- A January 12,2005 briefing on Capitol Hill by Israel Resource News Agency, acting under the auspices of the Center for Near East Policy Research, drew 44 staffers of the US House International Relations Committee members to a Committee conference room in the Cannon House Office Building.
The briefing covered political, diplomatic, and security developments inside the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the death of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) head Yasser Arafat.
The main presentation lasted approximately 75 minutes, followed by a 90-minute dialogue, and covered the recent Palestinian Authority election, the (in-progress) PA constitution, Abu Mazen’s campaign platform, the role of the official Palestinian media, and the recent activities of international bodies active in Palestinian areas such as UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.
Activities of the PA/PLO’s official media outlets in the recent election were summarized by Dr. Michael Widlanski, an Arabic translator and Political Science lecturer at Hebrew University. Based upon comprehensive monitoring of PA/PLO print and broadcast media, Dr. Widlanski’s main findings included the following:
The January 2005 PA Chairmanship election was fairer than the last PA Chairmanship election of January 1996. Neither election, however, would be considered fair by Western standards.
One notable difference in PA/PLO media behavior between the two campaigns was PA/PLO media’s occasional mentioning, in 2005, of the opponents to front-runner Dr. Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen). During the 1996 election campaign, Yasser Arafat’s single opponent, Samikha Khalil, was never mentioned by PA/PLO media.
There were several similarities between the two campaigns. In both instances, PA/PLO media lavished extensive positive coverage on the popular candidate (Arafat in 1996, Abbas in 2005). In both campaigns, Yasser Arafat was celebrated. In 1996, PA media praise was bestowed upon Arafat himself. In 2005, PA/PLO media praised Abbas’s devotion to both Yasser Arafat’s principles, and Arafat the person. Abbas’s official platform was also displayed as proof of Abbas’s loyalty to Arafat, and his role as carrier of Arafat’s legacy.
Abbas was frequently displayed on PA/PLO television demanding the unconditional release of Palestinians held by Israel, as well as an unconditional “right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel.
Official PA/PLO media emphasized that Abu Mazen was firmly committed to the principles of Yasser Arafat, and, during the campaign, expanded their lexicon of terms used in praise of Palestinian violence. This was in sharp contrast to Western and Israeli media which widely reported that Abu Mazen was opposed to violence and supported peace with Israel.
In one example, the morning after a December 13, 2004 Palestinian bombing against an Israeli security checkpoint, PA/PLO radio described as “martyrs” the two gunmen who blew up a tunnel under the checkpoint, and fired on medical teams who responded to save victims. The attack itself was praised as an act of “istish-haad”-“heroic martyrdom” in Arabic, and the attackers were described as “youth” who were attacked by Israel.
The next day, PA/PLO radio praised the attack as a “resistance operation” and “sacrificial operation” committed jointly by Hamas and the PLO’s Fatah (‘Conquest’) branch. This was in accordance with general PA/PLO broadcasts which emphasized the unity of Hamas and Fatah.
Beginning on December 27, PA/PLO television ran a program featuring Palestinian cartoonist Omayya Jaha. The programs featured her work, including her depictions of Israelis as blood-suckers, as well as cookers and eaters of Palestinian children. Jaha described her husband’s death as a “martyr” fighting Israelis, and the program displayed photos of her husband’s bloodied body. The program was rebroadcast in the early afternoon on January 4th.
These broadcasts were part of a broader official message that PA/PLO policies would not change following the death of Arafat, and the resultant passing of PA control to Abu Mazen.
Dr. Arnon Gross, Deputy Director of the Voice of Israel’s Arabic service, and the director of research at the Center for Near East Policy Research, presented an analysis of current PA/PLO official textbooks, and their role as fomenters of peace or violence among school-age Palestinians.
Dr. Gross’s analysis concluded that the PA continues to view Palestinian children as the natural carriers of the ‘Palestinian revolution’ into the next generation, and accordingly structures its textbooks and curricula to inculcate children with the primary goals of jihad and the ‘liberation’ of Palestine, which is defined in PA textbooks as all of present-day Israel. According to Dr. Gross, the textbooks view the inculcation of hostility against non-Muslims, and particularly against Jews, as a critical tactic for achieving that goal.
David Bedein spoke on UNRWA activities in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and presented a summary of UNRWA’s official reactions to reports of UNRWA personnel’s cooperation with Palestinian terrorist organizations, and sheltering of Palestinian terrorists and terrorism infrastructure. Bedein presented a status report of efforts to shift the Palestinian refugee ‘assignment’ away from UNRWA and to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for all other refugees in the world. According to the report, a growing number of Western officials believe that UNRWA has been irretrievably penetrated by terrorist organizations, and is acting as a de facto branch of Hamas and the PLO.
Bedein and Dr. Widlanski also described the Palestinian Authority constitution, which, as written, will impose Islamic sharia law on a Palestinian state. The constitution would deny juridical status to all non-Muslim religions.
The original 75-minute briefing by the three experts was subsumed by a subsequent 90-minute question-and-answer dialogue that ended shortly before 2:00 p.m.