The clouds that normally obscure events in the Middle East start to recede when Khaled Abu Toameh begins talking about the future of Palestinians and Israelis. This relationship, the key to his future life as an Israeli Arab, has been the subject of his journalism for more than two decades. What he's learned contradicts beliefs held by much of the world, and differs sharply from what we expect from someone with his background.
He was in Toronto this week, talking to a few journalists. He's a Muslim-Arab, son of an Israeli-Arab father and a Palestinian-Arab mother. When he was studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he went to work for Al- Fajr ("The Dawn"), the Palestine Liberation Organization newspaper. He left when he realized it would never print anything but propaganda.
"I am an Arab Muslim and the only place I can write honestly is in a Jewish newspaper."
Hoping to be a real journalist, he began working with foreign reporters covering Israel. Eventually, he produced TV documentaries and wrote for Britain's Sunday Times and other papers. For the last eight years, he's been the Jerusalem Post's specialist in Arab affairs. "I am an Arab Muslim and the only place I can write honestly is in a Jewish newspaper," he says. Other Arab journalists envy his freedom.
He believes the so-called "peace process," begun with the Oslo Accords of 1993, has been a tragic failure and holds little promise of success. Over 16 years, the peace process has brought war -- and plenty of it. It has disillusioned both Arabs and Jews -- Arabs because they haven't acquired the independence and honest self-government they wanted, Jews because security has become more elusive than it was two decades ago. Even so, the United States and others believe the virtue of the peace process is self-evident.
The Palestinians are now divided between two bloodthirsty sects -- Fatah, which holds fragile power in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza. Their conflict has cost nearly 2,000 Palestinian lives and shows no sign of abating. At the moment, Fatah has 900 alleged Hamas operatives imprisoned in the West Bank without charge. Some of them may well be Hamas sympathizers, Abu Toameh says, some not. In any case, Fatah has arrested them mainly to show foreign governments that it is "cracking down."
Fatah, of course, is considered the "moderate" Palestinian force, as opposed to radical Hamas. Abu Toameh thinks neither of them could be called moderate by any sensible Arabic speaker. Fatah makes moderate sounds in English but in Arabic sounds as anti-Semitic and anti-American as Hamas. Abu Toameh sees no moderates on either side. Both factions suppress moderate opinion wherever it raises its head, which is apparently not often.
"This is not a power struggle between good guys and bad guys," he said in a recent speech. "It is a struggle between bad guys and bad guys." He wishes they were fighting over what would be best for Palestinians. "But they're only fighting over money and power."
The West spends a fortune propping up Fatah, in return for its relatively benign rhetoric. But Fatah remains unpopular. West Bank Arabs take its corruption for granted and now suspect that it's controlled as well as backed by the Americans. Anyone who listens to Abu Toameh has to consider that U. S. President Barack Obama is now part of the problem.
Great fortunes stolen by Fatah officials are only occasionally reported in the West. When Abu Toameh first suggested foreign journalists tell this story, he was asked by some of them if he was paid by the Jewish lobby. Other reporters explained that information on Palestinian corruption simply didn't fit into the stories their editors wanted, about Palestinians oppressed by Israelis.
"The real obstacle to peace is not a Jew building a settlement but the failure of the Palestinians to have a government."
Most of the world believes, often with passionate intensity, that Jewish settlements on land claimed by Arabs limits the chances for peace. Abu Toameh disagrees. "I wish the settlements were the problem," he says, because it can be solved by the Israelis. If settlements were the problem, he argues, then Gaza would now be at peace. After all, the Israelis pulled out in 2005. But the result has been war -- war among the Palestinians, war with Israel. "The real obstacle to peace is not a Jew building a settlement but the failure of the Palestinians to have a government. Is there a partner on the Palestinian side for peace talks? No."
What is to be done? He thinks Israel should simply wait until the Palestinians stop killing each other and create a credible political entity that can make a deal. Peace will then become possible.
This article originally appeared in The National Post.