Journalists and communication professionals from the Arab world took part in an online discussion yesterday with Israeli journalists and senior government officials, regarding the role of the media to achieve peace in the Middle East, reported The Times of Israel.
The online forum also included members of countries with no formal ties to Israel including Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Algeria, who praised Israel’s new peace partners, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
This comes one week after the UAE and Bahrain signed normalisation deals with Israel at the White House, a move that has caused outrage within the Middle East and especially within Palestinian circles.
During the opening of the webinar, Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said: “This is a historic conversation. Just like last week’s signing of the peace agreement with the UAE and Bahrain was historic, this meeting is historic. It’s a joyous, momentous occasion.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson Ofir Gendelman, read out a statement from President Reuven Rivlin on his behalf, which stated it was a “great honour” for him to address journalists from across the region that have gathered online for an “important conversation” about peace.
“I also see this spirit and belief in your work together to foster a public discourse of engagement, understanding and friendship among the peoples of the region,” he told the participants.
“The role of the media is to convey this with clarity and precision to your audiences,” he added.
Mohamed Al-Hammadi, the editor of Alroeya, an Arabic newspaper based in the UAE, was the first Arab media professional to deliver a speech at the webinar.
He said, “It’s hard to imagine such a meeting just a few years ago. We Arabs don’t know Israelis well enough, not as well as we should; maybe the Israelis don’t know us as well as they should either.”
He claimed that he and his colleagues who write positively about normalisation with Israel are subjected to much abuse.
“This is why meetings like these are of particular importance. Collaboration between us is the only way we can overcome the streams of enmity,” he said.
Al-Hammadi added that the Arabs are still concerned about the Palestinian people and their right to an independent state, which should not be sidelined in the coverage about Israel’s rapprochement with Arab states.
Abu Dhabi said the deal was an effort to stave off Tel Aviv’s planned annexation of the occupied West Bank, however, opponents believe normalisation efforts have been in the offing for many years as Israeli officials have made official visits to the UAE and attended conferences in the country which had no diplomatic or other ties with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, denied this saying annexation is not off the table, but has simply been delayed.