The Intercept / december 4, 2022
Fans from across the Arab world demonstrated support for Palestinians and disdain for Israelis, showing how little Kushner achieved as a peacemaker.
It is not clear from Ivanka Trump’s Instagram record of her family’s three-day visit to the World Cup in Qatar if she or her husband, Jared Kushner, heard any of the chants and songs in support of the Palestinians voiced by Arab fans at multiple venues during the first round of matches.
But the outpouring of support — which was also expressed on huge “Free Palestine” banners displayed in the stands, and by fans who intruded on Israeli television interviews to wave Palestinian flags and berate Israeli reporters — made it clear how badly Kushner had miscalculated, as his father-in-law Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, when he convinced a handful of Arab autocrats to sign economic cooperation deals with Israel that did not respect the rights of Palestinians.
In his White House memoir, “Breaking History,” Kushner claims to have orchestrated “a true turning point in history” when “five Muslim-majority countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kosovo, Morocco and Sudan — signed peace agreements with Israel.”
According to Kushner, whose agenda seemed to be dictated from the start by his old family friend, Benjamin Netanyahu, the agreements he brokered with nations that were never central to the conflict “have the potential to bring about the complete end of the Arab-Israeli conflict that has existed ever since the founding of the State of Israel.”
Despite Kushner’s inflated claims, it was clear from the start that there was little public support in the Arab world for any nation to make peace with Israel while millions of Palestinians still live under Israeli military rule.
Survey data from 2020, when Morocco agreed to sign the deal — in exchange for the Trump administration recognizing the kingdom’s sovereignty over the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara — showed that 88 percent of Moroccans rejected diplomatic recognition of Israel. Polls conducted the same year showed that 89 percent of Tunisians and 88 percent of Qataris agreed that “the Palestinian cause concerns all Arabs.” Just 6 percent of Saudis surveyed said they would support recognition of Israel.
Broad support for a continued boycott of Israel was clear when the tournament kicked off, and social networks were flooded with video of fans from across the Arab world rejecting the emirate’s own tentative step toward normalizing relations with Israel: its decision to allow Israeli journalists to report on the tournament.
The fact that even fans of Morocco, one of the five nations that signed Kushner’s “Abraham Accords,” were unwilling to appear on Israeli TV seemed to baffle one Israeli reporter. “But we have peace, huh?” the journalist yelled, as the Moroccan fans walked off and shouted support for Palestine. “You signed the peace agreement!”
One of the most watched clips to come out of the World Cup’s opening round showed a Saudi fan telling a reporter for Israel’s public broadcaster, in English, “There is only Palestine! There is no Israel!”
“Israeli reporters realizing that their country is despised by Arabs is hilarious and informative,” Elizabeth Tsurkov, a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, an Israeli-Palestinian think tank based in Jerusalem, observed on Twitter. “They actually thought that if they normalize with Arab authoritarian regimes it means Arabs will forget Israeli oppression of Palestinians.”
Linah Alsaafin, a Palestinian journalist who has worked for Qatar’s state-owned broadcaster Al-Jazeera, pointed out that Raz Shechnik of the Israeli news site Yedioth Ahronoth had shared a compilation of clips of his failed interviews with Arab fans — including the tense exchange with the Moroccan fans. (The interviews are almost all in English, even though Shechnik’s Twitter caption is in Hebrew.)
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In one revealing exchange, as Shechnik suggests that the problem is between “only governments,” not people, a man holding a Palestinian flag says, “There’s nothing called Israel. It’s only Palestine. And you just took the land from them. … Bro, there is nothing called Israel. Israel does not exist.”
In an ensuing thread on his experiences in Qatar, Alsaafin wrote, Shechnik “demonstrated his delusion in thinking Arabs in particular would be welcoming just [because] some of their governments normalized relations with Israel.”
“Israeli journalists say they were surprised at the level of enmity that they faced in Qatar at the World Cup,” Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, added. “I am surprised that they are surprised since what they are doing daily in Palestine is all over the world media (except in Israel maybe) but every action has a reaction.”
As the Reuters Qatar correspondent Andrew Mills reported, while Qatari authorities permitted displays of support for the Palestinians, they cracked down hard on other forms of protest — like refusing to allow fans to wear rainbow-colored hats, shirts, or even watch straps into matches (to prevent shows of support for LGBTQ+ rights in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalized), and tackling and arresting Iranians who wore T-shirts with the words, “Women Life Freedom,” to support women’s rights in Iran.
One of the oddest aspects of Kushner’s boast about the Abraham Accords as a Middle East peace deal was the fact that the non-Arab nation of Kosovo was included as a signatory. Kosovo, which is in the Balkans and not the Middle East, is a former province of Serbia where ethnic Albanian Muslims make up a majority. The republic did not strike a peace deal with Israel — for the very good reason that it had never been at war with Israel — but did agree to open an embassy in Jerusalem as part of an economic deal with Serbia brokered by the Trump White House and signed in Kushner’s presence.
Even though there was only a brief mention of Israel in the agreement signed by Kosovo’s prime minister in Washington in September 2020, and the economic cooperation with Serbia it enshrined was minor, Trump described it at a campaign event that month as a “major breakthrough” that — along with the deals between Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE — might help him win the Nobel Peace Prize.
“We’re stopping mass killings between Kosovo and Serbia,” Trump told supporters in North Carolina, inaccurately describing an economic agreement between two nations that stopped fighting more than 20 years earlier. “They are going to stop killing.”
While Kosovo did not qualify for the World Cup, tensions over the nation’s frozen conflict with Serbia — which still refuses to recognize its independence — were in evidence at a match between the Serbian national team and that of Switzerland, which features two stars whose families are refugees from Kosovo.
Before the match, a social media photograph of the Serbian dressing room showed a flag hanging above the lockers of the players with an old map of Serbia, showing Kosovo as part of their territory, and the slogan “No surrender!”
During the match, which Switzerland won, with a goal from one of the Kosovan-Swiss players and a commanding performance by the other, ultranationalist Serb fans could be heard chanting death threats and slurs at ethnic Albanians.
Robert Mackey writes about national and international news through the prism of social media