Among the reams of BBC coverage of the recent visit by Barack Obama to Israel was this article written by Wyre Davies of the BBC Jerusalem Bureau on March 20th 2013.
Readers will no doubt notice Davies’ decidedly bizarre assertions concerning Israeli democracy:
“A visit by the “leader of the free world” is always a big occasion, nowhere more so than Israel which increasingly sees itself as an isolated beacon of democracy in a troubled region.
That view is, of course, frequently challenged overseas and within Israel itself, but rarely in the United States.”
But it is the next part of Davies’ report which provides an excellent example of how a specific narrative can be crafted through omission.
“Three years ago, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly lectured President Obama about the realities of Middle Eastern politics, in his own office.
The president’s aides looked on ashen-faced and Mr Obama listened impassively as the Israeli leader tore into his assertion that a future Palestinian state should be based on the pre-1967 ceasefire lines.”
Davies is in fact referring back almost two years – to May 20th 2011 – the first day of a five-day visit by Israel’s prime minister to the United States. But what he neglects to mention is that on the previous day, as Netanyahu was about to embark on the journey to Washington, Obama delivered a speech of his own in which he stated that a future Palestinian state should be based on what he termed “the 1967 lines” – or as they are more accurately described; the 1949 Armistice agreement lines.
“The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. “
For Israelis – only too aware of the indefensible nature of those armistice lines and the fact that just eighteen years after they were drawn, Israel yet again faced the threat of annihilation from its neighbours – Obama’s declaration was seen as an American adoption of the Palestinian viewpoint, a hindrance to negotiations and back-tracking on the commitments made by Obama’s predecessor in 2004.
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
“I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.
Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.
So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. I discussed this with the President and I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.”
Wyre Davies, however, neglects to inform his readers of the context to Netanyahu’s words, instead reducing them to the superficial category of a spontaneous ‘lecture’ “in his own office”. Of course for readers to take something from Davies’ jaundiced account beyond the impression of Israeli rudeness (and worse) which he so deftly weaves, that context is vital. The failure to provide it can only be viewed as an attempt to shape a specific political narrative.