BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part two

In part one of this post we saw how presenter Mishal Husain gave listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on June 26th a very partial view of the Arab Peace Initiative and promoted the notion that the United States had “killed hopes of a Palestinian state”.

Later on in the programme  (from 2:35:28 here) listeners heard a seven and a half minute long item concerning the Bahrain economic workshop taking place on that day which was introduced by Husain using the same framing.

Once again Husain refrained from informing audiences that Hamas does not support the Arab Peace Initiative and – as in all BBC coverage of the Bahrain workshop – she misleadingly presented “the Palestinians” as a homogenous group, failing to clarify both that Hamas opposes any peace plan and that some Palestinian businessmen did take part in the conference.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “A US sponsored conference on economic development in the Palestinian territories has opened in Bahrain. Jared Kushner says it’s the opportunity of the century – part of his father-in-law Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which has not involved the Palestinians at all. As the event began Mr Kushner spoke of any future peace deal not being along the lines of the widely accepted Arab Peace Initiative which envisages a Palestinian state alongside Israel. I’ve been speaking to Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN. But first, Michael Lynk – UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine.” 

Michael Lynk’s actual title is “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967”. Husain made no effort to inform listeners of his “particular viewpoint” as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality and so they had no idea that behind the ostensibly ‘neutral’ statements they heard from a UN representative lies a long record of anti-Israel activity.

“Michael Lynk […] plays a leadership role in numerous Arab lobby groups, including CEPAL, which promotes “Annual Israeli Apartheid Week” events; signs anti-Israel petitions; calls to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes; addresses “One State” conferences that seek to eliminate Israel; and argues that “the solution” to “the problem” must go back to Israel’s very creation in 1948, which he calls “the start of ethnic cleansing.””

Unsurprisingly to anyone who is familiar with Michael Lynk, he had nothing at all to say about Palestinian terrorism.

Lynk: “On the one hand the concept of building a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian economy is one that we would all support but trying to put an economic peace ahead of political settlement I think is almost certainly going to fail and the most important reasons for the feeble Palestinian economy are tied to the 52-year-old Israeli occupation.”

Husain: “But traditionally the political settlement idea has been pursued first and that hasn’t worked. Is it possible that by putting the focus on economic prosperity you might create a different climate for political solutions to be talked about?”

Lynk: “I think not. You know, in order to have a successful economy any country is going to need control over its own territory, the ability to trade and to export, the ability to develop a vibrant labour market, the ability to create a supportive investment infrastructure and the Palestinians have none of these economic freedoms. Unless you solve the political problem first and end the occupation, any focus on the economy I believe is going to be doomed.”

Husain failed to clarify to listeners that, despite the security measures made necessary by Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians did manage to export 94.8 million dollars-worth of goods in 2017. She went on to re-promote her partial framing of the Arab Peace Initiative, making no effort to inform listeners of its additional aspects – in particular those relating to Palestinian refugees – which make it a non-starter.

Husain: “Well it would seem from Jared Kushner’s envisaging of a way to solve the political problem…I mean he has…he has said the Arab Peace Initiative – this is the plan that envisages two states, one Israeli, one…one Palestinian – ahm…will not happen. ‘If there is ever a deal it’s not going to be along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative’ he said. ‘Any future deal will be somewhere between that initiative and the Israeli position’. So it seems that – as many people would have suspected for some time – that the two state solution is dying or already dead.”

Listeners then heard Lynk’s interpretation of the two-state solution which, unsurprisingly, dovetails with that of the PLO – including the erroneous notion of “’67 borders”.

Lynk: “Yes and I agree with you. You know the…keep in mind that the international community has for a long time laid out what are the essential elements of a final political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It means an independent, contiguous Palestinian state based on the ’67 borders alongside of Israel. It means a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. It means an absolute end to the illegal Israeli settlements. It means a just solution for the Palestinian refugees and it means obviously guarantees. That’s not what we’ve been hearing from the statements being made by the three advisors on the Middle East peace plan. They’ve given their blessings to Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank – which is illegal under international law. They have envisaged something much less than a fully sovereign Palestinian state. None of this is any basis for trying to build trust that you’re leading towards a viable, just and fair settlement for both sides.”

Following that unchallenged promotion of PLO talking points from a supposedly ‘neutral’ source, Husain moved on to tick the ‘impartiality’ box with her next interviewee, telling listeners what “is absent from this plan” even though the relevant part of it has yet to be published.

Husain: “Ehm…let me turn to Danny Danon – Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations – who is listening to you, Michael Lynk. Ambassador Danon; isn’t it true that any real concept of peace involves political and economic freedom and that is absent from this plan?”

Danon: “Well I think it is unfortunate that you have a very important discussion taking place and the Palestinians are again ignoring it. So we welcome the US initiative. We are open-minded to discuss new ideas. But we all know that in order to move things on the ground, you need all the parties engaged. Today the Palestinians are saying out loud ‘we do not recognise the Israelis as partners, we do not recognise the US as mediators’ and it is unfortunate.”

Husain then took on the role of Palestinian advocate.

Husain: “Well, to not recognise as mediators, that is because this administration has shown very clearly which side they favour in all the actions that they have taken so far and the reason the Palestinians aren’t there at this event is because it is not discussing all issues. It is not discussing any of the political issues.”

Danon: “So as we know this is only the first part of the plan. We will have to wait to see the entire plan and to discuss it.”

Husain: “When is the rest of the plan coming?”

Danon: “It is up to the US administration to decide about that. We presume it will be after the elections in Israel and I don’t know if we will support everything in the plan but we respect the efforts and we welcome the involvement of very original partners and I think the fact that you have today Arab countries coming together, I think this is the right way to move forward.”

Despite having just acknowledged that the political part of the plan has yet to be published, Husain once again went on to claim to know what it includes.

Husain: “The long struggle of the Jewish people for self-determination and for your own homeland: you would never have accepted the sort of state that is now being put forward for the Palestinians – if you can even call it a state – somewhere where there are no full political rights alongside any economic rights.”

Danon: “So I think when you look at the history of the Jewish people we never had an ambition to hurt anyone else, to support terrorism or to encourage incitement. And I published an op-ed at the New York Times yesterday where I think it’s about time that the Palestinians will look at the future and not the past. For example, take the payment they are paying for convicted terrorists. Why they have this culture of hate? Let’s move on, recognise Israel and negotiate with Israel.”

Mr Danon’s op-ed can be found here.

Husain: “In that piece you wrote you used the word ‘surrender’. You said ‘there is nothing wrong with Palestinians surrendering – that would create the opportunity to transform Palestinian society’. I mean that, they would say, is a very offensive way to…to talk about their struggle for their rights.”

Danon: “You have to read the entire article because I use the word surrender to surrender their ideas of moving the Jews out of Israel…”

Husain interrupted with her own very revealing interpretation of the idea that Palestinians should accept that the Jews are not going to be driven out of the region:

Husain [interrupts] “To surrender their dream of statehood.”

Danon: “…and preaching of hatred. They should forget about that. We are there to stay and they should accept that. They should teach their children that that is, that Israel is there to stay. In order to move forward we have to recognise Israel and we have to see how we can live together or one side by side with the other and move forward. Until they will not do that they will stay where they are. And look what’s happening today: Israel is booming, our economy is stronger than ever and they are staying behind.”

Once again Husain promoted a strawman:

Husain: “Are you saying they should accept there will be one state in the future – the Jewish state?”

Danon: “I say they should enter the room. It’s legitimate that they will come with their own aspirations, their own demands, requests, requirements. And we will come with ours. You know, the international community can help and I think the financial help is well appreciated but at the end it will be us and the Palestinians living there. That’s why eventually we will have to engage in a direct dialogue.”

Apparently reluctant to close the item on that note, Husain let the partisan UN rapporteur have the last word.

Husain: “Michael Lynk: just a final thought from you. Do you think that the Palestinians should be engaging in this dialogue, however much they object to the terms in which it’s framed?”

Lynk: “Well that’s entirely up to them. You know, to be clear, as a UN special rapporteur I don’t speak for the Palestinians and I don’t speak for the UN. Really the question which I can answer is is this particular path or vision likely to lead to a just and durable peace and as I’ve said. I cannot see it.”

Husain rounded off the item with yet another misrepresentation of Lynk’s title:

Husain: “Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Ambassador Danny Danon of Israel, thank you very much.”

So what could Radio 4 audiences learn from this item? They heard a partisan and incomplete portrayal of the Arab Peace Initiative with no explanation of why it has gone nowhere in the seventeen years since it was produced. They were led to believe that that inadequately presented initiative is the only game in town and that by not embracing it in its entirety, the US has “killed” the chances for a Palestinian state. They got a one-sided explanation of the two-state solution which complies with the PLO’s interpretation of that concept. They heard Mishal Husain purport to tell them what is in a plan that has not yet been published. They did not however receive any information concerning the Palestinians’ repeated rejection of peace plans based on the two-state solution and the sole reference to Palestinian terrorism came from the Israeli interviewee.

In other words, as the BBC’s tight framing of the topic of the Bahrain economic workshop continued, audiences were once again denied the full range of information which would enhance better and comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one

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BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one

The June 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included a fairly long item relating to the Bahrain economic workshop which was in its second day. Before that, however, during a review of the day’s newspapers (from 09:53 here) listeners were told by presenter Mishal Husain that:

Husain [09:53]: “And the Times reports from the US sponsored…eh…conference aimed at Middle East peace that’s taking place in Bahrain, saying ‘the US has killed hopes of a Palestinian state as that conference opened’. This is because Jared Kushner has used an interview to mark the start of the conference by saying that…ehm…that ‘we all have to recognise that if there ever is a deal’ – he means a peace deal – ‘it’s not going to be along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative’ and that was the initiative that envisaged an Israeli and a Palestinian state standing side by side.”

That Times article included more than just that bizarre claim presented in its opening paragraphs but that was what Husain chose to highlight. The interview to which she referred was with Al Jazeera and the relevant part is from 20:02 in the video here.

Husain’s presentation obviously suggests to listeners that the first time the idea of a two-state solution came up was in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. That of course is not the case – the concept had been around since the Peel Commission report of 1937 and has since been part of numerous initiatives, including at the Madrid Conference in 1991. What Husain did not tell Radio 4 listeners is that the Palestinians have a long record of rejection of any solution involving two states for two peoples and that the Arab Peace Initiative is not accepted by Hamas or Hizballah.

Neither did Husain bother to clarify that that initiative includes more that just “an Israeli and a Palestinian state standing side by side”. It demands Israeli withdrawal from areas which are not included in any plan for a Palestinian state (including the Golan Heights) and it is, from the Israeli point of view, extremely problematic on the issue of Palestinian refugees due to its not only demanding ‘right of return’ to Israel but also rejecting the resettlement (“patriation“) of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries.

It is therefore plausible that when Mr Kushner told the Al Jazeera interviewer that any future agreement “will be somewhere between the Arab peace initiative and between the Israeli position” he had those points in mind. Mishal Husain however unquestioningly embraced the viewpoint of the Times reporter and promoted the notion to listeners that the United States had “killed hopes of a Palestinian state”.

That selective and politicised framing is important because, as we shall see in part two of this post, Husain continued to promote it throughout the later item concerning the Bahrain conference.

How did the BBC’s Yolande Knell frame Israeli visits to Gulf states?

Two very similar reports from BBC Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell have recently appeared on different platforms.

A written report titled “Israel-Arab ties warm up after long deep freeze” was published in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 6th with a synopsis telling BBC audiences that:

“An Israeli charm offensive is making once unlikely friends in the Arab world, worrying Palestinians.”

On the same day listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ heard an audio report from Knell – from 08:37 here and from 14:07 here. In both cases it was introduced (by presenters Razia Iqbal and Rebecca Kesby) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Israel leaders often describe their country as being in a tough neighbourhood but recently there have been some extraordinary signs of friendliness with Arab states. Israel’s prime minister was in Oman, two of his ministers then went to the United Arab Emirates and today another is back in Muscat. And that’s despite the fact that Oman and the UAE – like most Arab countries – have no official diplomatic relations with Israel. The Palestinians are worried about what these new alliances – bound up in common fears about Iran’s regional ambitions and backed by the White House – will mean for their nationalist cause. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell’s framing of this story – which places the Palestinian reaction to events unrelated directly to them at the focus of her reports – is obviously noteworthy. Under the sub-heading “Palestinians wary” readers of the written report were told that:

“However, Palestinians are alarmed by the new alliances, developing as President Trump promises to present his “Deal of the Century” plan to end their conflict with Israel.

They fear his administration is looking to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others to pressure them into accepting a peace agreement that does not meet their long-standing demands.

“This kind of attempt to normalise Israel within the region, without Israel normalising its relationship with Palestine and remaining as an occupying power, is counterproductive and dangerous,” says Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official.

She suggests the latest developments threaten the legitimacy of the Arab Peace Initiative – which the 22 members of the Arab League signed up to in 2002.

It offers Israel normal diplomatic relations with Arab states only in exchange for its full withdrawal from Arab lands it captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.”

Knell made no effort to explain to her readers why an initiative launched over 16 years ago has to this day made no progress or why they should take Hanan Ashrawi’s word that it is at all relevant.

Ashrawi was also featured in Knell’s audio report, but with no mention of her PLO position.

Knell: “Here in the occupied West Bank Palestinian leaders are alarmed by this regional shift taking place as President Trump promises to present his ‘deal of the century’ to end their conflict with Israel. They cut off ties with the US last year, saying it wasn’t an honest peace broker and they fear the White House is looking to its powerful Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to pressure them into a peace agreement that falls well short of their long-standing demands. Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian official.”

Ashrawi: “I think this is part of an overall strategy by the Americans to try to get normalisation with the Arab world before Israel withdraws from the occupied territories: what we call the outside-in approach.”

Knell did not bother to inform listeners that under the terms of the Oslo Accords – signed by the body which Ashrawi represents – the issue of borders is supposed to be resolved in final status negotiations between the two parties.

Another aspect of Knell’s framing of this story is her promotion of a theory allegedly advanced by unidentified “analysts” which was portrayed in the written report as follows:

“Analysts suggest the pivotal role ascribed to Saudi Arabia in reviving the peace process has been thrown into doubt by the shocking murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

However, in another remarkable move, comments by Mr Netanyahu on Friday seemed to show tacit support for the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has been accused of having a role in Khashoggi’s death – something the kingdom has denied.

He said Mr Khashoggi’s killing was “horrendous” but should not be allowed to lead to upheaval in Saudi Arabia “because the larger problem is Iran.””

In the audio report listeners heard the following self-contradicting statements from Knell:

Knell: “But there’s been a set-back to the warming of Saudi and Israeli ties: the international outcry over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Turkey. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – known as MBS – has had his reputation badly damaged by the scandal, although he denies involvement. Remarkably, one international leader giving him tacit support is Mr Netanyahu.” [emphasis added]

Recording Netanyahu: “What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. Yet at the same time I say that it’s very important for the stability of the world – of the region and of the world – that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Listeners were not informed that – despite Knell’s claim of “international outcry” – just one day before her report was aired, seventy-five country delegates to the UN Human Right Council had heaped praise on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Another interesting aspect of Knell’s reporting is its downplaying of what some analysts see as the prime motivation behind improved relations between Israel and Gulf states. Readers of the written report found a tepid portrayal of Iranian regional actions and policies which, notably, whitewashed its financial support for Hamas from the picture.

“The main reason is a shared concern over Iran. Israel, like many Gulf Arab countries, worries about Iran’s ambitions and sees it as a destabilising force in the Middle East.

Tehran has been directly involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and supports rebels fighting in Yemen and militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

In the audio report listeners were told that: [emphasis added]

Knell: “Meetings between Israeli and Gulf Arab officials have long taken place in secret but now they’re happening openly, despite a lack of progress on peace with the Palestinians. The main reason is the shared concern about Iran…”

Knell ended both her reports with more clear messaging to BBC audiences that a story concerning diplomatic relations between Israel and Gulf states is actually about Palestinians.

Written:

“All these signs of a regional shift are popular with ordinary Israelis and even Mr Netanyahu’s political rivals have praised his advances in the Gulf.

However, the Arab public – for whom the Palestinian issue remains very emotional – will be far harder to win over without a peace agreement.

So for now, Arab states are unlikely to fully embrace Israel. Instead we should expect more previously unthinkable invitations, gestures of recognition and warm handshakes.”

Audio:

“Such signs of new relations are very popular with ordinary Israelis although the Arab public – still very sensitive to the Palestinian issue – will be much harder to win over without a peace agreement.”

While BBC audiences obviously got a generous dose of PLO (and Hamas) messaging in both Knell’s reports, the question of how that contributes to their understanding of this story is clearly debatable.

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BBC’s ME editor advances his own partisan narrative in summing up of Trump visit

BBC News website coverage of the US president’s visit to Israel was rounded off with an article by Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen titled “Trump in Middle East: Symbols but little substance” which appeared in the ‘features’ section of the website’s Middle East page on May 23rd.

That article – written by the man whose job description is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” – includes a predictably airbrushed portrayal of the Camp David summit and the Palestinian decision to initiate the terror war known as the second Intifada.

“President Bill Clinton presided over the moment in 1993 at the White House when Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin exchanged a historic handshake and signed the Oslo peace agreement. At the end of his presidency in 2000, a make or break summit failed and was followed by years of violence and unrest.”

Bowen also presents an airbrushed portrayal of the Arab peace initiative of 2002, failing to inform readers that it demands full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, “occupied territories” in south Lebanon, Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem previously occupied by Jordan – including the Old City – and that its proposals on the issue of refugees are vague. He of course refrains from stating that Hamas – along with Hizballah – has rejected that plan on numerous occasions.

“But the Saudis have had their own Arab peace plan on the table for the last 15 years, offering full peace and recognition of Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the entire territory of the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem.”

In line with previously seen BBC editorial policy, Bowen portrays the Old City of Jerusalem – including the Western Wall – as “occupied land”.

“Mr Trump became the first serving American president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest place where Jews can pray. That is being taken as support for Israel.

The wall is in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after it was captured 50 years ago and which most of the world outside Israel regards as occupied land.”

Bowen promotes false equivalence between Israel and Iran:

“In his final speech, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, President Trump also identified himself, his administration and the United States four-square with Israel.

He repeated, to lots of applause, that he would never let Iran have nuclear weapons. Israel has a substantial and officially undeclared nuclear arsenal.”

He similarly amplifies a notion of false equivalence between Israeli soldiers and convicted Palestinian terrorists:

“One pointer to a potential difference with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu came at the museum. In his opening remarks, Mr Netanyahu said that if the bomber in Manchester was Palestinian, and his victims were Israelis, the Palestinian Authority would be paying a stipend to his family.

He was referring to a Palestinian Martyrs’ fund. It pays pensions to people it regards as victims of the occupation, including the families of individuals who have been killed attacking Israelis. There is also a fund to support Palestinians who have been imprisoned by Israel. The Palestinians have compared the payments to the salaries Israel pays to soldiers.” [emphasis added]

Bowen then tells readers that:

“President Trump, in his speech, did not pick up the cue.

After making many warm remarks about Israel, which earned him standing ovations, he said he believed that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, was serious about making peace.”

Bowen does not however tell BBC audiences that while the US president’s pre-written speech at the Israel Museum may indeed not have included mention of the PA’s payments to convicted terrorists and the families of dead terrorists, that issue had already been raised during the PA president’s Washington visit earlier in the month and his speech earlier the same day in Bethlehem did allude to that topic.

“Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded. We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single, unified voice.”

Bowen goes on:

“Senior Israeli politicians and officials in the room disagree. Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier this year that President Abbas lied to Donald Trump when they met in the White House.”

The BBC’s Middle East editor does not of course bother to inform the corporation’s audiences that Mahmoud Abbas did indeed lie when he stated during that Washington visit that:

“Mr. President, I affirm to you that we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”

Of course the BBC’s long-standing editorial policy of avoidance of meaningful reporting on the issue of the PA’s incitement and glorification of terrorism – including among children – means that audiences would be unable to fill in Bowen’s deliberate blanks.  

Yet again we see that rather than “make[ing] a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”, Jeremy Bowen in fact does the exact opposite by exploiting his position to advance his chosen political narrative.