Hard questions are welcome, said Charles Lipson, professor in Political Science, in introducing Khaled Abu Toameh. Hard questions were to be expected when Toameh was asked to comment on the landslide sweep of Hamas, a group classified by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, in the recent Palestinian elections.
Toameh, the Palestinian affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, delivered a lecture entitled A Hamas Majority? An Evaluation of the Palestinian Elections, presented by the Chicago Friends of Israel last Wednesday.
Toameh introduced himself as an Arab Muslim who started as a consultant and translator for foreign news teams covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
He described the disbelief and suspicion of other Arabs regarding his position on the conservative Jewish newspapers staff, but explained his peace of mind: As a journalist I have no problem writing for a newspaper that provides a free platform, he said.
By way of contrast, Toameh criticized the Fatah regime, which has controlled the Palestinian government for about 40 years. He recalled that one of Fatahs first measures was the arrest of Palestinian journalists. Even today, he said, the media remains under the control of the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization].
Toameh is a critic of the corruption of the PLO, which, he said, has pocketed much of the international financial aid given to Palestine. He said that he understood Palestinians support for Hamas, given their election slogan of change and reform.Interviewing people as they exited the voting polls, Toameh was surprised at the number of people who openly admitted voting for Hamas and their reasoning behind it.
We want to punish these thieves who stole our money, said Toameh, recalling the rationale of voters in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
But the staggering majority won by Hamas75 of the 135 seats of the Palestinian Parliamentsurprised even Toameh. The leaders of Hamas share his surprise, said Toameh.
When asked about the future of Palestine in the hands of Hamas, Toameh provided a resigned, yet optimistic appraisal, explaining that he did not think Hamas could be any worse than its predecessors. Israel currently refuses to recognize a Palestinian government controlled by Hamas, a stance Toameh believes will eventually give way to acceptance.