BBC WS history show claims Israel ‘carved out of Palestinian land’

The August 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item (from 26:40 here) about the Camp David Summit that had already been aired several days previously on the same station’s other history show ‘Witness’ and was discussed here.

In his introduction to that item, presenter Max Pearson told worldwide listeners: [emphasis added]

Pearson: “But before that we’re going to focus on a region which has seen tension and violence for the past 70 years. Just the phrase ‘tension in the Middle East’ has become shorthand for referencing the decades of mistrust between Jews and Arabs following the creation of the State of Israel, carved – as it was – out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians. Giving the Jewish people of the world a homeland was supposed to be the answer to one problem but it created another. There have of course been attempts to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. One of the last major efforts ended in failure in the year 2000. At that time the two sides had been brought together by the American president Bill Clinton. Farhana Haider has been speaking to the senior diplomatic interpreter Gamal Helal who attended that fateful Camp David summit.”

Obviously the Middle East “has seen tension and violence” for a lot longer than 70 years and Pearson’s claim that “tension in the Middle East” means solely the Arab-Israeli conflict is astoundingly ignorant. Clearly too, “mistrust between Jews and Arabs” did not ‘follow’ the creation of the State of Israel but was already evident many years beforehand.

But the most egregiously inaccurate part of that introduction is obviously Pearson’s claim that Israel was “carved […] out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians”. At no point in history before the creation of the State of Israel was that the case: the land was administered by the British Mandate prior to Israel’s establishment and before that had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire for 500 years.

That inaccurate and materially misleading information is all the more troubling coming, as it does, in what claims to be a history programme.

BBC Watch has submitted a complaint to the BBC World Service highlighting the need for a speedy on-air correction.

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BBC WS history show ‘explains’ Camp David summit failure

h/t JB

The August 4th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ is described in its synopsis as follows:

“In 2000 the US led a major effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bill Clinton brought the two sides together at the leafy presidential retreat in Maryland. The Israeli leader, Ehud Barak and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, failed to reach any agreement and the summit ended in failure. Farhana Haider has been speaking to the senior American diplomatic interpreter and policy adviser, Gamal Helal who attended the Camp David summit.”

Promotion of the programme on Twitter showed that it purports to inform BBC audiences why the Camp David summit failed.

So what do listeners hear on that topic and what conclusions would they reach? [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

After introducing the programme, presenter Farhana Haider tells audiences that:

“Israel had been pushing for this summit. Chairman Arafat for the Palestinians had argued there’s not been enough progress on earlier agreements to merit such a high level meeting but President Clinton had pressed ahead.”

Later on Haider tells listeners that the actual process of negotiation:

“…involved the negotiating teams meeting with each other and also separately with the Americans on most days. Face to face contact between Arafat and Barak was very limited. Mistrust was clearly running deep, says Gamal.”

Helal: “The main meal was dinner and all three parties were attended by the principals. So during dinner was the only time when they would sit together. […] Sort of like mingling. What did not happen was a bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks or the trilateral talks at the principals level. That did not happen because Prime Minister Barak did not want it.”

Haider alleges:

“…both sides were clearly under pressure from some of their own supporters not to make concessions. The US and the Israelis had also overestimated Arafat’s willingness to bargain away sovereignty over Jerusalem. In fact, the city’s final status was as much of a red line for Arafat as it was for Ehud Barak.”

 Gamal Helal recounts how, in a one-on-one conversation with Arafat he tried to persuade him to seize the historic opportunity and that:

“…at the end he looked at me and he said ‘I can’t’. And I said ‘why can’t you?’ He said if I accept this they will kill me’.”

Listeners never find out who ‘they’ are and Haider asks “could you sense his frustration?” without clarifying whether she is referring to Arafat or Clinton. Helal answers:

“Yes and I think there was also a lot of frustration as a result of Prime Minister Barak’s behaviour and attitude during Camp David. For example he promised that there would be negotiations around the clock and the two sides would be meeting discussing all permanent status issues and none of that happened. He basically locked himself up in his cabin. He met only with President Clinton. There was no bilateral meetings with Chairman Arafat except a very short encounter but no actual negotiations between the two leaders. He was not engaged at all. The Palestinians, when they saw that they decided to withdraw and simply say no to everything.”

Haider sums up the story:

“After 15 days of talks, nothing was agreed. Though President Clinton came and went, leaving the parties to continue their discussions, the basic problem was that the maximum Israel offered was less than the minimum the Palestinians could accept. On July 15 2000 the parties left Camp David, blaming the other for the failure.”

The Camp David summit did not end on July 15th 2000 but actually took place between the 11th and 25th of July. Although this programme clearly steers listeners toward the view that the negotiations failed because of “Barak’s behaviour and attitude”, a report published in the New York Times the day after the summit concluded gives a different account.

“The president [Clinton] and other American mediators made clear that it was Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who balked in the end, and by all accounts the issue was Jerusalem, the Holy City both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their sacred capital.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Clinton singled out the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, for his readiness to make hard compromises. ”I would be making a mistake not to praise Barak, because I think he took a big risk,” the president said. ”The prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat, particularly surrounding the question of Jerusalem.””

In an interview he gave to Ha’aretz in 2002, Ehud Barak cast light on the circumstances behind Helal’s claim that he “locked himself up in his cabin” and the allegation that the Palestinian delegation’s negative responses were the product of Barak not being “engaged”.

“The moment of truth at Camp David occurred when Clinton brought his ideas and put them on the table. Overall, Clinton’s ideas said that in return for ending the conflict and acquiescing to some Israeli security demands and leaving 80 percent of the settlers in Israeli territory, [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat would get a sovereign Palestinian state, demilitarized and contiguous, in ninety-something percent of the West Bank and a hundred percent of the Gaza Strip. Including exit points to the neighboring countries, a hold in East Jerusalem and the right of return to the Palestinian state but not to Israel. Israel would agree to accept a certain amount of refugees on a humanitarian basis but not a single one on the basis of the right of return.

For us these ideas are no simple matter. They are far from a simple matter. Especially when you try to go into a bit of detail about Jerusalem. But we held lengthy discussions and in the end we decided, because of considerations of historic responsibility, that we have to accept the plan as a basis for discussion. Arafat twisted and turned with it and effectively said no. Clinton went back to him and pounded on the table and Arafat again did not answer but effectively gave an answer that was no.

At this stage Clinton has to go to Okinawa, for a meeting of the G-8. So I say to him, Look, until you extract readiness from Arafat to accept your ideas as a basis for negotiations, there is nothing to discuss. It is hard for us, too, we also have reservations, these ideas are very close to the Palestinian position, but we accept them as a basis for discussion. When you get a positive answer out of Arafat, I’m here. You know where my cabin is.

Clinton goes off to Okinawa, leaving me with the impression that he understands that there can be no discussion. But he leaves a different impression with his staff and with the Palestinians. They understand that in the meantime the discussions can proceed with [secretary of state Madeleine] Albright. When I discover this, I find myself in an impossible position. That is the origin of the story that Barak locked himself in his cabin in a state of depression. But in fact I had no choice. I couldn’t undercut Albright but I couldn’t continue with the negotiations, either. So I told everyone to leave my cabin and I did some sports and I read the book `Five Days in London’ from cover to cover.”

As for Haider’s claims that “both sides were clearly under pressure from some of their own supporters not to make concessions” and her description of Jerusalem as “a red line […] for Ehud Barak”, Israel’s top negotiator at Camp David, Shlomo Ben Ami, has some interesting recollections.

“Question: I understand that there was a stage at which Barak astonished everyone by agreeing to divide the Old City of Jerusalem into two quarters under Israeli sovereignty and two quarters under Palestinian sovereignty. Did he do that on his own or was it a joint decision made by the entire Israeli team?

Ben Ami: “As I told you, I suggested that a special regime be introduced in the Old City. In the wake of that discussion, sometime later, the president put forward a two-two proposal, meaning a clear division of sovereignty. In a conversation with the president, Ehud agreed that that would be a basis for discussion. I remember walking in the fields with Martin Indyk [of the State Department] that night and both of us saying that Ehud was nuts. We didn’t understand how he could even have thought of agreeing. Afterward I wrote in my diary that everyone thinks that Amnon [Lipkin-] Shahak and I are pushing Barak to the left, but the truth is that he was the one who pushed us leftward. At that stage – this was the start of the second week of the meeting – he was far more courageous than we were. Truly courageous. Clinton told me a few times: I have never met such a courageous person.””

And Ben Ami also comments on why the Camp David summit failed.

“Camp David collapsed over the fact that they [the Palestinians] refused to get into the game. They refused to make a counter proposal. No one demanded that they give a positive response to that particular proposal of Clinton’s. Contrary to all the nonsense spouted by the knights of the left, there was no ultimatum. What was being asked of the Palestinians was far more elementary: that they put forward, at least once, their own counter proposal. That they not just say all the time `That’s not good enough’ and wait for us to make more concessions. That’s why the president sent [CIA director George] Tenet to Arafat that night – in order to tell him that it would be worth his while to think it over one more time and not give an answer until the morning. But Arafat couldn’t take it anymore. He missed the applause of the masses in Gaza.” […]

“But when all is said and done, Camp David failed because Arafat refused to put forward proposals of his own and didn’t succeed in conveying to us the feeling that at some point his demands would have an end. One of the important things we did at Camp David was to define our vital interests in the most concise way. We didn’t expect to meet the Palestinians halfway, and not even two-thirds of the way. But we did expect to meet them at some point. The whole time we waited to see them make some sort of movement in the face of our far-reaching movement. But they didn’t. The feeling was that they were constantly trying to drag us into some sort of black hole of more and more concessions without it being at all clear where all the concessions were leading, what the finish line was.”

Obviously the explanation of why the Camp David talks failed given in this BBC World Service ‘history’ programme is heavily tipped towards a particular politicised narrative that does not accurately reflect the whole story and therefore misleads BBC audiences.

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.