American diplomats who arrived in Ramallah this week were greeted by angry Palestinian protesters who shouted anti-US slogans and hurled shoes -- the Palestinian Authority claims it was only one pair of shoes -- at their armored vehicles.
The message that the Palestinian Authority is hoping to send through this message to the Americans and others: If you do not endorse our position and if you cut off financial aid, we will turn against you. In one word, it is called extortion.
The problem is not so much with the diplomats as with their governments that allow themselves to be exposed to this extortion time and again. Apparently they like being blackmailed. Instead of demanding changes in behavior, then paying only after the changes have been successfully completed, the governments always seem to pay up front with no demands, and then look surprised when there are no changes and each time the ransom demand goes up.
The US diplomats came to Ramallah to hold a reception in honor of Palestinian partner organizations and US Government exchange program alumni. The American diplomats who were targeted this week were naive enough to think that Palestinians in Ramallah would welcome them with roses and a red carpet.
If anything, this incident shows that US government officials have not been reading the writing on the wall -- namely that the US is viewed by many Palestinians as an enemy, mainly because of its support for Israel. In this specific case, the writing was so big that most Palestinian journalists knew in advance about the planned anti-US protest outside the restaurant.
Scores of Palestinian protesters who gathered outside the Snowbar Restaurant where the reception was being held hurled abuse also at Palestinian journalists who had been invited to the event, urging them to boycott it in protest against the "hostile" policy of the US Administration, and to let the diplomats know that unless their demands were met, there would be more shoe-throwing..
The incident is an indication of growing anti-US sentiments among Palestinians following the US Administration's opposition to Mahmoud Abbas's unilateral statehood bid at the UN and Congress's decision to block financial aid to the Palestinians.
The humiliating shoe-throwing incident came as no surprise in wake of the Palestinian Authority's increased condemnation of President Barack Obama and his administration.
In recent weeks, Palestinian Authority officials have been encouraging Palestinians to stage anti-US demonstrations and rallies to condemn Washington's "bias" in favor of Israel.
Palestinian Authority media outlets, including some that had benefited from US and EU financial aid and training, have also been taking part in the incitement against Washington's policies.
Following the incident in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority officials echoed this message when they "warned" that there was growing resentment among Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general over the Obama Administration's refusal to endorse the Palestinian position and abandon its continued support for Israel.
The officials also pointed out that many Palestinians were angry and worried because of reports that Congress was blocking financial aid to the Palestinians. "Thousands of people are about to lose their jobs, especially those who have been working with USAID-financed projects," complained one official. "We understand the frustration of our people with the US Administration and there is nothing we, as the Palestinian Authority, could do about it."
Moreover, a campaign launched on Facebook by Palestinian political activists days before the event urged Palestinian invitees to boycott the reception and called for a demonstration to condemn the US. Obviously, the US diplomats either did not know about the Facebook campaign or chose to ignore it out of a conviction that they would not be attacked because they were coming to help Palestinians.
What the Americans do not understand is that all the money in the world will not help them win the hearts and minds of a majority of Arabs and Muslims. True, the money does have a short-term moderating effect on the Palestinians. But once Washington says what is considered the wrong thing, as the was the case with the statehood bid, or threatens to suspend financial aid, it should expect more shoes to fly in the face of US diplomats.