The February 18th edition of the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ featured presenter Stephen Sackur once again interviewing the programme’s frequent flyer Saeb Erekat. The programme is available in the UK on BBC iPlayer and an audio version was also available from the BBC World Service for a limited period of time, along with a BBC World Service podcast. In addition, the first part of the interview was uploaded by the BBC to YouTube and featured on the BBC News website, as well as on the Hardtalk webpage.
Notably, Sackur made no attempt to challenge Erekat’s opening thinly veiled conspiracy theory-style accusation of Israeli influence over American foreign policy.
“And I really hope that John Kerry will move in the direction of what’s needed and not in the direction of what’s possible. What’s possible in American foreign policy means what the prime minister of Israel can do and what he cannot do and that’s why we always reach dead-end in this [sic] attempts in the past. I hope that John Kerry will move in the direction of what’s needed and put on the table what’s needed for a two-state solution on 1967.”
But Sackur’s failure to challenge Erekat’s serial falsehoods becomes even more apparent in the rest of the interview; the parts not as enthusiastically distributed and promoted by the BBC. Sackur asks Erekat if the PLO will be prepared to continue talks after the end of April.
SS: “They’re [the Americans] suggesting, yes, they will put some ideas out there, but there will be a lot of talking that will have to happen after the end of April. What’s your position? Are you saying it’s the end of April or bust?”
Erekat: “If the Israeli government succeeds in foiling Kerry’s efforts, then why would you extend the negotiations after 29th of April? That’s the big question. As you said, the deal was, is that we enter these negotiations for 9 months, covers all permanent status issues, no interim agreements…err.. and then the Israeli behaviour since that time – since the beginning of the negotiations – I think they introduce 10,500 housing units, killed 41 Palestinians, demolished 219 homes, escalated their attacks on Palestinians and they haven’t been preparing their people for what it takes to have John Kerry succeed.”
Sackur refrains from asking Erekat how many of those “10,500 housing units” exist only on paper, or how many of the Palestinians killed between the end of July 2013 and the present were involved in terrorist activity or how many of the demolished structures were built illegally. He of course fails to offer audiences any balancing information on the subject of how many Israelis were killed in the same period or how many terror attacks and missile attacks took place or to question Erekat on the subjects of PA sponsored incitement and glorification of terror and how the PA leaders are “preparing their people” for peace. Erekat continues:
“I haven’t heard any Israeli official – Prime Minister Netanyahu or any of his ministers – speak about two-state solution on 1967 lines. As a matter of fact I haven’t heard any of their government officials say that we need two states on the 1967 lines – one 1967. I haven’t heard this. So if they want to continue this line of dictations and settlements rather than peace and negotiations, why should we extend it for one minute after the 29th of April?”
Sackur fails to clarify to audiences what a “two-state solution on 1967 lines” actually means and why Israeli policy is not in line with that Palestinian demand. He then goes on to ask Erekat if the PLO is prepared to recognise Israel as the Jewish state, to which Erekat replies:
“Well, Stephen, the name of the State of Israel is the State of Israel. As much as you have a birth certificate of your own, Israel has a birth certificate of its own and the name registered at the UN is the State of Israel. And no – I will tell you very frankly – I will not change my narrative. I will not change my history. I will not change my religion. I’m the son of Jericho…”
Sackur does robustly challenge those statements.
“But you’re going to have to change your narrative because your narrative at the moment is one of diplomatic failure, conflict, hatred and a running sore which leaves the Palestinian people without a state, without economic development. You need to change the narrative and if that requires you to recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people and therefore, of course, a fundamental compromise on your part in terms of the right of return of those Palestinians and ancestors of those who lost their homes in 1948, so be it. It’s time to do it, isn’t it?”
Erekat’s notably personalised response is delivered in near-hysterical tones.
“What else? Now you want Israel as Jewish state? You want me to give up on East Jerusalem as my capital as Netanyahu says? He wants me to give up on my independence and sovereignty because he wants to stay instead of Palestine and his army for years to come. Well if that’s what he has in mind, he can make peace with himself and dictate on the – this will not happen. My narrative here is that, as you said, I’ve been trying to make peace and save lives of Israelis and Palestinians and change the status quo towards the two-state solution, towards [unintelligible] between Palestinians and Israelis for the last 20 years. And those who failed me are those who continued with the settlement activities and dictations and the fait accompli policies. That’s number one.
Number two: my narrative is I’m the son of Jericho. I’m the proud son of Jericho. My home town this year is 10,000 years old. The Natufians built this town. I’m their ancestor. I’m their grandchild. I’m this grandchild of the Canaanites. It’s my narrative, it’s my story, it’s my religion. I was here thousands of years before Yoshua Bin Nun came and burnt my home town Jericho. So why should I say that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people? I recognise the State of Israel right to exist…”
At that point Erekat is interrupted by Sackur, but the latter makes no attempt whatsoever to relieve BBC audiences of the inaccurate impressions created by Erekat’s “narrative”. Of course this is not the first time that the PLO’s chief negotiator has fabricated history: he promoted the same myth at the Munich security conference just a couple of weeks before this Hardtalk interview. According to a BBC profile of Erekat, he was born in Jerusalem (specifically the Abu Dis neighbourhood) but Sackur does not challenge his self-made redefinition as a “son of Jericho” or question him as to the fluidity of his “narrative” which allows him to also claim to be “a Bedouin, an Arab and a Jordanian” when interviewed by an Arab media outlet.
Erekat’s casual relationship with facts is of course notorious: he was after all the man who played a big part in persuading the Western media – including the BBC – that a ‘massacre’ had taken place in Jenin in 2002. But there is much more to Erekat’s ‘Canaanite’ claims than just historical incompetence; the negation of Jewish history and the promotion of a supposedly equally relevant narrative is part and parcel of the PA’s policy and tactics – and one which should have been exposed to BBC audiences if the corporation is to meet its obligation to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.
The remainder of the interview will be discussed in part two of this post.