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Lesson in PR From the P.A.

First Publish: 12/30/2003, 4:45 PM / Last Update: 12/30/2003, 5:07 PM

In a masterful stroke of public relations, the Palestinian Authority's official news agency, WAFA, turned its own mistake into an attack on both Great Britain and those who warn against anti-Semitism.

WAFA reported last week that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had sent official holiday greetings to PLO leader Yasser Arafat. The report even noted that Blair had expressed his wish that the Arabs realize their hopes in establishing an independent Palestinian state.

The Prime Minister's Bureau in London, however, denied the entire report, explaining not only that Blair never sent such a greeting to Arafat, but also that such messages are in general not sent out during Christmas. A Downing Street spokeswoman told AFP in London, "We are not aware of such a message being sent, so I'm not sure what they're reporting, to be honest. The prime minister doesn't usually send out messages at this time of the year. It is not something that we do."

WAFA then jumped on the opportunity. It first "apologized" with yet another mention of the "independent Palestinian state," stating, "We wish to apologize for making a mistake by reporting that Mr. Blair had sent a cable of greetings to President Arafat in which he expresses his hope that the Palestinian people would realize their hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state." WAFA insisted, however, that Blair had sent a "traditional greeting card" in response to a similar greeting card from Arafat on the occasion of Christmas.

The PA agency then expressed wonderment at "all the fuss" - a reference to the strong British denial. "Most probably this denial stems from the fear of being accused of anti-Semitism," WAFA said, "an accusation which the West is usually afraid of, although the contents [of the alleged greetings] did not include anti-Semitic [remarks] or similar things... What did WAFA say in its original story? Why all the fuss and who's behind it?"

WAFA then noted yet again its nationalist aspirations, blaming Great Britain in the process: "The hopes of the Palestinian people and their independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital, are legitimate. Britain is first and foremost responsible for the nakba [the 'disaster' of the creation of Israel in 1948]."

Israel, on the other hand, suffers from a dearth in public relations efforts. As reported here on Friday, Israel's Foreign Ministry Director-General Yoav Biran said that the Foreign Ministry public relations budget of less than 40 million shekels is not enough for an efficient international information campaign.