The February 6th edition of the BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast programme included an item (from 02:18:32 here) in which presenter Rachel Burden discussed the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London with Jeremy Bowen.
That conversation was particularly interesting for its lack of focus on issues of interest to the British audiences who hear the show as well as for its politicised messaging and distortions. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
Burden: “Theresa May will meet the Israeli prime minister Bendamin…Benjamin Netanyahu in Downing Street later. It’ll be the first time the two leaders have met in person since she took office. Let’s speak to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Morning.”
Burden: “What’s he doing here?”
Bowen: “Well he’s […] he is doing a round of visits in advance of his big meeting next week with President Trump in Washington and he – Mr Netanyahu – is going to focus very much on Iran. They did a ballistic missile test lately in the last week or so and he’s…as he got on the plane he said they tried to test the boundaries with extraordinary aggression, gall and defiance. So Iran is his big thing. I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories and of course post Brexit, I think Mrs May’s going to be concerned about trying to do a few good trade deals with the Israelis.”
Having laid out those three topics, Bowen then chose to completely ignore throughout the rest of the item both the Iranian issue and the potential trade deals which would probably have interested UK domestic audiences, instead focusing on his own “big thing”.
Despite having inaccurately suggested to listeners that Netanyahu had ‘authorised settlements’ in numbers large enough to cause concern to the UK government, we later (unsurprisingly) discover that Bowen knows full well that such a portrayal is in fact inaccurate. We can also assume that he knows full well that all Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria are located in Area C, the final status of which – under the terms of the Oslo Accords – is to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians and hence his portrayal of the region as “Palestinian territories” is premature.
Listeners next heard Burden promote the equally inaccurate – and downright bizarre – notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is “the Middle East conflict”: a theme that was repeated throughout the item.
Burden: “Do we know what her [Theresa May] position is on the Middle East conflict?”
Bowen: “Well, she’s flip-flopped a bit quite frankly. To start with, when President Trump was about to be inaugurated, she did say some things which seemed to be really cow-towing to what she believed his beliefs to be, which was…there was a fairly controversial – from the Israeli point of view – resolution in the UN Security Council which Britain didn’t just vote for; it helped to plan, which was essentially condemning the…ah…expansion of settlements and Britain after that – Mrs May – criticised that resolution and criticised the US Secretary of State for supporting it when Britain itself had voted in support of the motion – the resolution – in the Security Council. In fact the Obama administration at the time said, rather cuttingly, that what Kerry had said – the US Secretary of State at the time – was entirely in line with long-held British policy which Britain – Downing Street – then went on to condemn.”
“[Downing Street] said her criticism was directed at Mr Kerry’s decision to attack the make-up of the Israeli government.
“We do not… believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex,” Mrs May’s spokesman said.
“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally. The Government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”
The spokesman added: “The British Government continues to believe that the only way to a lasting peace in the Middle East is through a two-state solution. We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal.”
“Now since then they have…Britain has said that it’s against the further expansion of settlements. However, I think that Mr Netanyahu will be well aware that Prime Minister May is quite concerned to stay in Donald Trump’s good books.”
Burden: Well what about Mr Trump? Has he shown any indication he wants to get involved in all this?”
Bowen: “Ah he’s…well his Middle East envoy is going to be his son-in-law, so keep it in the family. Ahm…and he has…well, the feeling was to start with that he might have given Mr Netanyahu essentially a blank cheque to go and do what he wanted whereas in terms of settlement building in the Palestinian territories, and which is something that President Obama very much did not. And so since the inauguration, Mr Netanyahu has authorised the…ah…six thousand new dwellings in the settlements plus the first all-new settlement in about thirty years. So that’s something that even the Trump administration said well, hang on a second, you know, don’t get too carried away here.”
Bowen is apparently referring to the statement put out by the White House press secretary on February 2nd which of course made no mention of getting “carried away” and which it is very clear that Bowen is interpreting according to his own world view. He continues:
“But they’ve certainly been very soft on the Israelis when it comes to that and I think that the right-wing in Israel – of which Mr Netanyahu is just one representative – is very excited about the possibilities that they will have under President Trump. They feel that they can really start changing things permanently in their favour.”
Burden: “Yeah. It’s interesting as well with Theresa May – now I guess under pressure with the prospect of Brexit looming, to demonstrate herself as a global leader – how much of an opportunity she’ll see this to take some kind of position while at the same time that balancing act of her relationship with Donald Trump. Is this a kind of lose-lose situation for the British prime minister in a way?”
Bowen: “You know it is a balancing act and I think that Britain has always taken, you know…has said ‘after you’ to the Americans when it comes to Middle East peacemaking, even though – as a permanent member of the Security Council – we do have a certain degree of influence. Ahm…I think that Mrs May is so tied up with issues of Brexit that I don’t see her trying to do her own solo Middle East peace bid. But, you know, the key…the difficulty of trying to make Middle Eastern peace is that you have to be tough on both sides and Western governments – particularly the Americans, the British – find it very easy to be tough on the Palestinians and they find it very difficult to be tough on the Israelis.”
And with that downright amazing unsubstantiated claim, the conversation ends – with listeners to Radio 5 live Breakfast none the wiser about either the Iranian issue or the nature of any potential trade deals between Britain and Israel.