Israel fields GCC questions on Twitter

Israel's foreign ministry goes on to Twitter to try to explain its case, with some odd interactions resulting. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

Israel's Twitter profile. It's foreign ministry has been attempting to engage with Arabs in the Gulf states.
Powered by automated translation

RAMALLAH // Some were curious about its secretive trade with Gulf states. Others infuriated by its treatment of the Palestinians. Still others lamented its uncertain commitment to peace.

But for several hours yesterday, a handful of Arabian Gulf residents brushed aside formal restrictions and decades of suspicion by holding discussions with Israel.

Well, virtual discussions.

As part of an Israel's attempts to engage Muslims and Arabs on social media, Rafi Barak, director general of Israel's foreign ministry, fielded dozens of questions using a Twitter feed created last month called "Israel in the GCC", referring to the countries - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE - none of which have formal relations with Israel.

As is often the case on Twitter, the interactions were at times odd.

"Would you allow me to live in the State of Palestine with my Saudi flag?" one Saudi national tweeted.

Because of Israeli occupation, the Palestinians do not have a state.

Other queries were more serious.

One man from Kuwait wanted to know how to travel to Israel, which is generally banned by GCC governments. Mr Barak, replying on the Israel in the GCC account, gave instructions to visit the Israeli embassy in Jordan to obtain a visa.

Jordan is one of two Arab countries - the other being Egypt - with a peace treaty and formal diplomatic ties with Israel.

Other tweeps, as Twitter users are colloquially known, wanted to know more about Israel's trade with the Gulf.

A user identified as 3toy tweeted: "Where do you get your oil and gas exports from GCC? How many barrels/day?"

To that, Mr Barak was coy. "Israel imports oil either through bilateral agreements or through the free market. Eid Mubarak!" he replied.

Such curiosity about Israeli-GCC trade likely stems from decades of furtive and turbulent ties between the two sides.

Israel's relations with the GCC began to thaw during the 1990s heyday of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That resulted in the opening of Israeli diplomatic missions in Oman and Qatar.

But those missions were forced shut, respectively, in response to the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000 and Israel's three-week war on the Gaza Strip that started in December 2008.

The Arab League, which includes the GCC states, offered Israel formal relations in 2002 in return for withdrawing from the Palestinian territories.

The 11-year-old offer, dubbed the Arab Peace Initiative, was proffered again by the 22-member organisation earlier this year as part of an initiative by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Israel has yet to formally respond.

Earlier this year, however, Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to snub the offer, which prompted Anas Sami, from Saudi Arabia, to tweet: "Why has Israel rejected the Arab Peace Initiative…."?

Despite the informal setting, the anger that Israel evokes in the region did tinge some of the contributions in yesterday's Twitter discussion.

Other tweets pointed to the futility of an internet outreach given the realities of the current situation.

Until Israel ended its "settlements, unfair trials and arbitrary detentions" against Palestinians, one resident of Khobar, Saudi Arabia, tweeted at Mr Barak, "it would be crazy to expect any positive outcome" from dialogue.

twitter: For breaking news from the Gulf, the Middle East and around the globe follow The National World. Follow us