Al-Jazeera out of the West Bank

Following Al Jazeera's broadcasting of former PLO Chief Farouk al-Kaddoumi's claims that Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammad Dahlan conspired to assassinate Arafat, the station's West Bank bureau has been shut down indefinitely on orders of the PA.
The late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat

BEIRUT, July 17, 2009 (MENASSAT) — Sharon: “The first step is to kill Arafat by poisoning. First, we should work on killing all the military leaders and politicians of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Brigades, the Popular Front to spread chaos in their ranks which would allow you to attack them easily.”

This is a short extract of transcripts leaked by the Head of the Political Department in the Palestine Liberation Organization, Farouk al-Kaddoumi, who said that late President Yasser Arafat entrusted him with it, and Al Jazeera posted on its website.

Al-Kaddoumi had organized an exclusive press conference in the Jordanian capital on July 12, 2009, in which he declared he had the transcripts of conversations held between former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, his Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, current de facto Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the former Head of the Preventive Security Service in Gaza, Mohammad Dahlan, in the presence of an American security team led by William Burns, beginning in March 2004.

In the minutes published by Al, Sharon, Abbas and Dahlan discuss the possibility of assassinating Arafat and the heads of the Palestinian resistance. The transcripts stated that Sharon insisted on killing Arafat by poisoning to pave the way for the killing of the rest of the Palestinians leaders, with Israeli help.

Al-Kaddoumi’s accusations stirred much controversy on many levels inside Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, and on the Palestinian and Arab scenes in general. But the reaction of Salam Fayad, the PM of the Palestinian authority in the West Bank, was the final straw when he decided to indefinitely close Al Jazeera’s bureau in the West Bank.

In a phone call with MENASSAT, the Director of Al Jazeera in Beirut, Ghassan bin Jeddo, said that the decision was strange and shocking, because Al Jazeera was not the only media outlet to air al-Kaddoumi’s accusations, who had spoken at a public press conference.

Bin Jeddo continued, stating that the Acting Information Minister Salam Fayad wasn’t satisfied with the decision to suspend the broadcast of the station, but had gone further, threatening to sue Al Jazeera for “incitement and sedition.”

He added that Al Jazeera’s relationship to the Palestinian cause was well-known and that the lawsuit would not lead to indicting the station, but would be a chance to show the level of professionalism with which the channel received the news.

Bin Jeddo went on by saying that Al Jazeera gave airtime to many who rejected al-Kaddoumi’s accusations, and also interviewed Abbas Zeki, a leader in Fatah, who denied these accusations.

In its statement, the channel said “Al Jazeera believes that it has maintained strict professional journalistic standards and acted in accordance with its Code of Ethics in its coverage, and that the Palestinian Authority's reaction reflects a repression of the freedom of media and a refusal to tolerate the opinions of others.”

There are many reasons to be surprised with Abbas’ decision to suspend Al Jazeera. In fact, even Fatah media talked about al-Kaddoumi’s allegations, so why did this decision to close Al Jazeera, which is known for its position and its support of the Palestinian cause, raise different accusations against the station of not being objective nor professional? This station has always stood in the line of fire in the Palestinian struggle against oppression and occupation.

Bin Jeddo added that the other paradox is that the channel will transfer its continued coverage of the West Bank to its bureau in Jerusalem, where Israel still allows the channel to operate. He assured that the work of Al Jazeera in Palestine would not be affected, giving the example of Iraq and the capacity of the station to work under the worst conditions.

Bin Jeddo said that covering al-Kaddoumi’s press conference couldn’t be the sole reason behind the station’s closure, because the news was reported by all media outlets. He added that he didn’t know the real reason, and described the procedure as a dangerous abuse of freedom of opinion and expression.

Al-Kaddoumi’s accusations further exasperated the conflict inside Fatah prior to the sixth National Conference of the Movement, which Abbas has insisted on holding in Bethlehem. Al-Kaddoumi considers the conference to be under the patronage of Israel, which will issue permits deciding who can and cannot attend, highlighting the questionable nature of a conference for a Liberation Organization being held under the patronage of the occupation.