The Palestine Liberation Organization’s financial crisis has forced the closure of a key PLO-supported newspaper in the administered territories at a time when PLO moderates are engaged in a difficult struggle against Moslem extremists.
The influential Al-Fajr daily, printed in eastern Jerusalem since 1969 and considered the main organ of the PLO’s mainstream Al Fatah faction led by Yasir Arafat, has said it will shut down this month.
Al-Fajr will become the second Arab daily in Jerusalem to close in recent months, after A-Sha’ab quit publication because of economic difficulties.
Al-Fajr, owned by Paul Ajlouni, a Palestinian who resides in the United States, and edited by Hanna Siniora, a traditional supporter of Arafat, has always relied on subsidies from the PLO.
Ajlouni and Siniora have failed to run the paper profitably for some time, largely because of competition from other publications.
But the general closure of the territories during the past three months has exacerbated the paper’s problems by precipitating a sharp drop in advertising.
Only Al-Kuds, an independent daily in eastern Jerusalem, is said to be profitable.
The PLO is still recovering from the financial shock it received when Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states suspended aid to the PLO during the Persian Gulf War because of Palestinian support for Iraq.
Although aid has resumed, it is still far short of its level prior to the Gulf war, according to news reports.
LEAVES MANY OUT OF WORK
The closure of Al-Fajr not only affects the PLO politically but also leaves hundreds of Palestinian families without a source of income at a time of growing unemployment and economic difficulties resulting from the closure of the territories.
Fifty employees have received notice that their jobs will be terminated by the end of July. Fifty more reporters stationed throughout the territories are employed on a part-time basis.
The workers received a letter saying that the economic crisis that has affected “all our national institutions” has also affected Al-Fajr.
Ajlouni was quoted as saying he had tried to convince his workers to give up part of their salaries to save the paper, but they had refused.
Although workers have already received their notices of dismissal, PLO activists in the territories were expected to try to convince them to agree to a substantial cutback to save the paper.
But in the meantime, workers expressed deep disappointment with the closure decision.
One senior journalist was quoted as saying: “For 25 years, Al Fatah has paid large sums to support its people in the territories, in preparation for the fateful day when a political change will take place and the organization will need every person and every institution.
“That day is drawing closer, but the people will no longer be there when one needs them. It’s like preparing soldiers for years to go to war, and on the crucial day, a day before the battle, one disarms them of their weapons.”