Wednesday, March 03, 2010

From Dubai to Twitter - what's real? Hanania Jerusalem Post column March 3, 2010

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From Dubai to Twitter - what's real?
Could Salam Fayyad's new Twitter feed be another Mossad strategy to throw Palestinians into turmoil?
From The Jerusalem Post Published March 4, 2010
By RAY HANANIA

Whenever my wife Alison and I go out to eat, she always asks the waitress about her menu choices: “Does this one taste good?” I’m sitting there thinking, hmmm! I wonder if the waitress is going to lean over and say, “No. That really tastes terrible. You should go to another restaurant.”

Alison gets very angry with me when I point out the obvious: “Do you really expect the waitress to tell you the food doesn’t taste good?” The waitress responds with public relations, ignoring me and saying, “It’s good, but this one is better.”

Well, it’s one thing to confront a waitress and be na├»ve in a restaurant. It’s another in the Middle East, where it’s easier to blow nargila smoke in someone’s face. Arabs and Israelis are always willing to believe whatever they are told about the other, especially if it’s something bad.

Who murdered Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19? Dubai police point the finger at the Mossad, Israel’s secret spy agency, which has a record of assassinations, as depicted by filmmaker Steven Spielberg in Munich. Israel reacted predictably, asserting that Mabhouh was involved in smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, and insisting he was responsible for the killing 20 years ago of two Israeli soldiers.

The Israelis refuse to take “credit” for the killing: Mabhouh was reportedly injected with a muscle relaxant that made him immobile, and was then suffocated with his hotel pillow.

Like the waitress put in a spot, Israel understands the power of public relations. Israelis spend millions on PR. They were the first in the Middle East to create a presence on the Internet, back in the early 1990s. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have no concept of PR or professional communications. They do little with strategy and most of it is by accident.

When Israel does something bad, Israeli officials never take credit. When Hamas commits a killing, they can’t wait to blame themselves.

YOU CAN see the differences between Israelis and Palestinians on the Internet’s leading new social networking tool, Twitter, which (for those who don’t know allows you to post messages of under 140 characters, including spaces). Other people can “follow” you and read your posts. Some people have as many as 1 million followers. Imagine being able to send a fast message to one million people at a time? That’s power PR.

A quick check shows there are many Palestinians and Israelis using Twitter.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has an account. Despite his bungling style, Ayalon has 1,745 followers and is following 805, nearly every one of them an Israeli person or a news site.

Ayalon is on top of the news, and is quick to send notices to his followers condemning the Palestinians for this or that and defending Israel’s actions. After the Chilean earthquake last week, he offered his condolences to the people of Chile and the families who lost loved ones – something he never seems to do when Palestinians are the victims of some confrontation with Israel.

I also found Twitter accounts for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and one of my friends, Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf.

On the Palestinian side, there are accounts for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, former security chief Muhammad Dahlan, and for the popular Palestinian moderate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

I connected with Fayyad after he started to “follow” me. But how do I know any of the Palestinians are who they claim to be?

“Twitter Fayyad” writes fascinating posts like this one: “I think Rafik al-Husseini should take a page from Tiger Woods and do a press conference admitting his actions and taking responsibility.”

Or this exchange with “Twitter Dahlan” over who was responsible for the Mabhouh murder: “Ya man. Beards are only OK if you are mujahideen on holiday or Mossad tennis stars?”

And another from “Twitter Fayyad” to “Twitter Dahlan.” “Bas ya zelameh. I heard you were in Dubai pulling in old favors to get your ex-mukhabarat construction workers’ release, no?”

There is a real sense of humor in that last one.

The posts seem to suggest “Twitter Fayyad” is a regular guy with a good sense of humor, which is why he is so favored by many in the West, and scolded by Hamas and Jabha fanatics.

Or is it fake? Is this the waitress telling my wife what she wants to hear, or real honesty from a politician willing to jeopardize his job by telling the truth?

I like to think people who have a sense of humor are also likely to embrace peace. No sense of humor means no chance of ever making peace.

Of course, “Twitter Fayyad” may not be the real Salam Fayyad at all. That’s what my friend Hussein Ibish at the American Task Force on Palestine insists, and I believe him.

“Twitter Fayyad” has only 160 followers, and is following 305 others. That’s a clue.

Among people he is following are Shakira, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.

In a region of the world where anger, hate and violence dominate the headlines, we could use more humor and a lot more of Shakira, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and especially Lady Gaga.

Of course, “Twitter Fayyad” could just be another Mossad strategy to throw Palestinians into internal turmoil. It’s not hard to believe, and certainly more effective than killing some obscure Hamas operative in Dubai.

end

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