Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the USC Centre on Public Diplomacy’s Blog
From a diplomatic perspective, Palestine represents a puzzling case study. On the one hand, Palestine has been recognized as an independent state by the UN General Assembly. On the other hand, it is not a full member state of the UN. Additionally, in some countries one may find a Palestinian embassy while in other countries one may only find a Palestinian office of Interests. The level of representation differs as some countries recognize Palestine as an independent state while others regard it a semi-autonomous entity. As such, Palestine exists in a state of diplomatic limbo.
The issue of Palestinian diplomatic representation is also complex as Palestinian diplomats do not necessarily represent all Palestinian citizens. For instance, Palestine is represented in the US by a PLO mission. Yet the PLO does no govern the lives of Palestinians living under the rule of Hamas in the Gaza strip. Since Hamas and the PLO do not fully recognize one another’s sovereignty, Palestine exists in a state of internal limbo.
The Presentation of Palestine Online
The complexities of Palestine’s diplomatic standing have not prevented its diplomats from migrating online. Like most foreign ministries, the Palestinian ministry also operates a plethora of social media accounts at both the embassy and national level. An evaluation of content published by these accounts suggests that the Palestinian digital diplomacy strategy focuses on three aspects: demonstrating international recognition of Palestinian sovereignty, seeking digital recognition of Palestine and presenting Palestine as a “State in The Making”.
Demonstrating International Recognition
Many embassies focus their efforts on demonstrating international recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. For instance, in the tweet below the PLO delegation to the US informs followers that Algerian geography school books have been recalled as they failed to label Palestine on maps. As such, the mission informs followers that Palestine does indeed exist as a sovereign state with internationally recognized borders.
Algerian geography books withdrawn after labelling Palestine as Israel https://t.co/vinIhjNKUX
— PLO Delegation to US (@PLODelegationUS) September 16, 2016
The Facebook post below, published by the Palestinian embassy to Zimbabwe also portrays Palestinian sovereignty by informing followers that the Palestinian flag shall soon be raised at the UN headquarters in New York. This again attests to the international recognition of Palestine as an independent state.
Additional content published online seems to portray Palestine as a state like any other. For instance, the tweet below includes a message of condolence from Palestine to the people of France following the terror attacks in Nice. Notably, the image included in the tweet begins with the words “State of Palestine”. This tweet may be seen as an attempt to portray Palestine as an integral part of the international community, a state like any other that stands shoulder to shoulder with other countries in times of tragedy.
Lastly, Palestinian embassies also emphasize the fact that global powers now acknowledge Palestine’s standing as an independent state. The tweet below, published by the PLO’s negotiations bureau, suggests that France acknowledges that Palestine has the same rights, and responsibilities, as Israel. Thus, this tweet portrays Palestine as Israel’s equal rather than a quasi-state.
Saeb Erekat on French Peace Conference: Palestine seeks the same rights and responsibilities enjoyed by other states https://t.co/IiDsTUe0GP
— Palestine PLO – NAD (@nadplo) June 3, 2016
Seeking Digital Recognition
In addition to seeking offline recognition, Palestinian digital diplomacy focuses on obtaining digital recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. For instance, in the tweet below Palestinian officials demand that Pay Pal expand its services to Palestine. The image accompanying this Tweet is important in its own right as it depicts a Palestinian national leader sitting in front of the Palestinian national flag thus demonstrating yet again Palestinian sovereignty.
Similarly, in the tweet below the PLO mission to the US called its followers to sign a petition demanding that Palestine be clearly labeled on Google Maps. At the moment, Google Maps only marks the borders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip without labeling them under the name Palestine.
— PLO Delegation to US (@PLODelegationUS) August 9, 2016
Palestine’s embassy to Japan also took to Facebook to encourage followers to sign a petition demanding digital recognition of Palestine in Google Maps. The post (seen below) also includes an image taken from Google Maps that clearly labels Israel but not Palestine.
The Palestinian embassy to Copenhagen took a different approach by publishing a video containing historical maps that all recognized Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel. This video, seen below, asserts that Palestine has always been recognized offline and must thus now also be recognized online.
A State in the Making
The third aspect of Palestine’s digital diplomacy strategy focuses on portraying Palestine as a State in the Making, one that has created the institutions necessary for statehood. For instance, the Palestinian embassy to Japan recently published a Facebook post informing followers of investment opportunities in Palestine. The information in the post (seen below) was authored by the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency, a national institution tasked with laying the financial foundations of the Palestinian state.
Conversely, the Palestinian embassy to Kuwait published a post notifying followers that the Palestinian Supreme Court has deiced to halt preparations for the Palestinian municipal elections. The importance of the post (seen below) arises from its mentioning of the Palestinian Supreme Court and Palestinian municipalities thus demonstrating that Palestine has created the national institutions necessary for self-rule.
Lastly, an important component of Palestinian digital diplomacy is sports. Palestinian embassies throughout the world routinely highlighted Palestinian sports achievements such as their winning an Olympic medal (see below). Such content is important as it demonstrates that Palestine is indeed a state in the making, one that has a national soccer team, a national Olympic committee and a national Olympic team.
This post attempted to analyze Palestine’s digital diplomacy strategy. At the moment, Palestinian embassies seem to employ social media in order to demonstrate international recognition of Palestinian sovereignty and to portray Palestine as a State in the Making. Notably, Palestinian embassies also seem to advocate digital recognition of Palestine. At a time when states occupy both physical and cyber spaces, online recognition may be just as important as offline recognition.