Why a third of a BBC Radio 4 programme focuses on Israel

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ is described as a “[p]rogramme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics”.

One recent episode – aired on October 29th and repeated on November 4th – was titled “Do Assassinations Work?“.

“Poison, exploding cigars and shooting down planes: tales of espionage and statesmanship. 
Government-ordered assassinations may seem the stuff of spy novels and movie scripts, but they seem to have entered the realm of reality of late. Why do states choose to take this action and can we measure their success? Edward Stourton assesses how various governments – including Israel, Russia, America and the UK – have dabbled in assassination and asks whether it works as a tool of foreign policy.”

Notably, although Stourton told listeners in his introduction that “we’re not asking whether it [assassination] can be morally justified or legal”, the ‘related topics’ offered to BBC audiences on the programme’s webpage are tagged “political crimes”.

This is not Radio 4’s first foray into this subject matter: in March 2012 the BBC’s Security Correspondent Gordon Corera produced a radio programme and a written article on the same topic in which he provided the BBC’s domestic audiences with some insight into their own country’s record.

Edward Stourton, on the other hand, presented listeners with this portrayal of Britain’s “attitude”:

Stourton: “…you see a British attitude which is that we’re not great ones for actually killing people – the licence to kill, 007 or whatever it is – that wasn’t really there. But we are quite happy to go along with playing a part in the strategy or in strategies which ended up with people being assassinated.”

While the programme’s examination of America’s record and the topical Khashoggi affair was similarly superficial, listeners heard a six-minute and twelve second long section focusing solely on Russian attacks on former and current Russian nationals in the UK.

But by far the most airtime was devoted to what Stourton described as “one very full case study” in his introduction: over a third of this programme related to Israel. The reason for that is because one of Stourton’s interviewees – the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman – published a book on that topic earlier this year.  

Bergman’s book is based on interviews with current and former members of Israeli governments and security forces as well as archive material. In other words, the focus of this Radio 4 programme was made possible because of Israel’s democratic and open society.

The programme’s producers obviously found it much easier to bring in Bergman to talk about Israeli security-related assassinations than to produce any independent investigation into the more topical subject of assassinations – including of dissidents – long known to be carried out by less transparent, authoritarian governments in countries where journalists would have a much harder time interviewing former members of the intelligence services or gaining access to files.

 

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BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the first half of an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis‘ titled ‘The Middle East Conundrum’ provided listeners with a long list of Israeli prime ministers who failed to make peace – while deliberately ignoring the role played by the Palestinian leaders with whom such agreements were supposed to be made.

Having erased post-Oslo Palestinian terrorism and the planning of the second Intifada from audience view entirely and with no reference whatsoever to foreign funding of Hamas terror, presenter Edward Stourton likewise presented three rounds of conflict sparked by Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians as something that simply ‘erupted’.

Stourton: “There have been repeated eruptions of conflict between Israel and Gaza and those who try to mediate in the region have seen trust between the two sides steadily eroded by violence.”

He then introduced his next contributor – Gabrielle Rifkind – as someone who “has been involved in conflict resolution in the Middle East for two decades” but without clarifying (as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality) the “particular viewpoint” of the organisation – formerly part of the Oxford Research Group – with which she is associated and without mentioning that her “Palestinian colleagues” included the PLO’s Husam Zomlot

Rifkind: “Well I think post-Oslo there was a moment of hope and even some of my Palestinian colleagues would say things like they threw olive branches to the Israelis. There was a belief that things could change and the two sides could live together. But since then there’ve been so many wars…ahm…three rounds of war in Gaza, we’ve had the Lebanon war.”

The Hizballah-initiated second Lebanon war of course had nothing to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and while conjuring up “olive branches”, Rifkind erased the post-Oslo terrorism in which hundreds of Israelis were murdered just as Stourton had previously done.

Stourton also managed to erase the 2008 peace offer made to the Palestinians by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert from his account before going on:

Stourton: “There was a flutter of hope that the peace process could be revived in the aftermath of Barak Obama’s arrival in the White House. In 2009, with an eye to Israel’s ever important American relationship, Benjamin Netanyahu – newly elected as prime minister for a second time – gave a conditional acceptance to the idea of a two-state solution.”

Stourton is of course referring to the Bar Ilan speech – which listeners then heard described thus:

Pfeffer: “It was very much a pragmatic rhetorical compromise made because he was dealing with the Obama administration which at the time was putting a lot of emphasis on trying to solve the Palestinian issue and therefore he had to make that concession. If you read those speeches then – the entire speeches – in the fine print you’ll find that he made so many conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state as to render it almost impossible to ever exist.”

With no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to come to the negotiating table throughout most of the 2009-10 freeze on new construction in Judea & Samaria, Stourton’s portrayal continued:

Stourton: “The last real peace-making push came during Bara Obama’s second term when John Kerry was Secretary of State.”

Martin Indyk then told listeners that “neither Netanyahu nor Abu Mazen [Abbas] believed that the other was actually serious about making peace and neither of these leaders was being pressed by their publics to make peace because their publics didn’t believe in it.”

Listeners were not however told the real reasons for the collapse of that particular round of talks – including the announcement of Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ which is relevant to Stourton’s next statement.  

Stourton: “On the Palestinian side the stalemate has been attended by a collapse of confidence in the two-state solution and political chaos. The divisions between the Hamas hard-liners and Mahmoud Abbas’ once dominant Fatah movement have become more intractable than ever.”

Listeners heard Gabrielle Rifkind tell them that “the level of kind of tensions and rivalry there is very problematic” and that Palestinians have “lost faith in their leadership and so they’re no longer believing in the idea of a two-state solution” and “they talk about one state, a binational state”. She did not bother to inform BBC audiences of the relevant fact that Hamas – which garnered the majority of support from the Palestinian public last time elections were held in 2006 – has never pretended to support the two-state solution.

Stourton then introduced Dr Khalil Shikaki “director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah” who told listeners that:

Shikaki: “Most Palestinians are highly pessimistic about the chances of creating a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel. A lot of those who used to support the two-state solution have now shifted to supporting a one-state solution.”

Those interested in a rather less superficial view of Shikaki’s research can find it here.

Stourton: “What do they envisage?”

Shikaki: “Well to be honest we don’t know exactly what they envisage. […] they want a one-state whereby current Israeli Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. The state itself would have no national or religious identity. [….] some believe in a bi-national state where the two groups would remain, would maintain their national identities…”

Stourton: “So the idea of a state that is both Jewish and democratic, which has been at the heart of the whole project of Israel, that doesn’t really survive either of those scenarios, does it?”

Shikaki: “No absolutely not.”

Stourton then turned to the subject of demography, claiming that “even if you take Gaza out of the equation, the population percentages in what might be described as a greater Israel present a real challenge – not least because the Palestinian population is growing faster.”

Dennis Ross next told listeners that “Israel and the West Bank….60% Jews to 40% Arabs” and went on:

Ross: “…I think that the issue of Israel becoming a bi-national Jewish-Arab state is one that is quite real. Most Israelis are not addressing it now because they’re looking at the region. They see how terrible the wars in the region are where there’s no limits, where civilians are fair game, where hospitals are a natural target and they say why should we take the risk, especially when we don’t see any opportunity. The danger with that is that it maintains this kind of drift towards a new reality which raises basic questions. Will this be one state with two peoples and if so, how are you going to manage that?”

Stourton: “One way of managing a bi-national state would be to relegate Palestinians to second class citizens without full rights which would sit uneasily with Israel’s proud claim to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. The alternative would be to accept that the State of Israel will no longer be a Jewish state.”

Listeners heard Yossi Beilin’s comments on that issue, including “in the Holocaust no country in the world was ready to absorb Jews including Palestine because it was under the British mandate. And the most important notion of a sovereign Jewish state is that it will allow Jews to immigrate to it without restrictions”.

Stourton: “On the Israeli side one party in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition government has put forward a radical solution of its own. Naftali Bennett – one of his ministers – has proposed what he calls the Israel stability initiative.”

A recording of Naftali Bennett speaking was heard before Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Under his plan Israel would hand over Gaza to the Egyptians unilaterally, annex most of the West Bank and allow the Palestinian Authority to run what remained with, however, Israel retaining control of security. Mr Bennett is opposed to any kind of Palestinian state.”

Stourton did not bother to clarify to listeners that what he described as “most of the West Bank” is actually Area C and that Bennett’s proposal is to offer “full Israeli citizenship to the 80,000 Palestinians living there”.

Stourton: “Mr Bennett is one of those we wanted to talk to for this programme but his office never responded to our request. On the Palestinian side the Hamas movement also has a radical vision. It has now expressed a willingness to accept the idea of a Palestinian state within those 1967 boundaries but it’s still, in the long term, committed to the liberation of all Palestine which would of course mean the end of Israel.”

After a recording of part of the US president’s announcement concerning the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Stourton continued:

Stourton: “President Trump has taken two steps which reduced the pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu. He moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognising the city – to which the Palestinians also make a claim – as Israel’s capital. And he pulled out of his predecessor’s nuclear deal with Iran: a step that’s been taken as an endorsement of the Netanyahu view that Palestinians can be relegated to a lower place in the diplomatic running order.”

Listeners were not told who exactly takes that view besides those making the statements they then heard supporting it.

Rifkind: “I think on the Israeli side, certainly among the leadership, it’s quite easy to keep your head in the sand. You can think you’re in quite a strong position. You just need to look at Netanyahu who’s very good friends with Putin and Trump and the relationships have never been better with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and you can think well maybe we can just manage this conflict.”

Pfeffer: “Even the major Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt seem of have got tired of even paying lip-service to the Palestinian cause. So yeah; he feels that his vision is winning.”

Stourton: “That means the stalemate and the violence associated with it are likely to continue.”

Once again the Iranian part of the story of shifts in the stances of Middle East states was erased from audience view.

With less than three minutes of the programme left, listeners next heard Dennis Ross make the most realistic and relevant comment in the entire discussion.

Ross:  “…I’ll tell you I don’t see – even if we could agree to a two-state outcome – I don’t know how you implement that because right now Hamas is in Gaza and I don’t see anybody moving Hamas out. The Israelis are not going to move them out. Egypt is not going to move them out. The Palestinian Authority is incapable of moving them out. And so even if you could agree to a two-state outcome – which is itself a leap at this point – you couldn’t implement it.”

Stourton: “In Israel that realism has led to a certain resignation and many Israelis now talk about managing the problem.”

Audiences then heard two negative views of that approach:

Beilin: “I hate this idea of managing conflicts”

Pfeffer: “Well you know it’s a dreadful phrase…”

Pfeffer went on to claim that “..there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight; certainly not with the current Israeli and with the current Palestinian leaderships” before Stourton returned to his context-free presentation of the violent rioting and terror attacks along the Gaza border:

Stourton: “So incidents like the shootings in Gaza become just something one has to accept according to that strategy.”

Pfeffer: “Yes, it’s the equivalent of a bad news day really.”

Stourton closed the programme by bringing up the topic of the Trump administration’s “new peace plan”:

Stourton: “Mr Trump is something of a hero in Israel. When America moved its embassy to Jerusalem his picture went up on posters all over the city. Among Palestinians hopes for a new Trump initiative are – to put it mildly – on the low side. According to Dr Shikaki’s data 90% of Palestinians believe no good can come from a Trump administration.”

As Stourton admitted early on, this programme did not even try to give audiences an objective and balanced view of the reasons why the ‘peace process’ has failed to make inroads after so many years and that editorial decision in itself is a topic for discussion. The quaint view that only Israel needs to have “a long-term strategy” because it is “a fully functioning state with military superiority” clearly deliberately ignores the very relevant fact that no such process can succeed without leaders on both sides being committed to its aims.

But even given the programme producers’ bizarre decision to present a one-sided narrative, crucial elements of the story were omitted. The history – which of course includes three full-scale wars initiated by Arab countries attempting – unsuccessfully – to eradicate the Jewish state – is highly relevant to audience understanding of the background to the conflict, as are decades of Palestinian terrorism that peaked when peace seemed to be on the horizon.

The Palestinian Authority’s ongoing incitement to violence, glorification of terrorism and payment of salaries to convicted terrorists is also a crucial part of the picture, as is Iranian funding of Palestinian terrorism. And no less relevant of course are the proposals put forward by Israeli prime minister Olmert and US president Clinton which the Palestinians refused.

While this Radio 4 portrayal presented Palestinians as being in favour of the two-state solution but turning to the one-state option out of disillusion, notably it failed to inform BBC audiences of the crucial context of the Palestinian Authority’s continued rejection of the demand to recognise Israel as the Jewish state – and thus bring an end to any future claims.

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BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

According to the old adage it takes two to tango but an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ – which self describes as a “programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics” – managed to disregard that maxim throughout the overwhelming majority of its 27 and a half minutes.

Titled “The Middle East Conundrum” and presented by Edward Stourton, the programme – aired on July 2nd and repeated on July 8th – was described in the synopsis as follows:

“Edward Stourton asks if there any chance of a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have been rising following the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the deadly clashes at the border between Israel and Gaza. The peace process – if it exists at all – seems to be in deep freeze. The idea of a two-state solution does not appear to be getting any closer, while a one-state solution would effectively mark the end of a Jewish state. Does Israel have a long-term strategy?” [emphasis added]

The programme began with a recording of a report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “Palestinians call these protests the Great March of Return. For many of the young people who rushed the borer wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey.”

Stourton: “In mid-May, as Israel marked its 70th anniversary and the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, some 60 Palestinians were killed during protests along the Gaza border. The story’s dropped out of the headlines but the protests and the dying have continued in a steady attrition. 16 people have been killed since then and the casualty figures over the past two and a half months are now estimated at over 120 dead and more than 14,600 wounded.”

Stourton made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with essential context on the topic of why those ‘protests’ took place and who organised and funded them. He likewise refrained from informing audiences that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various Gaza based terror factions

Stourton: “For this programme we’ve been asking a question that used to make headlines and was once prominent in foreign ministerial in trays: is there a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s a Palestinian perspective.”

Although unnamed, listeners then heard from Sari Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh: “Each side has become more uncertain of the other. Each side has become less interested, less hopeful of a final or permanent solution with the other. So we have been left in some kind of limbo.”

Stourton: “Here’s the view of a veteran negotiator.”

Also unnamed, that negotiator is Martin Indyk.

Indyk: “Yeah, I think that it is a depressing situation and it didn’t have to be this way. And I do feel a sense of responsibility. Having been involved in the effort over 35 years the sense of failure weighs heavily and especially because in the process of trying to resolve it, a lot of people have died on both sides.”

With no Israeli view presented, Stourton then went on to mislead listeners by referring to “Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War”. Those “frontiers” were of course armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders.

Stourton: “A two-state solution to the conflict with a border drawn roughly along the lines of Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War in 1967 is still the starting point for most Middle East diplomacy and polls suggest it’s still the most widely supported solution among Israelis and Palestinians. But it now seems so remote that people on both sides have begun to talk as if it’s a goal that will never be reached.”

Stourton then went on to reveal why Radio 4 was broadcasting an overtly one-sided programme on what – given the state of the region as a whole – it ridiculously insists on describing as “the Middle East conundrum” and “Middle East diplomacy”.

Stourton: “And because Israel is – unlike the Palestinian Authority – a fully functioning state with military superiority, we’ll be focusing on whether its government has a long-term vision of what the future might look like.”

He continued:

Stourton: “I should say at the outset that we’ve had great difficulty in persuading those members of the coalition now in power who have a reputation for bold thinking on this subject to talk to us.”

The programme’s framing – which can be boiled down to ‘how a succession of Israeli prime ministers rejected the two-state solution and so failed to make peace’ – then came into view:   

Stourton: “One way to approach the subject is through the life and career of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our story begins before Israel even existed, in the debates of early Zionists and the split between pragmatists like Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion and the so-called revisionist movement which counted Mr Netanyahu’s father among its supporters.”

Another unidentified voice – belonging to journalist Anshel Pfeffer – was then heard.

Pfeffer: “Well Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu believed in that very forceful, almost militaristic, way of bringing the Zionist programme to fruition; that the Jews shouldn’t compromise on any of their rights to the land of Israel, that there should be no weakness in any way shown towards the Arabs or towards international powers. Much less pragmatic approach than was being shown by the…by Ben Gurion’s Workers Party.”

Stourton: “Is it fair to say those ideas had a very profound impact on his son?”

Pfeffer: “No doubt about it.”

Stourton: “Anshel Pfeffer who’s just published a biography called ‘Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. Mr Netanyahu first really claimed international attention at the event which raised the curtain on what became known as the peace process: the Madrid Conference in 1991. He was the prime minister’s spokesman and a real master of the sound-bite.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording:

Netanyahu: “We now have Israel that is ringed with a circle of talks. And we hope that it will replace the circle of guns that surrounds us: that this will bring peace.”

Stourton: “His boss, the prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had – like Netanyahu senior – been a hard-liner in the days before Israel’s founding and the Americans, who sponsored the conference, had a tense time persuading him to come. Dennis Ross was a member of the American team and he doesn’t think Mr Shamir had accepted the idea of a two-state solution.”

Ross: “I think in Shamir’s case it was not so much he thought it was leading to a two-state solution. It’s just said it was leading to the unknown.”

Stourton: “Do you think he had a vision of where he wanted to end up?”

Ross: “He said that a couple of times to us that you know this is a process that’s beginning now and the issues – the real final status issues – will be dealt with after he was no longer there. I think his real approach was not driven by an objective of what he wanted as much as it was driven by a process that he hoped could be stretched out to the point where any risk that Israel might be running could be managed.”

Stourton: “The Madrid Conference did not in itself produce much movement but it was followed by the so-called Oslo Accords, negotiated in great secrecy in the Norwegian capital, which created a Palestinian Authority and gave the Palestinians a measure of autonomy. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a new Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the deal on the White House lawn in 1993.”

After a recording of the former US president Bill Clinton speaking at that event, Stourton introduced his next contributor.

Stourton: “But even then many Israeli leaders were reluctant to accept the idea of full statehood for the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin – now a prominent opposition figure in Israeli politics – was a key player in the Oslo negotiations.”

Yossi Beilin in fact retired from political life a decade ago, in 2008.

Beilin: “Only after the agreement with the PLO it became quite apparent that the two-state solution would be the solution but even then, until Rabin’s murder he never spoke about the full two-state solution. He spoke about a Palestinian entity which will be less of a state or something like that.”

Six minutes into the programme, listeners had by now heard three Israeli prime ministers described as opponents of the two-state solution. So would they hear portrayals of the views of Palestinian leaders of the same era on that topic?

Stourton: “In the Oslo Accords the PLO recognised the State of Israel and Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Movement on the Israeli side was matched by movement among moderate Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh is a leading Palestinian intellectual and was a prominent champion of the two-state solution.”

While there are those who would disagree with Stourton’s portrayal of Nusseibeh, notably Stourton did not ask him for the PLO leader’s views of the two-state solution at the time.

Nusseibeh: “Well it seemed to me at the time on the Israeli side there were enough Israelis who seemed to also be saying they wanted to end the occupation, return to the ’67 borders, be content with the state they have within those borders and they were basically beginning to force a recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination. And it seemed at the time to me that this would do as a kind of fair solution. It’s not the best solution, but as a fair solution. And on the Palestinian side, especially in the occupied territories, people also seemed to be struggling for primarily for a life of freedom, of independence, of dignity, of self-rule. So on both counts it seemed to me that this would be a good settlement.”

Stourton: “Bibi [sic] Netanyahu however did not change his thinking. In 1993 – the year of that arresting handshake between Messrs Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn – he published a book called ‘A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World’ in which he argued for firm limits on the amount of autonomy the Palestinians should be given.”

Listeners then heard what is presumably a quote from that book (which was actually published five months before that White House lawn ceremony) which was – for some reason – read in an American accent.

“Under any conception of autonomy Israel should retain the powers and prerogatives of the sovereign including such matters as military defence, foreign affairs and control of the currency and foreign trade while the Arab population could manage many areas of daily life.”

Anshel Pfeffer then told listeners that the book “basically remains Netanyahu’s blueprint” and that in it “Netanyahu presents his version of Jewish history, his version of Jewish nationalism” and that he “pushes away any kind of Palestinian claim” and “denies the fact that there is such a thing as Palestinian nationalism in any historical sense. He treats it as being very much a manufactured notion of the mid-20th century”. Pfeffer went on to claim that the book presents  “Netanyahu’s plan for the future, for what kind of a peace solution can seriously bring peace to the Middle East and ensure Israel’s prosperity and success in the future”.

Stourton: And what does that look like in his book?”

Pfeffer: “Well it doesn’t look like the two-state solution if we have to be very honest. His solution is that Israel does not have to make any kind of concessions towards the Palestinians because Israel is in a much larger battle  for survival, not with the Palestinians but with the wider Arab world and with radical Islam and with Iran.”

By this time listeners were a third of way in to the programme and yet had not heard a single word about the terrorism that followed that White House lawn handshake in 1993 and the fact that the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo Accords was higher than in the fifteen years before they were signed.

Describing Arafat as “the PLO leader” while failing to clarify that he was by that time also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Stourton then went on to present a debatable picture of the Camp David summit and to portray the second Intifada as something that just “began” rather than the pre-planned terror war that it actually was.

Stourton: “The high point of hopes for a two-state solution came in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton brought another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat together for 2 weeks of talks at Camp David [….]. They came tantalisingly close to a deal but they failed to get there. Two months later the second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising began. It was the beginning of the slide to today’s stalemate. Martin Indyk served two terms as the American ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk: “If we look for the tipping point it really goes back to trying to identify when the population on both sides decided that the other side had evil intent rather than benign intent. The outbreak of the Intifada convinced Israelis that giving up territory or promising to give up territory was only going to lead to more violence – and it was horrendous violence. On the other side I think the Palestinians became convinced that Oslo just brought them more settlements and more occupation. It didn’t actually lead to ending the occupation.”

Of course Indyk’s claim that Oslo “brought…more settlements” is inaccurate – as the BBC has itself reported in the past. Stourton then moved on to another Israeli prime minister.

Stourton: “In the aftermath of the Intifada Israel elected a prime minister with a reputation as the hardest of hard-liners: Ariel Sharon. He surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners heard an archive report from Orla Guerin which included the following:

Guerin “The night sky over Gaza suggests victory but on this historic night, remember this: there is no peace deal and no Palestinian state and Israel still controls the borders here.”

Stourton: “The logic behind his withdrawal plan – and there was talk of it being extended to the West Bank – was to create separate homes for Palestinians and Israelis not by negotiation but by unilateral Israeli action and on Israel’s terms. But that ran counter to the principle at the heart of all previous peace talks: the idea that Israel would give up land in exchange for peace.”

Indyk “Mahmoud Abbas…begged Sharon to negotiate an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal so that he would have commitments that he could impose – or at least try to impose – on the Palestinians, including on Hamas.”

Listeners were not informed that relevant agreements had already been signed – including the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which laid out exactly the kinds of “commitments” Indyk claimed were lacking.  

Stourton: “Hamas, the radical Palestinian group formally dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won elections not long after the Israeli withdrawal and later secured its power in Gaza by force.”

Indyk: “But Sharon, you know, was insistent on doing a deal with George W Bush rather than with the Palestinian leadership so the withdrawal was without any understanding, any commitment on the Palestinian side, any arrangements. It was effectively pulling out and throwing the keys over the fence.”

Stourton: “So we see the impact of that still today, do we?”

Indyk: “Profoundly, profoundly because Israel withdrew, went through the incredible pain of uprooting the…the settlers there and what it got in return was rockets. Hamas’ rockets. And so that sent a message to Israelis that, you know, giving up territory doesn’t get you peace.”

In other words, BBC audiences heard Hamas terrorism – and conclusions subsequently drawn by the Israeli public – framed as having been caused by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Notably they did not hear any mention of foreign funding of Hamas.

By this time the programme was almost at its half-way point and BBC audiences had first and foremost heard how a succession of Israeli prime ministers failed to make peace. In the second part of this post we shall see whether or not any balance was introduced into the latter half of the discussion.

BBC gets one of its facts on “Palestine” right

A guest post by Geary

BBC Radio 4 hosts an – often excellent – programme entitled “Analysis”. This week’s episode (July 1st, 2013) “Syria and the New Lines in the Sand” is on why, given five minutes of freedom, so much of the Arab world seems unable to refrain from tearing itself to pieces. Could it be the centuries of bitter sectarian enmities? Or the lack of any legacy of workable institutions after 500 years of Ottoman rule? Of course not; silly me.

This being the BBC, the answer, of course, is that it’s not their fault, it’s ours – or our grandfathers’ anyway. The evil Sykes-Picot (“villains” for the BBC) Agreement. The poshest man alive, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, oddly forgiven for having been Ambassador to Israel, is wheeled on to give gravitas to the argument that ‘It’s All Our Fault’. 

If only in 1920 the British (and a bit the French) had put all the Sunnis in one big country, all the Shias in another and all the Kurds in yet another, then they’d all be getting along like a house on fire (maybe that’s the wrong metaphor, but still). On the other hand these entities might forever be at each other’s throats, but this possibility was not mentioned.

Alternatively, the British should have planned some sort of Balkanisation of the region into a thousand independent enclaves, each a homeland for some minority. Oddly, the one part of this plan which came to fruition – the creation of Israel and the subsequent expulsion by the Arab states of their Jews to populate it – does not seem to enjoy universal popularity amongst the Arab neighbours or, for that matter, at the BBC. 

But imagine my shock when I heard – amid this feast of West-bashing and pandering to Arab grudges – the mention, en passant, of the non-existence of any “Palestine” prior to the 1920s. So unlike the Beeb to let this one slip. At roughly 6 minutes 20 seconds into the programme, the presenter and historian are perusing a pre-World War I map of the Middle East:

Presenter: What was this area called at that time?

Historian: Well, it wasn’t called any of the names we know it as today. It wasn’t Syria and it wasn’t Palestine, particularly. These were Western names, and Roman names sometimes, we used to refer to this part of the world, but at that time it was all just part of the Ottoman Empire. [emphasis added]

Crickey, BBC, you let the cat out of the bag there. The inconvenient historical fact that there was no country called Palestine and had not been since the Roman times, when it was inhabited by, unless the Bible, Gibbon and Mel Gibson are all telling lies, the Jews. No “historic Palestine” and so no “historic Palestinian people” then. Just a mixture of folk all living under the sway of the Ottomans. Indeed it was the British who created the Palestinians after WWI. In fact they very generously created two lots of Palestinians for good measure: Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. But before that “Palestine” had no legal tender, it was simply a name and an entity dreamt up by British diplomats who’d had a far too classical education. 

So is there hope yet for BBC historical truth-telling on Israel-Palestine, after this slip? I fear not. Later in the programme we get dark mutterings that “if the Kurds were the great losers out of Sykes-Picot” (not sure that was entirely ‘Our Fault’ – neither the Arabs nor the Turks were willing to envisage a Kurdish state) “the big winners were the early Zionists”. Sigh. So Sykes-Picot, and all the mess it created, was nudge, nudge, just another Zionist plot.

Of course no-one can pretend that Sykes-Picot was not a self-interested deal, aiming to ensure Western political interests and safeguard access to Middle Eastern oil (but what’s so bad about that? Access to trade benefits both sides – ask the Egyptians at the moment). And equally of course it denied much of the Arab Middle East self-determination for a generation. But it was also an honest attempt to create viable nation-states out of the defunct, historically retarded Ottoman Empire. And if Arab self-determination is leading to the horrors of the self-Balkanisation of the region we are witnessing now, maybe those two old Anglo-French “villains” were not so stupid or villainous after all.