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Husseini must resign – Nasser Laham

Feb. 12, 2010 5:00 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 20, 2010 4:55 A.M.)
Adults and children alike were left speechless when they saw what aired on Israel's Channel 10 Monday. How could parents explain to their kids, with any credibility, what they were witnessing? The shock was enormous.

No matter what pain it causes him personally, chief of staff Rafik Al-Husseini must resign immediately for the sake of the country and its interests. Bold steps are required to overcome this crisis and quickly – his silence is no longer enough.

Even from a public relations standpoint, guilty or not, any competent media advisor would urge someone in his position, the head of the Office of the President, to cede all responsibilities until a commission of inquiry can be established and its results reviewed.

In the meantime, the Palestinian reaction to these revelations should be outrage. Instead, it has been complacency. The leadership has unfortunately adopted the same tired and evasive tactics, failing to take responsibility, the effects of which we all watched last night on TV.

Fahmi Shabaneh, the former Palestinian intelligence officer who was just six months ago sitting in an Israeli jail, is now a celebrity in Israel. This is no coincidence: In addition to the video, he handed over 400 pages of confidential government documents to a foreign state.

Thus, he must be arrested and prosecuted, not for exposing corruption, but for violating the law. For the precedent it would set were every other intelligence agent permitted to hand over photos, phone numbers and classified information to Israel. For the spectacle our leaders will become, from Ramallah to Gaza, should we encourage the "trustees" of our state secrets to reveal them on Israeli TV.

On that note, our intelligence services have got to learn how to protect classified information and prevent its release to enemy states. There's something called encryption, which I urge them to begin using. You'd think all this would go without saying, but here we are:

How did we allow an officer to walk out of the West Bank carrying 400 pages of classified documents? Why do these documents contain not only evidence of corruption, but, according to reports, also the PA's conclusions and recommendations on exactly how Hamas took over Gaza? Why, whenever Israel obtains and releases correspondence between our intelligence agents, is it always written on looseleaf paper?

Speaking of Hamas, it is to their credit that they have yet to use this incident to score political points against Fatah or the PA. It has not even been reported on Al-Aqsa TV, their official broadcaster.

Indeed, it's no accident we're hearing all this in Hebrew. In a country whose military censor must approve all "sensitive" broadcasts, particularly on security-related issues like intelligence, the broadcast could not have happened absent a political decision. Decisions to run these kinds of reports are not made on a solely editorial level, but must first be cleared by officials in Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

But let's be clear: the Israelis are the last ones who can accuse others of financial and sexual scandals (why the country's last prime minister and president are unemployed, respectively) and particularly blackmail. Their intelligence services place agents in our schools, universities, even hospitals, for the purpose of manipulating unwilling students, patients, and prisoners to achieve their goals.

In any case, every Israeli network competes with one another to find materials it believes will embarrass the leadership of either side of the conflict. This is a natural, it's ratings-focused, and these smears should strengthen political unity here rather than divide us. There are lower journalistic standards for criticizing a nation's enemies than there are for holding one's own leaders to account.

That the PA is apparently blind to standard news-gathering tactics is evidence enough that we have much to learn. Media incitement is a reality on their side, as well, and our indifference to it harms our national interests. The absence of any kind of political direction – coupled with an inability to control leaks and private statements – is harmful to us not just politically, but personally, as we are witnessing.

The author is Ma'an News Agency's editor in chief.
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