Ramallah - The entire Arab world will be watching the election results Sunday night (January 9), and they'll be getting them from Walid Omari, the bureau chief for Al-Jazeera TV in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
A tall and husky man in charge of 14 staff and correspondents in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Omari is busy these days arranging camera locations for the big night. Of all the media agencies in the region, Al-Jazeera has the most resources - and the most viewers.
And it's been giving the election lots of play. "It's a very big story," Omari says over coffee as the fancy flat-screen TV in the corner of his office carries Al-Jazeera, and various cellphones on his desk sound intermittently, each with a different ring.
"It's the most important election ever held in the Arab world," the closest thing to a fair and democratic vote for a head of government.
Besides Al-Jazeera's endowments, Omari has another considerable advantage - he's an Arab citizen of Israel, which means that he can travel freely between the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, something other Palestinians cannot do. But his Israeli citizenship is also the source of slurs that he's soft on the Jewish state's preferred candidate, Mahmoud Abbas.
Not so, Omari says. Abbas does get more coverage, he says, but that's because he's Arafat's successor and head of the PLO. Omari says he's gotten grief from all quarters - Hamas, the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority itself, which has had him detained and temporarily shut Al-Jazeera's Ramallah office a few years back when it aired an unflattering documentary on Arafat.
But it's an indication of the sad lack of journalistic freedom in the Arab world that it's in the Palestinian territories, occupied by Israel and torn by violence, where reporters have the most leeway.
"We can move, we can shoot, we can do what we want. No one will ask you what you're doing," he says. "But in other Arab countries you need special permission for that. The times are changing, and we (Al-Jazeera) are trying to widen the edge of freedom in the Arab countries, not only for the press but for everyone."