The leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) apparently fears that stories about corruption, anti-Israel incitement and terrorism will prompt Western donors to halt their funding to the Palestinians. According to a new draft law proposed by the PA leadership, foreign journalists who do not endorse the Palestinian narrative or who do not "respect the Palestinian identity and history" may soon be banned from operating in PA-controlled areas. (Images source: iStock)
While the US administration and many countries seem enthusiastic about the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians themselves are worried that such a state would end up like most of the corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.
The Palestinians' concern was recently reinforced when they learned that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is planning to impose even harsher restrictions on the Palestinian and foreign media.
The restrictions are included in a draft law concerning the conditions for the licensing of media organizations operating in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank. The bill, currently being studied by the PA government, may soon be approved, turning it into official law.
According to the new bill, foreign journalists who do not endorse the Palestinian narrative or who do not "respect the Palestinian identity and history" may soon be banned from operating in PA-controlled areas.
The same restriction applies to Palestinian media organizations and journalists seeking permits to operate in these territories.
The bill comes in the context of the PA leadership's ongoing effort to silence its critics and tighten its grip on the foreign and local journalists covering Palestinian affairs.
It also comes in the context of the PA leadership's effort to ensure that journalists refrain from reporting stories that could reflect negatively on the Palestinians, especially regarding financial corruption and vicious incitement and terrorism against Israel.
The PA, which does not tolerate any form of criticism, wants to ensure that the local and foreign media's attention remains focused on anti-Israel coverage. This is not a new policy for the PA.
In fact, this has been the PA leadership's policy since its establishment in 1994, after the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel.
This policy aims to intimidate journalists and their media organizations and prevent them from reporting stories that could harm the PA leadership's image and reputation.
The PA leadership apparently fears that stories about corruption, anti-Israel incitement and terrorism will prompt Western donors to halt their funding to the Palestinians.
The timing of the proposed bill is not coincidental.
It comes on the eve of the meeting in a few weeks of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, a committee consisting of donor countries that serves as the main policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people.
The PA leadership is hoping that the committee will approve additional and unconditional funding for the Palestinians.
That is why it is critical for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, to ensure that the media remains muzzled about rampant corruption and other issues related to bad governance, and human rights violations by the Palestinian security forces.
Palestinians on the street are saying that instead of working towards guaranteeing a free media and freedom of expression, the PA is seeking to tighten its grip on Palestinian media outlets as part of an effort to prevent the publication of stories that reflect negatively on the PA leadership.
In this regard, the PA leadership is no different from other Arab totalitarian regimes that have absolute control of the media and crack down on all forms of criticism and opposition media outlets.
Unlike other Arab regimes, however, the PA is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid from the US, the European Union and other international donors, who do not seem the least bit bothered by the Palestinian leadership's measures to curb freedom of expression and deprive its people of an independent media.
The proposed law grants the PA government's Ministry of Information, Ministry of Interior (which is in charge of the Palestinian security forces) and the Ministry of Telecom and Information Technology wide powers to approve or reject the licensing of newspapers and TV and radio stations.
According to the bill, the media organizations are required, as a precondition for obtaining a license, to commit to "maintaining public order, public security and the requirements of the public interest, refrain from broadcasting any immoral content or anything that is incompatible with the values and principles of Palestinian society, respect the Palestinian identity and history, and not to broadcast any media material that would prejudice the Palestinian identity or prejudice the Palestinian narrative."
In addition, the media organizations are required to obtain security clearance and the approval of the Ministry of Information to replace a director or editor-in-chief. They are also required to provide the ministry with all written contracts of the workers and journalists as a condition for receiving a license.
The bill grants the PA Minister of Information the right to stop the work of any Palestinian or foreign media organization in the West Bank "that does not respect the Palestinian identity and history."
In response, several Palestinian human rights and media organizations, including the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, expressed deep concern and disapproval of the PA leadership's intention to hijack the media.
Palestinian organizations are saying that the proposed law was aimed at serving and promoting the interests of the PA leadership alone. If approved, they are cautioning, the law would contribute to restricting the work of media institutions and limit freedom of expression, negatively affecting civil peace and raising the state of internal tension.
"The organizations believe that this [new measure] comes in the context of a wave of legislation recently issued by the Palestinian Authority with the aim of granting more control to the executive authority and the attack on institutions that protect democratic values and ensure the application of the principles of good governance," reads a statement by the Palestinian Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), which describes itself as a civil society organization that seeks to combat corruption and promote integrity, transparency and accountability in the Palestinian society.
The organizations warned that such legislation would "harm the reputation of the future Palestinian state with regard to respect for human rights and the values of freedom and democracy."
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate also warned that the draft bill, if approved, would have a negative impact on the international community's support for the Palestinians and undermine Palestinians' "dream of a modern Palestinian state that respects basic rights and freedoms."
The Palestinian organizations stressed that ensuring the freedom, plurality and independence of the media comes within the respect and protection of the right to good governance and the rule of law, as well as enhancing the principle of transparency and accountability.
They urged the PA leadership not to endorse the proposed law and instead to launch discussions with human rights and media groups to reach agreement on legislation that takes into account democratic values.
Sadly, the Palestinians harbor no hope that their current leaders will work towards establishing a state where public freedoms and human rights are valued and respected.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are corrupt dictatorships that care only about their own interests.
What remains difficult for Palestinians to understand is the continuing silence of the international community and foreign media towards the human rights violations and restrictions on the institutions of democracy and freedom of speech perpetrated by the Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.