'How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah?' presenters told

Egyptian media instructed to promote acceptance of Jerusalem recognition

Though Cairo publicly critical of Trump for recognizing Israel’s capital, recordings obtained by NY Times show leaders pushed for conciliatory messaging by TV hosts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, right, in New York on September 19, 2017. (Avi Ohayun)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, right, in New York on September 19, 2017. (Avi Ohayun)

Though Egypt has publicly condemned US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and even sponsored a UN resolution rejecting the move, Cairo has quietly sought to convince the Egyptian public to accept it, the New York Times reported Saturday.

The newspaper obtained audio recordings in which an Egyptian intelligence officer, speaking with influential talk show hosts, asked them to downplay the significance of US President Donald Trump’s decision.

The officer, Cpt. Ashraf al-Kholi, is reported to have told hosts that widespread unrest over Washington’s move would “not serve Egypt’s national security interests,” as it would “revive the Islamists and Hamas. Hamas would be reborn once more.

“How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?” al-Kholi asked on the recordings, as he sought to lessen the Holy City’s significance as the future capital of a Palestinian state.

Though he said Cairo would denounce Trump’s declaration, he added that, “After that, this thing will become a reality. Palestinians can’t resist and we don’t want to go to war. We have enough on our plate as you know.”

The Times reported that Egyptian intelligence regularly briefs TV hosts on messages leaders want them to communicate to the public, and the recordings showed the officer’s conversation partners were all very willing to accommodate the official viewpoint.

“Give me orders, sir,” one host reportedly said. “I am at your command.”

Al-Kholi told the presenters that “At the end of the day, later on, Jerusalem won’t be much different from Ramallah. What matters is ending the suffering of the Palestinian people.

“Concessions are a must and if we reach a concession whereby…Ramallah will be the capital of Palestine, to end the war and so no one else dies, then we would go for it.”

In response to Trump’s move, Egypt publicly said the decision was a violation of international resolutions on the city’s status. It also reflected concern regarding the impact of the US move on the stability of the region and regarding its “extremely negative” impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Brookings Institution think tank’s Shibley Telhami said the Egyptian position on the US declaration was a “transformational” one.

“I don’t think it would have happened a decade ago, because Arab leaders would have made clear they wouldn’t live with it,” he said.

Israeli leaders have long said Jerusalem has been quietly cultivating its ties with Arab states, in the face of commons threats posed by Iran and Islamist extremism.

Meanwhile Jordan said Saturday during a meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers that the forum “rejects US recognition.”

Jordan Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said, “We oppose any steps that will change the historical legal status of the city.” He added that “any decisions we make will be according to the Palestinian interest.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi speaks during a press conference in the capital Amman on July 25, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

In his December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as merely based on reality.

Bitterly rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which is now boycotting the Trump administration, the move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

An Israeli report Friday said the US, furious over the Palestinians’ reaction to Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, has frozen $125 million in aid to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency.

For its part, the US denied the Channel 10 report, saying a decision on UNWRA funding was still “under review.”

Agencies contributed to this report.


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