Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's decision last week to ban Al-Jazeera from working in the West Bank did not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the inner workings of the US-backed Palestinian Authority.

It is true that Al-Jazeera is not an independent network and that it has long been providing a platform to Hamas, Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood. But this not something that Abbas, like many Arab leaders who have also cracked down on the network, discovered only now.

Journalists are welcome to cover Palestinian affairs only if they are willing to sing praise to Abbas and Fayad and write about Israeli military checkpoints. But if anyone dares to report, for instance, about corruption or the fact that there are nearly 1000 Palestinians being held in Abbas's prisons without trial, he or she could also be punished in the same way as Al-Jazeera.

Intimidation of the media is not a new phenomenon in the Palestinian territories. In fact, it began almost immediately after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, when the security forces launched a massive crackdown on Palestinian journalists and media organizations that were not 100 percent loyal to Arafat.

A government that considers a TV report as a major threat to its national security and interests is one that is not sincere about democracy and freedom of expression.

In this regard, the Palestinian Authority is not different from the rest of the Arab dictatorships where journalists are targeted on a regular basis. Journalists who dare to write about financial corruption or anything that reflects negatively on an Arab leader are not permitted to write in state-owned media.

In the West Bank, a journalist must be affiliated with Fatah in one way or another if he or she wants to work in a media outlet belonging to the Palestinian Authority. In the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, only Hamas-affiliated journalists are employed in the Islamic movement's media.

Independent Palestinian journalists are therefore forced to search for work in the international and Israeli media.

Al-Jazeera was allowed to reopen its offices in the West Bank only after its directors had promised to toe the line by serving as an unofficial organ of the PA leadership.

In the past 18 months, at least seven Palestinian journalists and writers have been arrested by Abbas's security forces in the West Bank for allegedly supporting Hamas - an excuse that is often cited by the Palestinian government to justify the crackdown on the media.

Al-Jazeera, too, had been accused by Abbas's regime of serving as a "mouthpiece" for Hamas. But the Palestinian Authority, in its decision to close down the popular network's offices in the West Bank, made no mention of the alleged link to Hamas.

Instead, the Palestinian Authority accused the station of "fabrications" and "lies" for airing comments made by estranged PLO leader Farouk Qaddoumi.

Qaddoumi, who is based in Tunis, went on Al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite TV stations to accuse Abbas and former security commander Mohammed Dahlan of "conspiring" with Israel in the "assassination" of Yasser Arafat in 2004.

Qadoummi's charges clearly enraged Abbas, who had initially instructed the Palestinian security forces to arrest all the Al-Jazeera correspondents in the West Bank. Abbas is said to have abandoned the intention to arrest the journalists on the advice of his prime minister, Salaam Fayad.

Explaining his decision to silence Al-Jazeera, Abbas said it was aimed at protecting the "national interests" of the Palestinians. This terminology appears to be taken directly from the former dictatorships in the Eastern bloc countries.

The ban, which was later cancelled, is an indication of the authority's growing intolerance with the media and critics.

The measure against Al-Jazeera was aimed at sending a warning not only to Palestinian and Arab journalists, but also to Western reporters who cover Palestinian affairs, against "angering" Abbas and his aides in Ramallah.

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