No BBC coverage of Abbas’ PLO resignation

Even for an organization which serially avoids serious coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, the BBC’s failure to report on a recent story coming out of Ramallah is remarkable – especially as it is obviously aware of events.

Abbas resig PLO Rushdi tweet

As readers are no doubt aware, eighty year-old Mahmoud Abbas presides over three bodies: he is president of the Fatah party, president of the Palestinian Authority (although his elected mandate expired long ago) and chair of the executive committee of the PLO. According to reports disputed by some, Abbas resigned from that latter post on August 22nd, together with several other committee members. What prompted that apparent move is explained in an article by Khaled Abu Toameh:

“Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri said that, if true, the resignations are merely an attempt to “reengineer” the PLO and its institutions after more than 20 years of “negligence.”

The entire move, he said, was simply made to replace some members of the Executive Committee.

“These are not real resignations,” Masri explained.

“Those who reportedly submitted their resignations have no intention to leave. They just want to use the resignations to call for an extraordinary meeting of the Palestinian National Council in accordance with Article 14 of the Palestinian Basic Law.””

The Palestinian National Council – the PLO’s legislative body and highest authority – has not held a regular session since 1996. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are of course not members of the PLO but the former had been slated to join that body according to the ill-fated Hamas-Fatah ‘unity agreement’ of 2014. Khaled Abu Toameh again:

“Hamas responded to the reports [of the resignations]by describing what happened in Ramallah as a “play,” calling the move “invalid,” because it did not take into consideration efforts to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Musa Abu Marzook, a senior Hamas official, said the purported resignations were designed to pave the way for allowing Abbas to have exclusive control over the decision- making process.”

Ghaith al-Omari has more about the broader significance of this story the BBC apparently did not find any interest in covering.

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ provides propaganda platform for Erekat yet again

The last thing that can be said about the PLO’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is that he suffers from a lack of BBC airtime but nevertheless, the end of May saw him back at one of his regular spots – ‘Hardtalk‘.Erekat Hardtalk May 2015

Not only did Erekat have nothing new to tell host Zeinab Badawi, he even recycled statements made during previous appearances on the same programme. At 10:32 in the video below, Erekat says:

“See, in my opinion Christian and Muslim Palestinians will not convert to Judaism and become Israelis. Jews will not convert to Islam and Christianity and become Palestinians.”

If that sounds familiar, that may be because only last year Erekat made a very similar statement during a previous ‘Hardtalk’ interview.

“Are Christian and Muslim Palestinians going to convert to become Israelis? Or are Jews going to convert to Christianity and Islam and become Palestinians? This is not happen.” 

And if it rang a bell even in 2014, that could be because back in 2011 Erekat told Zeinab Badawi in yet another ‘Hardtalk’ interview:

“I don’t think Christian and Muslim Palestinians would convert to Judaism and become Israelis. I don’t think that Jews would convert to Islam and Christianity and become Palestinian.”

In other words, for four years at least Saeb Erekat has been pushing the same broken record mantra and not one BBC journalist has bothered to follow it up by informing audiences that not all Israelis are Jews – as the country’s two million strong non-Jewish population (25.1%) indicates – or by asking him why Jews cannot be citizens of a Palestinian state.

Let’s take look at some of the other falsehoods propagated by Erekat – with no disturbance from Badawi – in this programme.

“I have as a Palestinian recognized the State of Israel’s right to exist on the ’67 borders.”

“We recognize them to live in peace and security in the ’67 borders – that’s 78% of historic British mandated Palestine – and accepted to establish our state in the remaining 22% of the land.”

There is of course no such thing as “’67 borders” because the 1949 Armistice Lines were specifically defined as not being borders – as even the BBC’s style guide notes. Nevertheless, Badawi makes no effort to clarify the point to viewers.

“In one week of his government he [Netanyahu] issues more than two thousand housing units of settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They’re moving their offices – his ministers – to occupied East Jerusalem and today, literally speaking, there are buses in Israel that Palestinians cannot use. They call it sterilized buses and there will be roads that they call sterilized roads.”

Those “East Jerusalem” apartments are in fact located in Ramat Shlomo and have been going through the planning process since 2010. One Israeli minister has approached the Finance Ministry with a request for new offices in Jerusalem. The same ministry has a long existing office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem: an area which was classified as no-man’s land throughout the 19 years of the Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem. There are no “sterilized buses” and the restriction on travel for PA registered vehicles on certain small sections of road arises from the very real security issues which of course do not get a mention in this programme at all.

“I’m telling the Israelis if you worry about courts, stop committing crimes. […] I cannot have every two years 12,000 Palestinians killed and wounded in Gaza. I cannot leave the continuation of the settlement activities, by-pass roads – now they call sterilized road – sterilized buses. I cannot continue living a deeper apartheid system in the West Bank and East Jerusalem than the one that existed in South Africa. So what I’m telling the Israelis wake up, wake up. What you’re doing in the West Bank in accordance with the international law – the four Geneva Conventions and the 4th Convention of 1949 – are war crimes.”

Like the vast majority of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria, Saeb Erekat lives under full Palestinian Authority control. The topic of Palestinian self-rule in areas A&B is of course not mentioned at any point in this programme either and Badawi sits idly by as Erekat promotes the false and defamatory notion of a system of ‘apartheid’ worse “than the one that existed in South Africa”.

“I know I have an agreed agenda with them, signed by the Israeli government, saying that permanent status negotiations issues are borders, Jerusalem, water, security. Is Mr Netanyahu willing to utter the sentence two states on the 1967 lines? […] Is he willing to carry out his commitment – not condition – to stop settlement activities in the land that’s supposed to be the State of Palestine?”

“What is between me and the Israelis are elements of contracts, agreements signed. There are obligations emanating from those agreements signed – on me as a Palestinian and on Israel. And Israel must stop settlement activities and must accept two states on 1967 lines and must accept to sit with me to delineate the borders on the basis of the 1967 lines. If they’re willing to honour their commitments we’ll meet tomorrow.”

The “agreements” and “contracts” signed between the Palestinians and Israel are the Oslo Accords. In contrast to the misleading impression given to viewers of this programme, nowhere in those agreements is any restriction placed on building in Israeli towns and villages in Judea & Samaria or Jerusalem and nowhere do they state that the 1949 Armistice Lines – or “67 lines” as Erekat calls them – would be the final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state. That, of course, is precisely why the subject of borders is one of the issues to be discussed in final status negotiations.

“We’re willing to engage seriously on the basis of the agreed terms of reference specified in the Quartet’s statements saying that negotiations should be on the basis of two states on 1967.”

The Quartet’s February 2015 statement makes no mention of “1967” and neither does its 2003 roadmap stipulate that Erekat’s much-touted “1967 lines” are a basis for negotiations.

“The fact that Palestine became and has gained the legal status for observer state meant that it’s a state under occupation. The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is identified as now as a Higher [sic] Contracting Party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. […] Palestine has a status of a state under occupation like what countries like Norway, Belgium, Holland, France, Korea, the Philippines were in the Second World War under German and Japanese occupation [Badawi: sure, sure…] so the Israelis cannot say it’s disputed territories…”

Legal experts contacted by BBC Watch in connection with Erekat’s claim that the 2012 granting of the status of UN non-member observer state automatically confers High Contracting Party status advised us that “neither joining the Geneva Conventions nor receiving observer status in the General Assembly are procedures for assigning territorial sovereignty, and neither action could give “Palestine” sovereignty over the territory of “West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.”

“Zeinab, settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem are illegal settlements. Actually, in accordance with the 4th Geneva Convention these settlements are war crimes.”

That inaccuracy is reinforced by Badawi at 07:45:

“And of course, as you say, international law says that the settlements are illegal.

Once again the BBC breaches its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions which disagree with the politically partial line it chooses to promote.

Were viewers of this programme provided with factual information which would aid them in building an “understanding of international issues“? Regrettably, no. Were they provided with unchallenged misinformation in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality? Unfortunately, yes. That, however, is par for the course in any BBC content featuring Saeb Erekat.

Related Articles:

 BBC’s Hardtalk provides platform for Saeb Erekat’s fabricated histories – part one

BBC’s Hardtalk provides platform for Saeb Erekat’s fabricated histories – part two

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PA honours for murderers ignored by the BBC

As regular readers will be aware, the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism is one which remains – along with incitement and the funding of convicted terrorists – consistently unreported by the BBC.No news

It therefore came as no surprise to see that the BBC’s regional correspondents avoided the following story altogether.

On May 9th the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported that:

“Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs [and PA Parliament Member] Issa Karake…  [visited the] families of prisoners sentenced to life, together with a delegation of the commission.[…] Karake awarded plaques of honor to the prisoners’ families.”

The three prisoners whose families were officially honoured are serving sentences for their part in the October 2000 lynching of two Israeli reservists – Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami – in Ramallah.

As has been noted here in the past, a number of inaccurate BBC reports on that incident are still available on the BBC News website.

Whilst the BBC on the one hand devotes considerable amounts of airtime and column space to the topic of the ‘peace process’, on the other hand it systematically avoids informing its audiences about such examples of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism, despite their being a crucial part of the story it claims to tell.

 

BBC News website corrects an error, leaves another standing

Back in early March we noted here that a BBC report on a terror attack in Jerusalem misled readers with regard to the PLO’s previously adopted recommendation to halt security coordination with Israel.

“The article implies to readers that there is some kind of linkage between this latest terror attack and the unrelated topic of the PLO’s recent call for a halt to security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The incident came shortly after Palestinian officials voted to halt security co-operation with Israel. […]

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) decided to suspend co-operation, part of 1993 peace accords with Israel, at a meeting on Thursday night.”

The BBC fails, however, to clarify to readers that the PLO’s decision does not have any practical effect at this stage.

“A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel Radio that the council’s decision was a recommendation only. Another Palestinian official said that Abbas must issue a presidential order ending the security cooperation with Israel.””

Several days later, on March 13th, the BBC amended the wording of that part of the article and added the following footnote.

footnote 13 3

Unfortunately, the lack of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website means that it is unlikely that those who read the original version of the report would have returned to it a week after publication and seen that footnote. One must therefore once again ask the BBC what exactly is the point of amendments and corrections to reports appearing on its website if no effort is made to ensure that audiences receive the corrected version?

Notably the inaccurate and no less misleading graphic appearing in the same report which leads readers to believe that there is such a thing as a “1967 ceasefire line” running through Jerusalem was not corrected.

Pigua Jlem map

 

Superficial ‘analysis’ of PLO’s call to end security cooperation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly

March 5th saw the appearance of a report on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the dramatic title “PLO to end historic Israeli security agreement” which opened by informing readers that:PLO security coordination

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has decided to end a security co-operation agreement with Israel which dates back to the Oslo Accords of 1993.”

The report further stated:

“The PLO is the representative body for Palestinians and its decisions are binding for the Palestinian Authority. [….]

On Thursday the PLO said its executive committee would meet to implement the decision taken at the central council’s meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.[…]

Palestinian sources say that the decision is final […]”

However, the ‘done deal’ picture presented by the BBC would appear to be premature and misleading. The Times of Israel notes that:

“A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel Radio that the council’s decision was a recommendation only. Another Palestinian official said that Abbas must issue a presidential order ending the security cooperation with Israel.”

And in addition to the fact that in the meantime security coordination apparently continues as normal, PA officials have reportedly stated that:

“…President Mahmoud Abbas will not cut off security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank until after Israeli national elections on March 17 and only if another Netanyahu-led government refuses to transfer tax funds to the PA…”

Of course this is far from the first time that such a move has been threatened by various Palestinian officials: the same thing happened last month, last year and on numerous other occasions in the past. And that is all the more reason why the BBC should be able to provide its audiences with informative and relevant analysis on the topic of what such a move would mean for the Palestinian Authority and for the ordinary people living under its control.

Instead, readers of this article got the following analysis from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

PLO security art analysis

Whilst parroting the Hamas line and claiming that an end to security cooperation would “be a blow to Israeli security”, Connolly notably avoids all discussion of the potential effects of such a decision on day-to-day issues such as the number of security checkpoints (which have been dramatically reduced in recent years) and on the wider subject of the chances of the Palestinian Authority’s survival without Israeli security cooperation. As Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in January of this year:

“Abbas is lucky that the Israeli security forces are still operating in the West Bank, including inside cities and towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Were it not for the IDF and various branches of the Israeli security establishment, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Islamic State would have toppled the Palestinian Authority and beheaded Abbas and his officials a long time ago.”

And as the same writer noted last September:

“Abbas will be able to rein in Hamas in the West Bank only if he pursues security coordination with Israel. […]

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would not be able to survive for one day in the West Bank without the presence of the IDF, especially given Hamas’s rising popularity among Palestinians in the aftermath of the war.”

Whether or not the Palestinian president (who of course also heads the PLO and its largest faction Fatah – although the BBC neglects to mention that in its report) will eventually issue that presidential order to end security cooperation with Israel remains to be seen but if he does not, BBC audiences will remain unaware of the factors lying behind that decision and if he does, they will be ill-informed with regard to that choice’s effects on future regional developments.  

BBC News recycles three year old factual failures in Abu Nidal report

On March 4th the BBC News website published a report on its Europe page titled “Rue des Rosiers: France seeks three men for 1982 attack“.Abu Nidal art 2015

The report relates to the issue of arrest warrants for three men suspected of having been among those responsible for the terror attack on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant in Paris in which six people were killed and 22 wounded. The wording used by the BBC to describe both the Abu Nidal Organisation, on behalf of which the suspects allegedly carried out the terror attack, and the attack itself conforms to the corporation’s usual template of avoidance of the use of the word terror. [emphasis added]

“A judge in France has issued arrest warrants for three people suspected of being behind a deadly attack on a Jewish restaurant in Paris in 1982.

The men, believed to be former members of a radical Palestinian group, have been identified 33 years after the Rue des Rosiers assault.” […]

“Two of the wanted suspects are believed to have been the gunmen who stormed the Jo-Goldenberg restaurant and delicatessen on 9 August 1982 …” […]

“The third suspect, a 64-year-old living in Jordan, is suspected of having a commanding role in the attack, Paris Match said. Other reports gave different ages for the men.

The three men are said to have belonged to a group led by Palestinian militant Abu Nidal, which was active in the 1970-80s.” […]

Right at the end of the report, readers are informed that:

“Abu Nidal – whose real name was Sabri Banna – died in Iraq in 2002, reportedly committing suicide.

For decades he was regarded as a terrorist and a wanted man – inside the mainstream Palestinian community as much as in the world at large.” [emphasis added]

The Abu Nidal Organisation was not merely “regarded” but in fact officially designated a terrorist organization by the EU, the US and Israel. The approach adopted by “the mainstream Palestinian community”, as it is termed by the BBC, was not however the result of a similar view of the terror attacks carried out by the organization as readers may understand from the phrasing of that sentence, but in fact stemmed from internal disputes.

“After the attack on the Saudi Embassy in Paris, Abu Nidal effectively split with Mr. Arafat, and began trying to take over Al Fatah by forming his own group called Fatah Revolutionary Council. This split was formalized in June 1974 after Mr. Arafat pushed a resolution through the Palestine National Council, the P.L.O.’s parliament, authorizing the P.L.O. to establish a state ”on any Palestinian territory that is liberated.”

In October 1974, Abu Nidal dispatched a ”hit team” to Damascus to assassinate Mr. Arafat and the P.L.O. treasurer, Abu Mazen. The team was captured by Syrian and P.L.O. guards. The P.L.O held a trial and sentenced Abu Nidal to death in absentia for attempting to kill the P.L.O. chairman.”

The BBC report also informs readers that:

“The Abu Nidal group is blamed for a series of attacks across the world, which left at least 900 people dead.”

Readers are not informed of the origin of that cited number of casualties, but most sources (for example the CFR, TRAC and Israeli terrorism expert Ariel Merari) put the number of people murdered by the Abu Nidal organization at around 300 and some – including most media organisations – cite the number 900 as an estimate of the total number of people killed or injured by that terrorist organization.Abu Nidal art 2012

Interestingly, that same unsourced number – together with some of the same phrasing used in this latest report – can also be found in a previous BBC report from March 2012 which appears as a link in the sidebar.

“The Abu Nidal group is blamed for a series of attacks across the world, which left at least 900 people dead.

Abu Nidal – whose real name was Sabri Banna – died in Iraq in 2002, reportedly committing suicide.

For decades he was regarded as a terrorist and a wanted man – inside the mainstream Palestinian community as much as in the world at large.”

Clearly fact checking did not take place before that three year old information was recycled.

BBC News website invents ‘1967 ceasefire lines’ in Jerusalem

On the morning of March 6th a terror attack took place in Jerusalem.

“Five people were injured Friday morning in a car-ramming terror attack near a Jerusalem Light Rail station in the north of the city. Four of the wounded were young border policewomen, in their twenties, and the fifth was a civilian bicycle rider in his fifties

A Palestinian man in a private vehicle hit the five as they stood on a sidewalk. He was identified as Mohammad Salima, 21, from east Jerusalem’s Ras al-Amud. After the car attack, he then emerged from the vehicle with a butcher’s knife and attempted to stab passersby, but was swiftly shot and incapacitated by a Border Policeman and a Light Rail security guard at the scene.”

BBC News website reporting on the incident began soon after it took place.

Pigua Jlem 6 3

pigua Jlem on HP

BBC News website Middle East page, 6/3/15

The article underwent numerous changes as the day progressed and it currently appears on the website’s Middle East page under the title “Jerusalem: Israeli police hit in Palestinian car attack” where it is presented together with a short filmed report (also shown on BBC television news) headlined “Jerusalem attack: Driver rams car into pedestrians“.

The current version of the written report opens by informing readers that:

“A Palestinian has rammed his car into a group of Israeli pedestrians in Jerusalem, injuring six policewomen, police say.”

Predictably, the BBC refrains from clarifying the nature of the incident to readers in its own words, instead using the following phrasing:

“Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described it as a “terrorist attack”, adding that the injured officers are in a “light, moderate condition” in hospital.”

A photograph used to illustrate the report is captioned:

“Police have called the incident a “terror attack”.”

Pigua Jlem photo

Likewise, whilst the report notes that a previous attack took place at the same location last November, it fails to adequately clarify that it and another attack close by on October 22nd 2014 were carried out by perpetrators with links to terrorist organisations.Pigua Jlem filmed 

“It happened on the seam of East and West Jerusalem, on the same junction as a previous attack last year. […]

Last year, Palestinian militants killed three Israelis and an Ecuadorian woman in attacks using vehicles in Jerusalem as tensions soared between Israel and the Palestinians.”

An additional victim of the November 5th attack whom the BBC fails to mention – Jerusalem resident Abd al-Karim Nafith Hamid – died on December 7th.

The article implies to readers that there is some kind of linkage between this latest terror attack and the unrelated topic of the PLO’s recent call for a halt to security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The incident came shortly after Palestinian officials voted to halt security co-operation with Israel. […]

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) decided to suspend co-operation, part of 1993 peace accords with Israel, at a meeting on Thursday night.”Pigua Jlem written

The BBC fails, however, to clarify to readers that the PLO’s decision does not have any practical effect at this stage.

“A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel Radio that the council’s decision was a recommendation only. Another Palestinian official said that Abbas must issue a presidential order ending the security cooperation with Israel.”

With regard to the location of the attack, in addition to describing it as having taken place “on the seam of East and West Jerusalem”, the article adds:

“Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised internationally.

It regards the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible” capital, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.”

Included in the article is a BBC-produced map of the location of the attack in which the 1949 Armistice Lines are inaccurately – and absurdly, given the above text – represented as the “1967 ceasefire line”.

Pigua Jlem map

One might have thought that the BBC’s incessant promotion of “East Jerusalem” would at least ensure geographical and historical accuracy.

 

Why did BBC News cut the word terror from the headline of an article about a terrorism trial?

On February 23rd the BBC News website published a report on both its US & Canada and Middle East pages about the verdict issued by a New York court finding the Palestinian Authority and the PLO liable for a number of terror attacks which took place during the second Intifada.

That decidedly minimalist BBC report was originally headlined “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel terror fine in US”. By the time its third version was published some three hours later, the word terror had been removed from the headline and the article now appears under the title “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel attacks fine in US“.PA PLO trial art

Remarkably, in a report about the outcome of a court case entirely about terrorism, that word does not appear at all.

The first two versions of the article failed to inform readers that the damages awarded would be tripled according to US law, as explained by the NYT:

“The damages are to be $655.5 million, under a special terrorism law that provides for tripling the $218.5 million awarded by the jury in Federal District Court.”

From version three onwards the words “The US Anti-Terrorism Act could yet allow for the fine to be tripled” were added to the BBC’s report but no further clarification was offered to readers unfamiliar with US legislation.

Critically, the article fails to clarify to readers what the Palestinian Authority and the PLO actually are; instead repeating the use of the ambiguous phrase “Palestinian groups” seen in the headline.

“A US court in New York has found the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority liable for attacks in Israel over 10 years ago.

Six attacks in and around Jerusalem killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more during the second Palestinian intifada between 2002 and 2004.

The jury awarded victims of the attacks more than $218m.

The Palestinian groups expressed dismay at the court’s decision and vowed they would appeal.”

Hence, the significance of the fact that the de facto Palestinian government (the PA) and the PLO (the body which is recognised as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’ by over a hundred countries worldwide and the UN and which officially represents the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel) have been found liable in a court of law for terror attacks against civilians is obscured from the view of BBC audiences.

The article also uses the tactic of ‘false balance‘, presenting highly edited versions of statements made by the defendants and claims made by their representatives on an equal platform with what had at the time of writing already been accepted by the court.

“A joint statement by the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) described the charges as “baseless” and said they were disappointed by the ruling.

The victims’ families allege that internal documents show the attacks were approved by the Palestinian authorities.

“Those involved in the attacks still receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority and still get promoted in rank while in jail,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel-based Shurat HaDin Law Center, a lawyer who is representing the victims’ families.

But defence lawyer Mark Rochon told jurors that the PA and PLO did not have knowledge of the attacks before they took place.

And he said the organisations could not be held liable for the actions of suicide bombers and gunmen, whom he argued acted alone.”

Of course the BBC has consistently refrained from carrying out any serious reporting on the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s past and current provision of funding to terrorists and their families past and present. Likewise, the subject of the PA’s glorification of terrorism is a no-go area for BBC journalists and BBC content typically avoids the issue of Yasser Arafat’s role in instigating and financing the second Intifada.

Had BBC audiences been accurately and impartially informed of those issues over the years, they would clearly be in a better position to understand the outcome of this court case and to place the quoted claims from the defence lawyer in their correct context. Significantly, no effort is made in this BBC report to rectify that situation. 

 

BBC WS Newshour enables the Schabas show

On the same day that the BBC News website published its selectively framed report on the resignation of William Schabas from the position of chair of the UN HRC commission of inquiry (established in July 2014 before the conflict between Hamas and Israel had even come to an end), the BBC World Service Radio programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast a five-minute long item on the same story.Newshour 3 2 15

That entire item (from 37:33 here) was devoted to the provision of a platform for Schabas to promote his version of events. Presenter Tim Franks introduced it as follows:

“The Israeli government has called on the UN Human Rights Council to scrap its inquiry into last year’s Gaza-Israel conflict. The Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the demand after the Chairman of the commission of inquiry handed in his resignation on Monday. William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, stepped down after Israel had complained that in 2012 he’d offered legal advice to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Earlier, Professor Schabas came into the Newshour studio.”

William Schabas: “Israel has been attacking me since the day…since the minute…I was appointed, claiming that I show appearance of bias or that I’m biased and that campaign has continued. A few weeks ago they announced that they were organizing their attack on the report of the commission and that personal attacks on me would be an important part of that.”

Schabas is not asked to provide a credible source for that latter claim and Franks fails to inform listeners that criticism of Schabas’ appointment has also come from many non-Israeli sources. Schabas continues:

“About a week ago – or more than that – they formulated a complaint to the Human Rights Council asking formally for my removal and that was discussed last night by the executive of the Human Rights Council and they decided to follow up on the complaint and to investigate it. So what that means is that there’s an investigation ongoing into my alleged lack of impartiality.”

TF: “What – just to be clear – you did paid work for the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, back in 2013: is that right?”

WS: “Twelve.”

TF: “2012.”

WS: “I did a…I was asked as an international lawyer to provide a legal opinion to the Palestine Liberation Organisation about the International Criminal Court. I did that. I have done lots of work for governments. They call me and ask me for legal opinions and they pay me for them and sometimes, if they don’t want to bother, they read my books and they do it even in Israel.”

Franks refrains from inquiring whether the $1,300 fee Schabas charged the PLO for that seven-page legal opinion is the going rate for all governments seeking his advice.  He continues:

TF: “Sure, but as a lawyer you will know that it’s not just about justice being done – it’s about justice being seen to be done. There at least could be the perception of a conflict of interests; the fact that you had done work for the PLO.”

WS: “Well that appears to be the conclusion – that there’s an issue there. As I say it’s probably on the scale of things that they’ve been criticizing me about not the major event. So in any case, they’ve decided to investigate this.”

TF: “Why had you not declared that you’d done this?”

WS: Well when I was appointed by the Human Rights Council I was called up and asked if I wanted to do it and then the next thing they know I was appointed. So I wasn’t asked to make a long disclosure or anything. I have a long list of things that I’ve done – writings about Palestine, speeches and all of that. That wouldn’t be at the top of the list. There would be a long list and they knew about it. Everybody knew about it.”

In fact, in his previously submitted unsuccessful application for the post of ‘Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967’ in 2013, Schabas had also failed to declare his paid work for the PLO in 2012.  Refraining from joining the obvious dots between Schabas’ claim that “everybody knew” about his record of anti-Israel statements and activities, the fact that – according to him – he was not required by the UN HRC to declare any conflict of interests and his appointment to the post nonetheless, Franks continues:

TF: “A long list – what – of your views on Israel?”

WS: “Views, engagement in one way or another; participating in events and so on. So that was not a secret to anybody.”

TF: “OK. And just for new readers here, to – I mean – if I can summarise that it would be that you’ve been strongly critical of the Israeli government policy and strongly supportive of the Palestinians over the past few years. Would that be a reasonable summary?”

WS: “As a brief summary – my views in the past – that’s fair enough.”

Schabas’ on-record remarks of course go far beyond Tim Franks’ tepid description: “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza?” is not by any stretch of the imagination criticism of “Israeli government policy”, not least because the president of Israel has no role in determining government policy.

Franks then goes on to ask whether or not the inquiry will have to start from scratch in light of Schabas’ resignation, to which his interviewee replies in the negative before going on to describe what the commission has done so far. Schabas says:

“We made solemn affirmations to be independent and impartial and I believe we conducted ourselves. We’ve surprised many people. Netanyahu even today was saying why are they only looking at Israel – why don’t they look at Hamas? They should be looking at Hamas. And everybody in Israel knows we did look at Hamas.”

Franks makes no effort to clarify to listeners that the mandate of the commission of inquiry set up by the UN HRC was biased and politically motivated by definition, with its start date defined as one day after the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hamas-funded terror cell and its geographic stipulations excluding “violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in Israel – such as missile fire at civilian targets.

“Decides to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults, and to report to the Council at its twenty-eighth session.” [emphasis added]

Schabas – who is on record as stating that it would be “inappropriate” for him to answer the question of whether or not he considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization – continues:

“We’ve had witnesses – victims – from inside Israel who travelled – had to travel – to Geneva. One poor man who’d lost his legs – blown off by a mortar – and he had to make that long, painful trip to Geneva to meet us because they wouldn’t let us go and see him at his kibbutz in southern Israel where we wanted to go because they wouldn’t let us into the country.”

In contrast to the impression perhaps received by listeners, the seven-person Israeli delegation to Geneva was not organized by Schabas and his commission, but by the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

Schabas ends the item by complimenting himself on the commission’s treatment of the Israeli delegation.

“The Israeli victims who came to meet with us in Geneva came back – I think pleasantly surprised is the way to describe them – with the dignity in which they were…and the welcome and the way they were treated and the genuine interest that three commissioners – not just myself but the others – had in learning about their victimization because there are victims on all sides of the fence in this conflict.”

Clearly listeners to the BBC World Service learned very little about the all-important background to the story of Schabas’ resignation from this item. Schabas’ record of anti-Israel statements and activism is blurred by Franks and misleadingly presented as criticism of Israeli government policy. Schabas is given a platform from which to promote himself as a victim of Israeli “attacks” whilst the much more important topic of the political motivations which lie behind mandate he accepted with his appointment – and the implications for the objectivity and relevance of the report which will be produced in his absence – is completely avoided.

Once again the BBC has failed in its mission to “build a global understanding of international issues”. 

BBC continues to mislead audiences on issue of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Much of the BBC’s reporting on the issue of the recent Palestinian Authority’s unilateral moves at the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court has framed those moves as being a legitimate alternative to direct talks and has promoted the notion that negotiations between the parties are a means of solving the conflict demanded and imposed by Israel.Marcus art

On January 7th an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Obama’s five key Middle East battlegrounds in 2015“. In that article Marcus also used the above theme:

“An early test of Mr Obama’s thinking may be how he responds to the Palestinians’ determination to pursue their quest for statehood by seeking membership of a variety of international organisations.

This runs against the basic Israeli and US position that the only way to peace is through direct talks between the parties themselves.”

Of course the principle according to which the conflict must be solved by means of negotiations is by no means merely an “Israeli and US position”: it is a principle to which the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people signed up over twenty-one years ago when Yasser Arafat sent his September 1993 letter to Yitzhak Rabin in which he stated:

“The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.” [emphasis added]

Arafat 1993 letter

That same principle of direct negotiations underpins both the Oslo I and Oslo II agreements – also signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people and, no less importantly, witnessed and guaranteed by Jordan, the US, Egypt, Russia, Norway and the EU and endorsed by the UN.

Hence, when the BBC fails to inform audiences that the principle of conflict resolution by means of direct negotiations alone is not just an Israeli or American caprice but actually the mainstay of the existing agreements to which the Palestinians are party and the international community guarantors, it deliberately hinders audience understanding of the significance of the PA’s breach of those existing agreements by means of unilateral moves designed to bypass negotiations.

If the BBC is to fulfil its obligations to its funding public, it must begin to present this topic accurately and impartially.