As we saw in part one of this post, the December 6th edition of the BBC Radio 4 flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ included an interview with the mayor of Jerusalem concerning a statement – which at the time had yet to be made – by the US president announcing recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.
Later on in the same programme listeners heard another segment relating to the same topic which began (from 02: 10:16 here) with presenter John Humphrys telling audiences that:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Humphrys: “The world has grown used to Donald Trump making provocative comments since he became president of the United States – usually in his endless flow of late-night Tweets. What he’s planning to say today will not be in a spontaneous Tweet but in a scripted speech and it has the potential to change the course of the peace process in the Middle East – many say to bring it crashing down. He will announce that Washington will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
After listeners had heard a report from Jon Sopel, Humphrys introduced (at 02:14:56) his next interviewee. Not for the first time ‘Today’ listeners heard a presenter upgrade the title of the head of the “Palestinian Representative Office” (rather than embassy, because the UK has not recognised a Palestinian state) in London.
Humphrys: “Well I’ve been talking to Manuel Hassassian who is the Palestinian general delegate to this country. He’s effectively the Palestinian ambassador. What does he think of the speech?”
Hassassian: “If he says what he is intending to say about, you know, Jerusalem being the capital of Israel it means a kiss of death to the two-state solution. I think, you know, such a statement means a breach to the international conventions and to all UN Security Council resolutions concerning East Jerusalem as being, you know, an occupied city. I think it’s going to have big repercussions; not only in Palestine but it will be in the Arab and Islamic world. I think this could be the beginning of another compulsive violence that all parties need to avoid. I think, you know, this could be detrimental to the entire peace process. I think the United States will discredit himself as an honest broker of peace. I think by doing that it will show and portray to the entire world that the US is unequivocally supporting Israel and cannot really broker peace in the Middle East.”
Humphrys: “Presumably your leader Mahmoud Abbas has said all of this to Mr Trump.”
Hassassian: “Yes, he’s said that. He said that the repercussions will be very detrimental to the entire region. That it will create instability and insecurity again. It will put us back into the zero sum conflict. Violence will be inevitable and the end result is total chaos.”
Humphrys: “How did President Trump respond to Mr Abbas when he said that?”
Hassassian: “Basically he did not respond but he was trying to beat around the bush by explaining to him that we will give you this instead and that instead. You know; all gibberish talk that leads to nothing except to the escalation of tension and violence. At the time when the entire Middle East and the Palestinian, Israelis need a certain breakthrough in a re-engagement in negotiations, here he comes, you know, to start a whole new episode of confusion, anarchy, distortion to the concept of a two-state solution. And by, you know, announcing that, he’s declaring war in the Middle East. He’s declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims, hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept their holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel, let alone that East Jerusalem has always been known as, you know, the future capital of Palestine, let alone that it is under occupation.”
If listeners expected to hear Humphrys question Manuel Hassassian further on the interesting topic of what the Palestinians had been offered “instead”, they would have been disappointed.
Humphrys: “Well that’s very strong language; declaring war in the Middle East. What he says he’s doing is making the case that he’s settling the question of the American embassy and could actually hasten the peace process by removing a thorny political issue that recurs every six months.”
Hassassian: “If he seriously wants to bring the parties together he doesn’t start with a total violation in such a decision of moving the embassy. That is a total breach to the international conventions, let alone it is a breach basically to the arrangements and to the…to all the negotiations that we have been engaged with the Israelis about how East Jerusalem could be the capital of Palestine, West Jerusalem could be the capital of Israel. But by doing that he is preempting the entire process, you know, into a fait accompli and that in itself is going to have really a bad and violent reaction.”
Humphrys: “And you talk about declaring war and a violent reaction. What will actually happen? Because the Palestinians don’t have the wherewithal to [laughs] declare war on the United States of America, let alone in Israel.”
Hassasian: “What I mean by declaring war means that, you know, the Palestinians will go down to the streets and complain. And of course the entire Middle East will be on its feet because such a decision is going to be, you know, detrimental to the entire stability and security in the Middle East. Definitely this reaction is going to be different than any other reaction. Let us not forget what happened in the summer, you know, in Jerusalem when the Israelis tried to close down, I mean, the al Aqsa Mosque to the prayers and, you know, almost an intifada could have broke out. No, if we don’t take this issue seriously, what is left? I mean Jerusalem is the heart of the Palestinian state. If that is gone, what do we mean by a two-state solution when there is no geographic contiguity anymore? This is the last straw that will break the camel’s back. I don’t mean war in terms of conventional war. I mean war in terms of diplomacy. We are basically going to go to the international courts. We will do all our utmost diplomatically and politically to put pressures on the United States to rescind from such a decision because this would definitely kill the entire peace process and will take us back to square one where convulsive violence will be inevitable.”
Humphrys: “Manuel Hassassian – thank you very much for talking to us.”
That interview lasted five and a half minutes and as we see, Humphrys refrained from interrupting his interviewee at all (in contrast to the five interruptions in his earlier interview with Nir Barkat) and asked just four questions.
While Humphrys spent over 30% of the time allotted to the interview with Barkat speaking himself, in this interview he spoke for just 13% of the time, giving Hassassian an uninterrupted platform from which – inter alia – to disseminate a false account of the events in Jerusalem last July that followed the introduction of security measures after the terror attack near Temple Mount.
Equally revealing are the BBC’s subsequent actions concerning these two interviews. While nothing was done at all with the interview with the mayor of Jerusalem, an edited version of the interview with Hassassian was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme “The Newsroom” (from 00:05 here) on the same day (with Hassassian again upgraded to ‘ambassador’).
The BBC also chose to make a video version of part of the interview and that was promoted on the BBC News website under the headline “Jerusalem as capital is ‘declaring war'”. A link to that video, along with quotes from Hassassian, also appeared in a BBC News website article that was published on December 6th under the headline “Jerusalem: Trump recognition ‘kiss of death’ for peace“.
It is once again abundantly clear that even before the US president had made his announcement concerning Jerusalem, the BBC – including the ‘Today’ programme – had elected to frame the story for its audiences in line with the narrative promoted by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.