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