The October 19th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item relating to the previous day’s announcement by the US Secretary of State concerning the merging of the American embassy and consulate general in Jerusalem into a single diplomatic mission.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Menendez: “Until a few months ago America’s embassy in Israel was in Tel Aviv. Its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians was at the consulate general in Jerusalem. But in May – as you may remember – the embassy moved to Jerusalem; America recognising what Israel has always maintained: that Jerusalem is its capital. That was condemned by Palestinians as well as all the other members of the UN Security Council.”
Failing to clarify that no UN Security Council resolution was in fact passed on that topic, Menendez went on:
Menendez: “Well, now another change: the mission to the Palestinians is going to be subsumed into the new US embassy. It’ll be called the Palestinian Affairs Unit. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it’s about achieving efficiencies. Palestinians say it’s just another move to downgrade them. Well let’s talk to Martin Indyk, himself a former US ambassador to Israel, now [at] the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Welcome to the programme. How would you characterise this move?”
Indyk: “Oh I don’t think there can be any doubt that it is a downgrading of US representation to the Palestinians that is consistent with the decision to establish the embassy in Jerusalem – the US embassy to Israel – in Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And in doing so the president – President Trump – made no reference to Palestinian claims to Jerusalem and so I think this is just…just a further symbolic and management act that demonstrates that the last…the symbolic toe-hold for the Palestinians in terms of American policy – their toe-hold in Jerusalem – is now gone.”
Failing to explain that the US president’s December 2017 announcement specifically stated that “[t]he United States continues to take no position on any final status issues” and “[t]he specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders”, Menendez then came up with the following bizarre statement-cum-question:
Menendez: “Eh…I mean in a place where symbols matter hugely, I mean is it also symbolic of this one-state solution – the Greater Israel as the government there calls it – with everybody being under one roof?”
While members of certain parties included in the current Israeli coalition government have proposed annexation of various parts of Judea & Samaria, that is not official government policy. Menendez’s implication that the Israeli government promotes “the Greater Israel” is obviously inaccurate and misleading (especially given his reference to “this one-state solution” which of course has additional meanings) as well as irrelevant to the topic ostensibly under discussion. The likely source of that misleading phrase used by Menendez will be discussed in a moment but in the meantime, the interview continued.
Indyk: “Well I don’t think it forecloses even some Palestinian position in Jerusalem in final status talks as far as the US policy is concerned. Secretary Pompeo was quick to say that. But in practical terms what it signals is this much touted and little revealed Trump peace plan. What’s in it for the Palestinians is going to be slim pickings indeed, especially when it comes to Jerusalem.”
Menendez: “I suppose someone would say, you know, practically it’s not going to make a huge amount of difference given the lack of peace talks anyway at the moment.”
Indyk: “Yes, that is true but it will make a difference in terms of representation to the Palestinians. There’s a lot more than just talking about peace involved in dealings between the United States and the Palestinian Authority. And now there will no longer be even a consul general – not an ambassador but a consul general – to deal with the Palestinian Authority. That person is going to be a more junior person under the authority of the US ambassador to Israel and that’s something that the Palestinian Authority – and certainly its leader Abu Mazen – will have great difficulty relating to and so I think that, you know, with the cut off in all aid to the Palestinians from the United States…eh…the lowering of the political level of engagement – it just means that there’s an overall downgrading of the Palestinians in Trump administration policy.”
Refraining from pointing out to listeners that the US has not “cut off…all aid” to the PA, Menendez closed the interview there.
So where did James Menendez get that phrase “the Greater Israel”? A clue can be found in the promotion of an article on the same topic which appeared on the BBC News website on October 18th.
In the report itself – titled “US to merge Jerusalem consulate general with new embassy” – BBC audiences were told that:
“Palestinians condemned the move.
Senior official Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration was working with Israelis to “impose ‘Greater Israel’ rather than a two-state solution”.”
And so we see that a phrase attributed to the Israeli government by James Menendez in fact comes from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat.
This of course is by no means the first instance in which we have seen the BBC promoting talking points and narratives conceived by the PLO:
In this latest item BBC World Service audiences heard just one view of the story (which unsurprisingly happens to dovetail with that of the PLO) while the BBC presenter adopted and amplified misleading terminology promoted by the PLO for political purposes and in doing so, compromised the BBC’s objectivity.