On December 31st the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Lyse Doucet – included an item (available here from 14:00) concerning the signing of the Rome Statute by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
Unfortunately for BBC audiences hoping to augment their understanding of that issue with accurate and impartial information, Lyse Doucet’s idea of ‘standard setting journalism’ proved to be nothing more than the provision of a platform for unhindered and unchallenged PA propaganda from Mohammed Shtayyeh. Doucet introduced the segment thus:
LD: “Let’s get more details now on our top story. In the last few hours the Palestinians have formally applied to join the International Criminal Court which could pave the way for the pursuit of alleged war crimes charges against Israel. The move has been strongly criticized by the Israelis as well as the United States which called the move deeply troubling. I’ve been speaking to Mohammed Shtayyeh; he’s a former Palestinian negotiator when there were negotiations with Israel. He’s a senior member of the Palestinian leadership. I asked him whether this marked a policy shift for the Palestinians.”
Mohammed Shtayyeh: “This is actually a paradigm shift. This is to show that the Palestinians are not victims of one option which is either negotiations or negotiations as the Israelis tried to put it for us. This is a strategic shift in which we are leaving the bi-lateral negotiations that has not been really the answer for ending the Israeli occupation that has occurred on the Palestinian territory in 1967. And we are seeking an international multi-lateral peaceful form which is the United Nations. Unfortunately, the United States has vote against us with the member states of the Security Council and therefore we are taking a different direction which is from the political track to a legal track. Signing the Rome Statute is enabling us to really take the Israeli leaders into international criminal courts because they have been committing really serious crimes against our people whether it is in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. And also we will be going to the ICJ – International Court of Justice – to really make a ruling vis-à-vis the Palestinian territories because the Israeli leadership is claiming that these territories are disputed territories rather than occupied territories. So therefore we are seeking every single option – peaceful option, I should say – that is enabling us to really put an end to this Israeli occupation and to the sufferings of our people.”
Doucet made no effort to inform listeners that Israel did not occupy “Palestinian territory” in 1967 or to clarify that the area concerned was in fact under Jordanian occupation (unopposed by the Palestinians) from 1948 until 1967.
Crucially, she also made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that the route of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by means of negotiations is not an Israeli invention as stated by Shtayyeh, but actually the product of existing contractual agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians and witnessed by members of the international community. Hence, listeners remained unaware of the significance of the current unilateral Palestinian moves in breach of that contract. Instead, Doucet continues:
LD: “What the United States has said, what Israel has said is that this is going to just escalate the tensions and what the Palestinians need is to negotiate for the achievement of their state with Israel and not with the United Nations.”
MS: “Well this is a totally unaccepted claim because we have been negotiating for twenty years or more. We have given the negotiations every single possibility and unfortunately the United States has not really made Netanyahu thirsty enough to bring him to the river to drink. And therefore Netanyahu has come to the negotiating table saturated with champagne rather than thirsty for peace so the United States has not really been able to oblige Israel to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory which was fully and totally eroding the geographical base for a future Palestinian state.”
That word is the entire sum of Doucet’s challenge to Shtayyeh’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of years of avoidance of serious negotiation by the PA. As former US negotiator Dennis Ross recently pointed out:
“Since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Bill Clinton’s parameters in 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts last year. In each case, a proposal on all the core issues was made to Palestinian leaders and the answer was either “no” or no response.”
Doucet also refrains from reminding listeners of the US initiated ten month-long building freeze of 2009/10 and that the Palestinians refrained from coming to the negotiating table for 90% of that period. Shtayyeh is then allowed to promote more falsehoods concerning the last round of negotiations during which three tranches of releases of convicted terrorists took place, with the fourth and final tranche postponed due to lack of progress in the negotiations and later cancelled because of unilateral Palestinian moves.
MS: “And Israel did not allow the release of the Palestinian prisoners which has been agreed upon and mediated by Secretary Kerry, so from our side we have given negotiations every possibility. Let me remind you of one little thing which is since the Madrid peace talks 1991 until today, the number of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories have grown up from 120,000 to 651,000 Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories living in 185 Jewish settlements. So those who want really us to go back to negotiations, we are ready to do so if they are able to ask Israel to totally freeze the construction of settlements both in the Palestinian territories – i.e. West Bank and Jerusalem.”
LD: “What the United States has said to you is why not wait until after the Israeli elections, which are only a few months away, before you make this kind of move.”
MS: “Fine. Let’s assume that we are waiting. The question for the United States that we are putting: what is going to happen after the elections? After the election they will tell us that there will be… you know, you have to wait…there will be a formation of the government, you know, this coalition is very fragile, wait and see, Netanyahu is in a bad situation. And then maybe United States in election mode because it is the third year of the term of the president. So we have been waiting. We are victims of this game of, you know, wait between elections of mid-term in Washington, presidential elections in Washington and then Israeli elections and so on. The problem is with waiting that is Israel waiting? Not implementing construction of settlements? Are the Israelis waiting for anything to happen? They are not. The problem is that they are creating fait accomplis [sic] on the ground every day. So why is it that we should wait? What are we going to wait for?”
This of course would have been an appropriate moment for Lyse Doucet to enquire about the long overdue Palestinian elections which were supposed to take place in January 2015 according to the terms of last year’s Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal but she declined to do so and closed the ‘interview’ instead.
Doucet’s failure to present any sort of serious challenge to the distortions and falsehoods promoted in Shtayyeh’s diatribe means that listeners did not actually get “more details on our top story”. In fact, the sole achievement of this item was to expose listeners worldwide to five minutes of uninterrupted PA propaganda which, rather than contributing anything towards meeting the BBC’s remit of informing audiences about international affairs, actively hindered their understanding of this particular issue and the wider topic of the Middle East peace process in general.
The PA’s own official media could not have done better.