On Sunday, Michael Totten posted this transcript of a talk he attended a few weeks ago given by Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh to a group of journalists in Israel. I didn't see the post until after I had returned home Monday afternoon ... from a talk given by Khaled Abu Toameh at the Jewish Federation in Philadelphia (co-sponsored by CAMERA, the JCRC and the Center for Israel and Overseas).
For the most part, the content was the same. But perhaps due to both the passage of time and the change of audience, there were differences. For the most part, I'm only going to summarize and comment on the things that weren't already covered in Totten's report, so I highly recommend reading it in its entirety.
A dominant theme of both talks was this: U.S. "engagement in the peace process," i.e., interference and meddling, has been detrimental both to the cause of peace and to the welfare of both Israelis and palestinians. How and why?
Well, first we brokered the Oslo accords and brought Arafat back, and with him a regime of terror, corruption and incitement. Then we gave him guns and money and media access. He used the guns for more terror, the money for more corruption, and the media for more incitement. So we gave him more guns and more money, which he used to suppress the very reformers we were supposed to be encouraging to emerge. Meanwhile, due to a combination of his suspect Western support and his misappropriation of the funds he'd been given, he lost the trust of his people. Into that breach, stepped Hamas with its charitable and medical and social services and its suicide bombing recruitment.
Then we pushed for democratic elections. What did Hamas do? It participated. It promised an end to the internal terror and corruption. It put a bunch of "good guys" on its list of candidates. Intellectuals, academics, etc. Fatah's list, meanwhile, was full of murderers and known corrupt politicians. And it was backed by the U.S. The kiss of death.
"Everyone knew Hamas was going to win except Condoleeza Rice," says Khaled. The Bush administration was clueless. He wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on the eve of the elections, in which, he says, he predicted the overwhelming Hamas victory. (But judge for yourself.)
In spite of the stunning Hamas victory, we continued to support Fatah. Again, the kiss of death, first because there was an overwhelming distrust of our motives and our influence and second because we were seen as trying to undermine the express will of the people in the very elections we had sponsored. The U.S. has no business, says Khaled, supporting the losers against the winners. By doing so, we helped to facilitate the "coup" in which Hamas threw Fatah out of Gaza altogether.
Khaled says the U.S. needs to butt out. Israelis and Palestinians understand each other much better than the U.S. understands either one. They're cousins, after all.
In addition to his frustration with international journalists and their utter refusal to report the truth of what they see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears, Khaled also expresses frustration with the Israeli government and its seeming inability to snatch victory from the jaws of ... victory (e.g., leaving Lebanon in 2006 before the job was finished, ditto with Gaza last month). Israeli politicians run on one platform and when they get elected they do the opposite, sometimes even adopting the very ideas they ran against (as did Rabin with Oslo and Sharon with the "disengagement."). They make the same mistakes, over and over, never learning. "Fool me once," he says,"shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." A lot Israelis, he continues, are willing to die for peace. He doesn't want to die for peace. He wants to live in peace.
An interesting highlight of Khaled's presentation here was his account of a two hour meeting he had with Barack Obama, sometime prior to the election. He didn't specify the date, but it was probably at least a year ago because he said he asked why he was scheulded for a one-on-one with this guy and was told he was going to be next president of the United States. He says Obama told him he had never before heard the things Khaled was telling him, about how American "engagement" was really received, about the corruption and misappropriation of funds by the PA, about the real reasons for the Hamas victory. He says Obama told him it sounded similar to things he had heard from his father about Kenya (when he was 10 years old?). And he advised Obama to listen to what people say in their own language. He says Obama took notes. I hope he remembers.
Khaled also talked about the persecution of Christians in the disputed territories. This is one of those well-documents facts that no one wants to write about. Before Oslo, he points out, Christians constituted 70% of the population of the city of Bethlehem. Today, they are less than 20% and the number continues to dwindle.
And he talked about Iran, saying that the threat it poses is not only the bomb and not only to Israel. The threat is to all moderate Arabs and Muslims, and they should be the ones leading a coalition against Iran and against radical Islam. Interesting.
I was particularly stuck, however, by a personal statement he made about his own experience and his own identity as a Muslim Arab living in Israel. He bought a house in a Jewish neighborhood near the Green Line, obtained a goverment mortgage and received a stipend for "strengthening Jerusalem." His daughters go to a Jewish school. He says he's "proud to be an Israeli citizen." And that he would rather live in Israel as a second class citizen (which he's quick to assure us he is not) than in Gaza or the West Bank as a first class citizen.
I reported on another local appearance by Khaled a few years ago. At the moment my older archives are still not officially up (honestly, I am going to take care of this in very short order) but here's a repost of most of it. I have a great deal of admiration for this man and for the courage he displays in speaking and writing his mind, at what is clearly considerable risk. He spends a great deal of his time in Gaza and Ramallah. And when he does speaking tours in the U.S., his audiences aren't always as uniformly friendly as the one on Monday nor, apparently, do they always hear (or think they hear) the same message. Hardly surprising.