Monday, June 24, 2013

Should Israel Subsidize an Arab Newspaper for the West Bank?

We're still looking into the issue of Israel's relations with the Palestinians after the Six Day War. Here's the top secret transcript of a meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on the West Bank (there was such a thing), from December 24, 1967 (Christmas isn't on Israelis' calender, and certainly not in the 1960s). The participants included Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and ministers Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, and Eliyahu Sasson, along with the high-ranking officials Dr. Yaacov Herzog, Gideon Refael, Colonel Shlomo Gazit, and Moshe Sasson (Eliyahu's son). The backdrop to the discussion was Moshe Sasson's report on his talks with public figures on the WB (which we've posted on).

The discussion dealt mostly with two issues, both conveyed to the ministers from prominent West Bank figures via Moshe Sasson - which is in itself an interesting finding. In late 1967, the local Palestinian leadership had a conduit to Israel's government, and was using it.

The first issue, and as it transpired, the easy one, was whether to allow a West Bank delegation to travel to the upcoming Arab summit. After a few minutes of debate, everyone in the room agreed to allow the delegation to travel. Everyone accepted that the summit would be stridently anti-Israel, and that the WB delegates would come back with their heads filled with invective; however, they also thought the the mere fact of having people at the summit who knew from close up that the Israelis weren't monsters might be novel; they also hoped it might strengthen King Hussein's hand in his quest for legitimacy to negotiate with Israel. Having made the decision to OK the delegation, the ministers excused themselves from deliberating Moshe Sasson's request to have a position regarding Palestinian self-rule: Let's wait and see what happens on the main track, they said.

The second issue was a bit trickier because it offered various alternatives, not a yes-or-no decision. Moshe Sasson related how prior to the war there had been two newspapers, Jihad and Palestine, which had managed to exist only because the Jordanian government had subsidized them; without that subsidy they had gone out of business, leaving the field open to the hostile communist paper. Might Israel perhaps be interested in the two papers re-opening, possibly under different names? The cost would be about IL 20,000 a month for each, and the subsidy could happen, as in Jordanian times, in the form of purchasing advertisement space. In such a setup, the papers would obviously have to be anti-Israeli, but they could be less so than the existing independent papers, and might even offer some space to friendlier voices.

The technique of opening the papers, by the way, as suggested by their publishers, would be in the form of a demand by the military governor that they desist from their "strike".

The ministers didn't have a clear position about the Arab newspapers. Some of them didn't think the covert subsidy was a bad idea, and even said that Israel's control should be as light as possible. Others felt it would be better to openly create a serious Arabic-language newspaper published in Israel, perhaps even with a Jewish editor. This raised the issue of censorship: in those days Israeli newspapers were all subject to censorship, and how would that appear with an Israeli Arabic newspaper? Moshe Dayan pointed out that Jerusalem had been annexed to Israel, so there was no military governor to put on the charade of ending a "strike". Which then raised the question of whether the paper - in whatever form - should appear in Ramallah or Nablus rather than Jerusalem. The argument went back and forth and back, until Dayan said they couldn't make a decision and Eshkol, in typical Eshkol form, allowed the matter to be postponed for some other day.

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