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News and Op/Ed

Through Arab Eyes
Khaled Abu Toameh

An Israeli-Arab journalist's unique and surprising perspective

On Wednesday evening, November 16, independent journalist Khaled Abu Toameh spoke to a packed audience at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting for American (CAMERA) sponsored the talk, ?Israel and the Palestinians: Realities behind the headlines."

An Arab Israeli Muslim in his early forties, Abu Toameh covers the territories for the Jerusalem Post, is a producer for NBC news and for Danish news. He is also a commentator for Swedish news networks, the BBC and other European media outlets.

According to Abu Toameh, the greatest threat both to Arab Palestinians and Israelis is the scourge of corruption that is bred-in-the-bones of the Palestinian Authority. He insisted that the corruption of the Palestinian leadership is far more corrosive than any other single factor. And he blames Israel for creating the situation. The single worst move that created and exacerbated the conflict was when Israel brought Arafat and his cronies out of mothballs in Tunisia and set them up as a government for the Palestinian Arabs. 

When challenged as to Israel's ?hidden agenda? in perpetuating the violence, Abu Toameh responded to the questioner: 

?Explain to me what the Israeli occupation has to do with the total absence of a free Palestinian press; 

?Explain to me what the occupation has to do with the Palestinian Authority funneling off $6.5 billion in international aid to their own personal bank accounts?

?Explain to me why, after years of misery and billions of dollars of aid money made available, not one hospital, not one housing project, has been built in the Palestinian refugee camps?

But hasn't there been a dramatic change in the Palestinian Authority following Arafat's death? The way Abu Toameh sees it, Mahmoud Abbas is probably a decent man, one who would like there to be real change and movement toward peace. But the problem is that although Arafat is dead, Arafatism lives. What he means by that is Arafat's ?old guard," the Tunisians who flew in on the same parachute as Arafat, are still running the show, not Abbas. And despite all the parroting of the phrases, ?window of opportunity," and ?avenues of hope," heralded by the Western world, a year has passed since Arafat's death and nothing has changed.

A telling account shared with the audience by the journalist was his own professional path. After graduating from university he, quite naturally, became a journalist with a Palestinian newspaper. After months of taking dictation from the Palestinian Liberation Organization rather than being allowed to write non-propaganda stories, Abu Toameh resigned. He wanted to write real stories, not just cut and paste. So he began writing for various news outlets and eventually was signed on by the Jerusalem Post to cover the territories.

People ask him all the time, he said, how could he write for a right wing Israeli newspaper. His answer is always the same "he doesn't care what kind of media outlet he works for, so long as he is given a platform and is allowed to report on events without editorial control or perversion of the facts he observes.

Abu Toameh doesn't let the west off the hook for the misery of the Arab Palestinians. He blasts the Israelis for foisting the corrupt dictatorship of the Palestinian Authority on his people, and he is mystified by the billions of dollars that the U.S. and the international community lavishes on an entity that repeatedly --- for years now --- refuses to abide by a single condition imposed on the receipt of that money.

"It's your money, don't you care?" he asked the American audience. You keep rewarding gangsterism and violence with increasing levels of funding, so it's no wonder the Arab Palestinian leadership doesn't reform. 

And the rewards are not only given in the form of financial aid.

In mid-November U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice spoke at a press conference in Israel and praised Abbas for reducing incitement in the Arab media, Abu Toameh said he laughed. In his hands he was holding three different Palestinian papers, all of which had as their headlines, ?Israel setting free wild pigs to drive Arabs from their land." 

Rice also praised Abbas for reducing the Palestinian security forces from twelve to three. Abu Toameh drove to Ramallah after the press conference for some hummus. On the way he and his colleagues counted six or seven different security forces? all with uniforms and identifying insignia. So much for Abbas's success at whittling the security forces down to three.

So what advice does this Middle Eastern journalist have for forward movement on a real path to peace? Regime change and financial transparency are the prerequisites for stability in the region. Without requiring those in charge to use the enormous aid packages to relieve the needs of the Palestinian people, the very real needs of the Palestinian people, frustration, anger, hostility and violence will remain the hallmarks of the region.

- Lori Lowenthal Marcus