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Palestinians Wage Social Media War on Israeli Liaison Office

Under slogan ‘It’s Me or the Coordinator,’ activists seek to pressure people to stop following COGAT’s Arabic-language Facebook page 

Palestinian activists and public figures have launched a campaign against “Al-Munasek,” the Arabic-language Facebook page of COGAT, Israel’s liaison body for coordinating activities in the Palestinian territories.

Under the slogan “It’s Me or the Coordinator,” the idea is to convince Palestinians to unfollow and even boycott the page, which features news and announcements about Israeli activities in the West Bank. Information includes the operating hours of checkpoints and border-crossing stations, and, more recently, ads for entry permits for purposes of work and medical treatment.

The activists call the COGAT page an effort to “whitewash” the Israeli occupation. Their efforts follow the decision by the Palestinian Authority to suspend agreements with Israel, including those governing security coordination, owing to repeated pronouncements by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about plans to annex large parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and all settlements.

Osama Qwasme, a spokesperson and adviser for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, told The Media Line that Israel was seeking to exchange the land-for-peace formula for a new one under which “the land is [Israel’s], with a weak autonomy for the Palestinian population that is run by a weak authority.”

Qwasme stressed that the formula for the Palestinian leadership was to hold on to the land, as the PA is capable of serving its people under international legitimacy.

“If Israel refuses this [approach], it must bear full responsibly as an occupying power over the Palestinian people,” he explained.

“We are struggling for freedom while Israel is the occupying power,” he stated, “a racist system practicing apartheid against the Palestinian people.”

Qwasme emphasized that the PA was part and parcel of the Palestinian people, meaning both the leadership and the people were “fighting against one occupation.”

The Al-Munasek page has over 500,000 followers, mainly Palestinians. The activists say that following the Facebook page should be viewed as support for the “crimes and violations” of the Israeli military, as well as normalization with Israel.

When reached by The Media Line, COGAT, which stands for Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, would not comment on the issue.

Dalal Iriqat, a leading Palestinian academic and a columnist for the Al Quds newspaper, told The Media Line that Palestinians were witnessing a return to direct Israeli military control of the West Bank.

“Palestinians used to apply for permits through the Palestinian Civil Affairs Office, but ultimately, the Israeli side issued the actual permit. The PA and the Civil Affairs [Office] were a bridge between the people and Israel,” she noted.

“Politically, there’s nothing new, but the Israeli occupation has now decided to interact directly with the Palestinians, without any brokers,” she said, with the PA being relegated to overseeing mundane administrative details.

She claims that the new method, which has drawn the attention of lawyers and human-rights activists, also involves Israeli intelligence agencies.

“The applications are designed to obtain full information on the [Palestinian] citizens – their names, identification numbers, locations and other information – in order to spy on them later…. The terms and conditions stated on the [COGAT] page say openly that the information gathered will be used for other purposes – and here lies the big risk.”

Moshe Marzouk, an Israeli analyst and research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, told The Media Line that the PA was merely trying to make people think it had severed ties with Israel.

“After all these years, the PA can’t simply cut ties, especially when it comes to economic and [financial matters], in addition to the [matter of] Palestinians workers,” he said.

Marzouk insists that Israel is facilitating the entry of Palestinian laborers for humanitarian purposes more than anything else.

“There’s a need for the workers here [in Israel], but Israel provides them with an income and better working conditions than in the PA-controlled areas,” he explained.

“The direct [interaction] between Palestinian citizens and the coordinator [COGAT] isn’t new, but started years ago,” he said. “Yet the PA has now brought the matter [front and center] to complete its propaganda campaign regarding the cutting of ties with Israel, and to show that the [Palestinian] leadership stands against the occupation.”

Marzouk also suggests that it signals a Palestinian “economic” power struggle, with senior members of Fatah vying for control of peoples’ files.

“They want to control the permits of the workers in order to control the workers themselves, and their money as well,” he said. “Workers will end up losing their money to these people.”