Left wing Israeli reporters are huffing and puffing, while nationalists are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief, following a relatively tough interview by Channel 2's news team with Palestinian Authority official Jibril Rajoub. The interview aired Friday in Israel's most widely viewed weekend newscast, Ulpan Shishi.
The reason for the flurry of emotion is that the interview was not what Israelis had come to expect of such occasions. Instead of the usual mollycoddling that PA officials receive from Israel's mainstream press, Rajoub's interviewers posed reasonably tough questions.
Anchorman Danny Kushmaro asked Rajoub why PA leader Mahmoud Abbas turned to the United Nations unilaterally instead of giving peace negotiations a chance. Rajoub countered by claiming that Israel was supposed to release 104 PA prisoners and that Israel was the one that reneged on that deal.
Diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal told Rajoub that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was willing to carry out the fourth tranche of the prisoner release, including terrorists who are Israeli citizens, and to release 400 additional terrorist prisoners, and curtail construction in Judea and Samaria. Why, he asked, did the PA decide to torpedo the talks at the last minute? Arab affairs correspondent Ehud Yaari added his own question: does Rajoub agree with Yasser Arafat, who said that the Jews had never had a Temple in Jerusalem?
Rajoub answered that Jerusalem is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and that the Muslims recognize the other religions, while Jews are the ones who do not recognize Islam. “I cannot pray at the Al Aqsa mosque,” he complained. Surprisingly, the secular Kushmaro retorted – “It is I who cannot pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, you and your friends are free to pray there.”
Kushmaro asked what the PA has given Israel in the negotiations, in return for the terrorist prisoners who were released. “We gave everything,” said an agitated Rajoub. During the talks, Israel built thousands of homes in Judea and Samaria and dozens of Palestinians were killed, he said, yet the PA kept the peace on its side. Yaari pressed him to cite any concession the PA has made in the negotiations. “You don't know how difficult it was to continue in the negotiations!” – exclaimed Rajoub.
Segal reminded Rajoub that he has called Israelis “Nazis” and has said that if the PA had a nuclear bomb, it would drop it on Israel immediately. Rajoub replied by quoting a humorous Purim interview in which Minister Naftali Bennett was asked what would happen if he was locked up in a room with Mahmoud Abbas for three hours. Bennett said that Abbas would wind up joining the Jewish Home party and added that he would ask him to make coffee for everyone and call someone who really spoke for the PA to negotiate instead of him.
This reply, said Rajoub, proved that Bennett sees Abbas as “a waiter whose job it is to make coffee for him.”
The interview was received with great enthusiasm by nationalists. The grassroots My Israel called it “Jibril Rajoub in the den of lions.” Columnist Kalman Libeskind of Maariv wrote that it was the first time in memory in which a Palestinian official “is actually asked to answer questions” in an Israeli interview.
"It was an unusual interview, the likes of which has not been heard in our part of the world for a very long time,” he summed up.
With some satisfaction, Libeskind cited a shocked television review that appeared in ultra-leftist Haaretz after the broadcast. The Channel 2 team was described as “supercilious nationalists” and the columnist asked rhetorically – “Did Israeli journalists ever attack with such harshness a senior Israeli official over the fact that the Israeli government is torpedoing the negotiations?”
Libeskind noted that in fact, “what Rajoub experienced is what interviewees from the right wing have undergone for decades in all television and radio studios, whether state-owned or commercial.” It remains to be seen, he added, if this was just a one-off fluke or the start of a new trend.