JERUSALEM – The interim Palestinian leader has ordered government-controlled media to halt broadcasts of material that could incite hatred against Israel, Palestinian officials said Tuesday.
The directive by Mahmoud Abbas (search) meets a key demand by Israel, which has long accused the Palestinian media of fomenting hatred, and adds to the tentative signs of goodwill that have emerged since the death of Yasser Arafat (search) on Nov. 11.
Radwan Abu Ayyash, head of Palestinian radio and television, said that at the request of Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, he has instructed all departments to make sure they don't broadcast inflammatory material.
"Abu Mazen asked us to be sure that the material we broadcast does not contain any material that could be considered incitement," he said.
Israel has long complained of incitement in the Palestinian media, citing fiery anti-Israel broadcasts by Muslim preachers and programs praising the killing of Jews. It blamed Arafat for the objectionable content.
A senior Israeli official cautiously welcomed the reported gesture but said the government was waiting to see changes in the Palestinian media.
"Everything will be judged according to performance," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "If this happens, I can tell you that the Palestinians are very serious."
A Palestinian broadcasting official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said efforts are already under way to revamp programming.
He said officials are reviewing material and planning changes once a 40-day mourning period for Arafat is over. Meantime, he said, programming is limited to subdued material about Arafat.
The official said talk shows would now be recorded and edited rather than being broadcast live. Mosque preachers would be asked to avoid incitement in their sermons that are broadcast live on Palestine TV and radio.
"We have to record these kinds of shows, and to take out the offensive material," the official said. He also said old PLO fighting songs praising revolution and sacrifice would be taken off the air.
The new programming rules are largely symbolic. Most Palestinians don't watch state television, preferring to tune in to livelier content on Arab satellite stations like Al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya or Lebanon's Middle East Broadcasting Corp. (search)
Still, the move is likely to boost the spirit of reconciliation.
Israel has signaled it is ready to work with Abbas but is wary of openly welcoming him in the run-up to the Jan. 9 Palestinian presidential elections. Abbas is widely considered the front-runner.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) already has pledged a number of gestures to Abbas, saying he is ready to meet with the Palestinian leader and coordinate a planned pullout from the Gaza Strip with the Palestinians. Sharon refused to negotiate with Arafat.
Sharon's plan has run into danger in recent days, due to infighting with partners in his coalition government.
The prime minister has approached the opposition Labor Party with a tentative offer to join his shaky coalition in hopes of avoiding early elections and saving his Gaza withdrawal plan, Labor officials said Tuesday.
The contacts were Sharon's latest attempt to extricate himself from an ongoing coalition crisis over the 2005 state budget and his plan to pull out of Gaza and four West Bank settlements next year. Labor's inclusion in the government would greatly improve Sharon's chances of going ahead with the withdrawal.
Sharon lost a parliamentary majority in the summer, when hawkish supporters quit over the Gaza plan. His troubles grew this week when the secular-rights Shinui Party, his biggest coalition partner, threatened to pull out of the government over budget concessions to religious parties.
A first budget vote is set for Wednesday, and Shinui said it would vote against the spending plan. Voting "no" would mean Shinui is quitting the coalition.
The government will collapse if a budget is not approved by March 31.