As was to be expected, with the announcement of the death of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres on the morning of September 28th came a plethora of BBC reports.
The BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted a clip from a 2013 interview (the full version of which was previously discussed here and here) with Peres by Lyse Doucet under the title “Former Israeli President Shimon Peres has died“.
Visitors to the BBC News website found several articles including “Chief rabbi pays tribute to former Israel PM Shimon Peres” and “Shimon Peres: Tributes from around the world“.
In an article by former BBC Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Connolly which also appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Shimon Peres: Long legacy of Israel’s elder statesman” audiences were told that:
“As times changed over the course of his long political life, Shimon Peres in many ways changed with them.
The man who had been a member of a government that approved the building of Jewish settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 war came to see them as an obstacle to a peace deal.”
Similar messaging was found in a news report on the website titled “Shimon Peres, former Israeli president, dies aged 93“.
“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Mr Peres later became a leading political dove. He often spoke of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”
The BBC News website also published an obituary – “Obituary: Shimon Peres, Israeli founding father” – in which readers were again informed that:
“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Peres became a leading political dove, often speaking of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”
The obituary also includes a photograph with the caption: “The former Labour leader advocated territorial compromise in the West Bank”.
The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale produced a filmed report titled “Shimon Peres: An emigre who became a world statesman” which appeared on the BBC News website in addition to being aired on BBC television. Landale (who appears not to have had any help from the BBC’s pronunciation unit regarding the surname of the person his report is about) told viewers that:
“As a politician he changed his views over time. He was a member of the government that approved the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory but he came to see them later as an obstacle to peace.”
So are the BBC’s various portrayals of Shimon Peres’ views accurate? Did he favour “territorial compromise” and did he really view “Jewish settlements” as an “obstacle to peace”?
Another item appearing among the BBC News website’s coverage is a recycled filmed report from 2013 by Lyse Doucet from titled “Shimon Peres on turning 90“. There, at around 07:30, Doucet poses the following question:
Doucet: “The Palestinians say that you can’t discuss the land for a Palestinian state while Israel continues to build settlements on it. How do you reconcile that contradiction?”
Peres: “There are solutions to it. First of all, the Palestinians agreed there will be three [settlement] blocs. There, Jewish settlers on the West Bank can remain. That was the proposal introduced by President Clinton. It was right and acceptable.”
“President Shimon Peres rejected European Union criticism of his country‘s settlement policy during a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, arguing that it did not stand in the way of peace in the Middle East.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said there would be no sustainable peace until Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, and those of Israel for security, were fulfilled by a comprehensive deal based on the two-state solution.
“For these reasons I have recalled the opposition of the European Union to the illegal expansion of settlements,” Van Rompuy said.
But Peres replied that an acceptable solution to the settlement issue had been found years ago, based on a land swap deal with the Palestinians.
“I don‘t take this criticism that, because of the settlements, we lost the chance of implementing the two-state solution,” Peres said, adding that the EU could help to overcome other problems.
The most important difficulty is not settlements but terror,” the Israeli president said. “Take terror out of Gaza and they have a free place, it has nothing to do with Israel.”
“Condemn the Hamas … because they are a center of terror,” Peres said, referring to the movement which controls the Gaza strip. “And Hezbollah the same,” he added.”
Obviously Shimon Peres was of the opinion that “territorial compromise” by both Israelis and Palestinians in the form of land swaps of the kind proposed in the Clinton parameters and the Olmert plan is necessary but he clearly did not regard Jewish communities in Judea & Samaria as an “obstacle to peace” as claimed by the BBC in these reports.
As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s portrayal of the topic of ‘settlements’ regularly fails to inform audiences of the fact that under any realistic scenario, some of the Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria would remain under Israeli control – preferring instead to amplify an adopted political narrative. It is of course highly regrettable that in its coverage of the death of a statesman strongly associated with efforts to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the BBC has distorted his views in order to promote that same narrative.