On the fifth day of our trip through Israel, we were introduced to Khaled Abu Toameh, a prominent Israeli Palestinian journalist. Born in the West Bank but living in Israel, Mr. Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs producer for NBC as well as the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. Although he began his career as a reporter for the now-defunct PLO propaganda rag Al-Fajr, he now describes himself as a “Zionist Arab.”
In a wide-ranging discussion covering both his own personal background and his views on the Middle East, Mr. Abu Toameh painted a fairly pessimistic view of the current situation – and laid the blame on both sides of the conflict, as well as the international community. I was especially interested to learn that he views the Oslo Accords – widely celebrated in the West – as the root for many of the region’s troubles today.
The Oslo Accords hoped to transform the PLO from a militant terrorist organization into the germinal social and bureaucratic infrastructure that would eventually form the foundation for a Palestinian state. Instead, Mr. Abu Toameh argued, they created a tremendously corrupt, ineffective, and weak proto-state which is totally dependent on foreign support- and more importantly, lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its own people. He continued that Israel exacerbated this situation with draconian security measures and political missteps, while the international community’s failure to hold the Palestinian Authority accountable for good governance and economic development fed the corruption and led directly to the rise of Hamas.
While I knew that objectively, Palestinians living in Israel are much better off than their compatriots in the West Bank, Gaza, and other countries, it was compelling to hear it directly from one of them. It was also reassuring (but also saddening) to have my own understanding of the situation reinforced – that the abject failure of Palestinian self-governance virtually precludes any sort of sustainable, lasting peace.
I was also fascinated to hear how embittered Mr. Abu Toameh was with the treatment of Palestinians in other Muslim countries. For example, his uncles are forbidden by law from owning property – and even wanted him to bribe someone to get them Israeli passports so they could! In Israel, Palestinians might not feel truly at home – but they can vote, speak freely, and enjoy all of the rights of any other Israeli citizen; in some other countries, they experience the equivalent of South African-style apartheid. If things are truly this bad for the Palestinians outside of Israel, I have to wonder at the myriad pro-Palestinian (or anti-Israeli, depending on one’s views) advocacy groups in the West, who focus so militantly on Gaza and the West Bank.
Of course, Mr. Abu Toameh is himself an Israeli citizen, employed by Israeli and Western media outlets, and writing for an audience in Tel Aviv and Washington, so I don’t think that everything he said can be taken for granted. I do wish that we had the opportunity to meet with Arab journalists working for Al Jazeera, or even the propaganda mouthpieces of Hezbollah or Hamas. Unfortunately, I think this is the closest we’re going to get to hearing the other side of the story on this trip – as distasteful or ludicrous as we might find it.
While these were only the views of one man, I found his personal story and analysis at once highly informative, insightful, and deeply saddening. I can only hope that one day, Israel will have a willing, able, and prosperous partner sitting across the negotiating table.