I was browsing through Facebook on June 25th when a post drew my attention. It was on a page titled The Free Syrian Women Revolution. The post was a scanned telegram, allegedly from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, congratulating him after he was re-elected as president for the third time. And next to it was a picture of Abu Mazen. The person who posted it wrote a vulgar swear word against the Palestinian president.
I was wondering: do the heads of states write their official letters in longhand? Furthermore, the logo at the top of the paper read: State of Palestine, PLO, Political Department. If it truly was from the Palestinian president, the logo should have referred to the Palestinian National Authority. Besides, the signature was not Abu Mazens Im sure about this because I have three of his books autographed by him personally.
The logo shown in the paper is an old one, which came out after the declaration of independence during the Palestinian National Council by the Palestinian parliament in 1988 in Algeria. Also, the letter had no serial number and was undated.
I surfed the website of the official Syrian news agency (Sana), in the section dedicated to the presidents activities. It showed headlines about cables sent by other heads of states (there were 11 among them one from the Algerian president) but, surprisingly, the alleged telegram by Abbas was the only one of its kind that was published as a scanned photo. So whats that supposed to mean? Irrefutable proof? Its obvious, but why?
Whether its a degrading intelligence operation by amateurs or an attempt by an isolated head of a state who hasnt received cables of good wishes even as part of usual diplomatic protocol, what deserves attention is this: who was the first to pick up this alleged telegram from the Sana website and republish it on Twitter?
It was the Washington Institute For Near East Policy. Later, it was picked up by someone and reposted on that Facebook page titled The Free Syrian Women Revolution, along with the aforesaid vulgar swear word. On June 26, Russia Today (RT) TV channel reposted the same alleged message as a news story and added a background about the recent agreement to neutralise or disengage the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria from the armed conflict between the Syrian army and its opponents. This will not stop; this post will be posted again and circulated again and again in the coming days and beyond on social media, TV talk shows etc.
The most important question here is: How did the Washington Institute not realise that head of states dont write their official messages or cables in longhand? And how did they not check the logo of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) on top of the paper and realise that it was not the official PNA logo? How did they not see that the message had no serial number and was undated? These are simple questions and clues, that even an amateur journalist could have figured out easily, let alone an institute that claims its main field of expertise is the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Did they really miss all these questions and clues?
This ignorance reminded me somehow of an article by a writer called Mark Perry, which was published in Foreign Policy magazine on November 8, 2013, two days after the announcement by Swiss physicians that samples from the remains of the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat showed high levels of Polonium 210. Perry wrote a long article based on what he claimed was a chat that took place in 2007 in Amman with PLO official Hani Al Hassan, who passed away in 2012. In that article, Perry reviewed many possibilities about who poisoned Arafat, referring always to the dead man (Al Hassan) and directing accusations at Palestinians and Arabs and ruling out any involvement of Israel only because it would be the headline in Washington Post the next day. He ignored the evidence of Polonium 210, despite knowing very well that only Israel possesses this radioactive material. Given such an article, one wonders how could a magazine presented as a sober one publish lies attributed to a dead man who cant defend himself? What kind of ethical criteria would allow this?
Back to the previous question: about those guys from the institute. One can only conclude that they did it on purpose as they published it despite knowing very well that the telegram was fake. Thanks to the executive director of the institute, Robert Satloff, who wrote an article titled Mahmoud Abbas and the Jewish state, which was published on March 14 on the institutes website and, in a nice coincidence, in Foreign Policy, too.
The main thrust of the article was that Abbas was taking a harder line than his predecessor (Arafat) towards the Jewish state. Satloff advised Obama to threaten Abbas with a dire future of isolation and irrelevance if he doesnt grab this opportunity for peace [by recognising Israel as a Jewish state]. Or alternatively, he [Obama] could punt letting Abbas keep both the accolades of a moderate and the positions of a rejectionist.
What a paradox: for the Washington Institute, Sana is so reliable that it rushed eagerly to spread a piece of news that is an insult to intelligence. They did it just because it was a vulgar insult to the Palestinian president.
Mohammed Al Obaidly is a media consultant at b'huth.
originally published in Gulf News June 29 2014