budget to fund a single significant media campaign is certainly not enough to counter and confront Israel’s massive propaganda machine and its ties to the Trump administration.

Of course, Ashrawi’s skills at exposing Israel’s lies and America’s bias are one reason why pro-Israeli activists successfully lobbied the Trump administration to block her planned public appearances in the US by denying her a tourist visa last month.

I know Ashrawi is smart. I’ve met her and interviewed her many times. She even enjoys my standup comedy performances, which tells me she has a broad understanding of the power of communications.

I think that, with the right financial backing, Ashrawi could create an effective communications strategy to neutralize Israel’s stranglehold on American politics, the US Congress, Trump, and the confused minds of a majority of Americans, who wrongly believe that Israel’s government is a victim, rather than the purveyor of violence and terrorism that it is.

With financial contribution from the region and a strategic communications strategy that places her views on the influential op-ed pages of America’s top-20 newspapers, as well as a strong marketing campaign, she could easily reverse the absence of an accurate understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the minds of many Americans.

Even without a penny of support and an effective PR strategy, Ashrawi should be everywhere Israel goes — including the US-led Bahrain economic workshop later this month — to champion the Palestinian cause. Why would Palestinians not be in Manama to at least use the event as a platform?

The rest of the world will be there watching and listening. But, without a Palestinian presence, the world will not hear the voice of the Palestinian cause.