Five years of BBC reports on one story show impartiality failure

For the past five years the BBC has been reporting on a proposed housing project in the south Jerusalem district of Givat HaMatos.

Givat HaMatos

In December 2012 BBC audiences were told that:

“…on Wednesday, Jerusalem’s planning committee granted approval for 2,610 homes in a new settlement in East Jerusalem called Givat Hamatos – the first to be built in the area since 1997.”

And, quoting the EU:

“If implemented, these plans would jeopardise the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State and of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine”.

In October 2014 the BBC told audiences that:

“Israel has been criticised this month for approving new settlement construction in Givat Hamatos neighbourhood in East Jerusalem”

Two months later, in December 2014, the BBC’s Tim Franks revisited the same story.

“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”

Audiences heard just one view on the topic from a representative of the political NGO ‘Ir Amim’ which has received funding from foreign sources – including from the EU.

In late January 2017 Tim Franks returned to the same location and BBC audiences again heard one view of the story; this time from the inadequately introduced founder of that same political NGO.

Franks: “This is Givat HaMatos – an area of scrubland really – on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just a couple of kilometres behind me to the south is the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. And I’m here with a man called Danny Seidemann – he’s an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem.”

Seidemann: “Givat HaMatos is pretty unique. It’s one of two or three schemes that we call a Doomsday settlement. These settlements are in and of themselves capable of making the two-state solution impossible.”

None of the BBC’s various reports on Givat Hamatos has informed audiences that part of the planned housing units have been ear-marked for Arab residents of the adjacent neighbourhood of Beit Safafa.

To date, not one brick has been laid in the proposed project on which the BBC has already produced four reports and the JCPA recently published a backgrounder that explains why that is the case.

“The plan to build a Jewish residential neighborhood in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem was already approved by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee in 2014. However, it has been frozen for four years.

Under pressure from the United States, Germany, and other European Union countries, the issuing of the construction tenders has been suspended time after time. […]

Germany is playing a central role in pressuring Israel not to build Givat Hamatos; other European countries oppose it as well. In October 2014 French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the decision to build homes in Givat Hamatos threatened the two-state solution: “One cannot claim to support a solution and at the same time do things against without consequences being drawn.” In October 2017, the European Union requested clarifications from Israel about plans for housing units in Hamatos, saying that such building “is likely to harm severely the continuity and the existence of a future Palestinian state.””

While the views of representatives of an EU funded political NGO have been amplified in half of the BBC’s four reports on the story and the EU itself quoted in one other, audiences have not heard any alternative views whatsoever.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We must apply due impartiality to all our subject matter.  However, there are particular requirements for ‘controversial subjects’, whenever they occur in any output, including drama, entertainment and sport. […]

When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.” [emphasis added]

Obviously BBC reporting on the proposed housing project in Givat HaMatos throughout the past five years has not complied with those guidelines. Rather, it has exclusively promoted monochrome framing of the story that has denied audiences access to information and perspectives that contradict the BBC’s chosen narrative.

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Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part one

Just over two years have gone by since Tim Franks did a special feature on Jerusalem (see ‘related articles’ below) for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ in which he went to visit the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood, where he discussed what was inaccurately represented as a ‘new’ development project with a representative from the political NGO ‘Ir Amim‘.

The January 30th 2017 edition of ‘Newshour’ found the same BBC reporter revisiting the same location with the founder of that same NGO.newshour-30-1

Franks’ very long report – over twelve and a half minutes – was billed by presenter Razia Iqbal as follows at the start of the programme:

“In about half an hour we’ll be live from Jerusalem with Newshour’s Tim Franks discussing settlements, the two-state solution and the impact of President Trump.”

The report itself (from 30:12 here) commenced with Franks explaining its rationale as being based on things “some say”:

Iqbal: “Let’s go now to Newshour’s Tim Franks in Jerusalem.”

Franks: “Razia, I’ve been coming to Jerusalem a fair bit over the last ten years. I used to live here as the BBC’s Middle East correspondent and there’s one refrain I’ve heard ahead of this trip which it feels like I’ve heard pretty much every time I’ve been back: nothing’s changed – it’s all just a bit worse. So is that right? Are we in a slightly dispiriting holding pattern or are we, as some say, at a tipping point? A moment when the reality on the ground, the new administration in Washington, mean that the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians is going to enter a new, decisive phase? It’s a question we’re going to look at through the week in strikingly different locations across this small patch of land that Israelis and Palestinians share.”

First, the city that means so much to so many. We’re going to begin in the religious, the historical, the emotional heart of it all: in Jerusalem. I say Jerusalem; the Old City is about six or seven kilometres up the road from here. This is Givat HaMatos – an area of scrubland really – on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just a couple of kilometres behind me to the south is the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. And I’m here with a man called Danny Seidemann – he’s an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem. And Danny; Givat HaMatos matters in what way?”

As was the also case when Franks provided Seidemann with a platform in the programme from just over two years ago, that introduction is inadequate. Once again Franks failed to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign government funded (including the UK) political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim.  That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political agenda of the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have better allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing words – including his interpretation of the two-state solution – into their appropriate context.

Seidemann: “Givat HaMatos is pretty unique. It’s one of two or three schemes that we call a Doomsday settlement. These settlements are in and of themselves capable of making the two-state solution impossible. Why? The heart of the two-state solution is a very simple deal: end of occupation in exchange of a recognized border, legitimacy and security. End of occupation means that in any permanent status agreement, no Palestinians in East Jerusalem would be left under Israeli rule. And what that means is that all of East Jerusalem – the Palestinian built-up areas – will become part of the Palestinian state: a contiguous and viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and with all of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem no longer living under Israeli rule.”

Franks: “Danny, can I just interrupt you. How does that square with the avow by this government, by the mayor of Jerusalem, by countless generations of Israeli politicians, that Jerusalem will never be divided again?”

Seidemann: “I assert that the only place that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel that will never be re-divided is in the fertile imaginations of Right-wing ideologues. Jerusalem is a bi-national city. It is de facto a divided city and it is a hotly contested city. The question that remains is is it possible to take a pen and draw a line on a map that will carve out a viable and contiguous Palestinian city and leave in its wake an equally robust and viable Israeli city? Today that is possible. Once Givat HaMatos will be built it will no longer be possible. This can take place without further warning. As early as tomorrow morning the tenders for the construction of the first 1,500 units can be issued.”

Franks refrained from informing listeners that there is nothing remotely new about the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos and that the neighbourhood was the site of temporary housing for new immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia from 1991 onwards, with initiatives to replace caravans with proper housing having first been proposed over a decade ago. He continued:

Franks: “What’s to stop, in that case, the Israeli government or the mayor of Jerusalem deciding that they do want to build here? There’s a terrible housing shortage in Jerusalem. Prices are through the roof. You’ve got a friendly administration in Washington. Why not build?”

Seidemann: “The popular image that Netanyahu has is that he is impervious to engagement and is not deterred. I disagree with that. There is a…has been…a wall to wall consensus internationally that there will be serious consequences in relations between Israel and the rest of the world should we pursue this and this has clearly deterred Netanyahu from doing so. Having said that, for the first time since 1967 and for the past ten days, we have a situation where there is an administration in Washington that apparently does not oppose settlements and some of the key people in the administration embrace settlements. And that means that the discreet mechanism that has applied the brakes on some of these detrimental developments is now gone. And nobody knows what the dynamics is going to be. The eventuality of construction in Givat HaMatos is greater today than ever it was in the past and its impact will be devastating.”

The BBC has been reporting on the Givat HaMatos project since 2012. Tim Franks should therefore be aware of the fact that since the beginning, half the proposed housing units there have been ear-marked for Arab residents of the adjacent neighborhood of Beit Safafa. However, he chose not to inform listeners of that fact before providing the next cue for his interviewee.

Franks: “What’s to say that – if there were building here in Givat HaMatos – that it would be, as you describe it, Israeli building? I mean the mayor of Jerusalem says ‘look, we build for Arabs, we build for Jews’. There’s not going to be any flags on the building saying ‘Jews only’.”

Seidemann: “As a rule that claim is entirely disingenuous. Israel built 55 thousand homes on lands expropriated from Palestinians and on paper it’s…”

Franks: “In East Jerusalem.”

Seidemann: “In East Jerusalem. On paper it’s available to everybody. The patterns of life are that Israelis and Palestinians live in separate areas and there are very, very few Palestinians residing in these areas and it is false innocence to claim otherwise.”

The interview with Seidemann ends there, with Franks failing to question the basic assertion which the BBC has been dutifully repeating and amplifying since 2012: that development of the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood would mean an end to the two-state solution. Likewise, Franks made no effort to challenge the assumption of ‘Palestinian land’ and failed to provide the all-important historical context of the 19-year Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem or the expulsion of Jews from parts of Jerusalem in 1948.

The inadequate introduction of Seidemann as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” breaches BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which state that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Clearly audiences should have been informed of Seidemann’s links to NGOs with a very clear political agenda on this topic and the fact that they were not means that this item steered audiences towards viewing particular and partial political claims as fact.

The rest of this audio report will be discussed in part two of this post.  

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part two

The second part of Tim Franks’ ‘Newshour’ special broadcast from Jerusalem on December 5th (available here from 00:30:00, part one discussed here) began with the following introduction from Franks:Newshour 5 12 Jerusalem special

“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”

Franks’ next interviewee is introduced as follows:

“And the south [of Jerusalem] is where I am now with Aviv Tatarsky. He’s with the think-tank and advocacy group Ir Amim which plots the changes to Jerusalem.”

Ir Amim of course does a lot more than just ‘plot changes’: it is an NGO with a clear political agenda which should have been clarified to BBC audiences before they were exposed to its researcher’s unchallenged claims.

Tatarsky: “Right, so we’re just on a lookout very close to Bethlehem on the southern perimeter of Jerusalem where right now it’s open land – open space – but Israel has published the official approval of a plan for a completely new neighbourhood – 2,600 housing units – called Givat HaMatos; that’s the name. And the significance is not only this big move to construct a neighbourhood and – for the world, for the Palestinians – a new settlement beyond the Green Line, but actually that this would really bring together Gilo and Har Homa and together with Givat HaMatos you would have continuous Israeli bloc that would finally separate Bethlehem – the south of the West bank – from East Jerusalem. I think everyone understands – the international community, certainly the Palestinians, also the Israeli government – to end the conflict, to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the conflict, there will be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Now when you decide to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, actually what the Israeli government is saying: this will not happen; there will not be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Basically we don’t want one and we’re actually interested in keeping the situation as it is.”

Contrary to the statement made by Franks, the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos is not “new” and it certainly is not from “the last couple of months”. In fact, the BBC has been misreporting that topic since December 2012 – a full two years before Franks’ report went on air – and since that date the BBC has also been claiming that new apartments in Givat HaMatos (around half of which are ear-marked for Arab residents of nearby Beit Tsafafa) would “cut Palestinians in East Jerusalem off from their West Bank hinterland”, just as Tatarsky does.

What no BBC report so far – including this one – has told audiences is that Givat HaMatos is in an area which, under any realistic scenario of a peace deal, would remain under Israeli control. What has also not been made clear is that it would be perfectly possible – and even logical – to construct a road leading from Bethlehem to, say, the Palestinian Legislative Council building in Abu Dis without passing through Givat HaMatos.

Rather than informing audiences accurately about this issue, however, Tim Franks, elects to give a platform to politically motivated sloganeering which does not even hold geographical water. 

Map Givat HaMatos

Next Franks goes to Issawiya to interview one Naim Hamdan whose nephews built a house without planning permission and are apparently now upset that the municipality has since demolished the structure, just as would be the case in any Western country. Franks grants Hamdan a platform to promote an egregious and redundant comparison between the demolition of a structure lacking planning permission and a hypothetical armed mugging in London.

Franks: “What do your nephews think about this?”

Hamdan: “What you will think? When someone stronger than you in the middle of London and hold a gun to your head; give me your money. What you will think when someone come to demolish your home? Are you gonna be happy? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

Following that listeners hear an unidentified voice say:

“Today we are divided physically, we are divided geographically and we are divided by walls of fear and in many ways a more endemic and more personalized hatred.”

As Franks then informs listeners, that voice belongs to Daniel Seidemann who is introduced as “a lawyer and activist” and who has appeared with similarly inadequate introduction in several recent BBC reports. Franks fails to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign funded political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim.  That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political motivations behind the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing uninterrupted monologue into context.

“We had the horrendous murder of a teenage Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was abducted and burned alive. You had the outbreak of violence in Gaza. So the only place where Israelis and Palestinians have enough of an interface is Jerusalem and it erupted here. Underneath all of this is a big question. What possesses thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year-old kids – who are the leaders of this uprising – to go out on a nightly basis for five months and clash with the police? They’re not being sent by their parents. They’re not being sent by some sort of authoritarian leader. They’re doing this spontaneously and that’s a huge question and I think the answer to that is they sense they have no future.”

Tim Franks clearly embraces Seidemann’s simplistic and cherry-picked narrative which completely erases from audience view recent Palestinian terrorism (including the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens in June) and Hamas’ instigation of the summer conflict whilst simultaneously failing to ask why parents and community leaders have made no discernible effort to put an end to such violent rioting or how the background of official PA incitement and glorification of terrorism legitimizes and encourages such acts. He then goes on to reinforce Seidemann’s spurious conjecture by promoting his own, similar picture.

Franks: “That level of disaffection spikes in places like this one: it’s the busy Palestinian neighbourhood in the north of the city called Shuafat where some of the sharpest clashes of recent months have erupted. Shuafat is the place also where the new light railway runs up to from the south of the city. This railway was designed by the city authorities to be – as far as they were concerned – a symbol of how Jerusalem is one united city. But here in Shuafat the train carriages have also been seen by many as a further intrusion from the other side: a target also for teenage stone-throwers. I’ve come to meet three of them.”

Obviously, Jerusalem’s light rail system was designed primarily to provide transport for all the city’s inhabitants rather than for the reasons of symbolism dubiously attached to its construction by Franks. He then goes on to allow his three anonymous teenage “stone-throwers” an unhindered platform to make the unverified claim that they were “imprisoned” because they are relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and fails to make any effort to dig deeper into the kind of mindset which prompts statements such as “his cousin’s blood won’t go just like this without having any revenge” and “throwing stones feeds you dignity”. In fact, the main factor evident in this part of the programme is Franks’ attempt to impose his own Western standards and cultural relativism on the phenomenon of violent rioting by Palestinian teenagers.

Franks continues with an interview with the headmistress of a school in Jabel Mukaber and another with the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat. Interestingly, he chooses to round off the special broadcast with an interview with the former British consul general in Jerusalem, Vincent Fean, who – as readers familiar with his record whilst he was in that position will not be in the least surprised to learn – is “now spending some of his time working to promote the international recognition of the Palestinian state”. Fean uses his unhindered platform to promote an inaccurate portrayal of the reasons for the failure of the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

Fean: “The reason why he [John Kerry] didn’t do it [reach a peace agreement] last time round is because Israel didn’t want it.”

In his introduction to this special edition of ‘Newshour’, Tim Franks outlined its purpose as follows:

“We’re here because…well, because this city has been in the news for most of recorded human history but in recent months, residents here – you’ll hear from them in this programme – they’ll tell you that an edge, a fear, a sense of division has sharpened. Why and how and what it means for any political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’ll be exploring.”

So what did BBC World Service listeners learn about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in that statement? They were told in the first part of the programme that one cause of tensions is Temple Mount, but provided with an inaccurate portrayal of the background to that topic. In the second half of the programme the focus was on ‘settlements’ and ‘disaffected’ youth with much misinformation and politically motivated manipulation of both those issues.

Listeners were not, however, told anything about the incitement focusing on Jerusalem and Temple Mount in particular coming from the Palestinian Authority and the topic of how that incitement serves the PA’s current strategies was not explored at all. Moreover, Tim Franks provided Fatah official Husam Zomlot with a platform from which to downplay that crucial factor.

The sole achievement of this special programme was in fact to reinforce the same mantras and narratives promoted by other BBC correspondents on other platforms so many times in the past. As usual, only things attributable to Israel are presented as factors contributing to ‘tensions’ and ‘division’. And as usual, Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility in the BBC’s chosen narrative. The very fact that Tim Franks managed to make an entire programme about Jerusalem without even once mentioning the recent terror attacks in that city speaks volumes about the motivations behind its production. 

Had Tim Franks’ trip to Jerusalem culminated in some serious reporting on the issue of PA incitement – which has been conscientiously swept under the carpet by the BBC for the past two months – the exercise would have been justified. As it is, the people who funded Franks’ trip actually gained very little new information which could enhance their understanding of the real background to this issue.

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 Slogan rich, evidence free: BBC’s Plett ‘analyses’ Israeli planning decisions

BBC’s Knell turns planned mixed Jerusalem neighbourhood into ‘Jewish settlement’

 

 

BBC’s Knell turns planned mixed Jerusalem neighbourhood into ‘Jewish settlement’

The BBC News website’s efforts to promote the topic of last weekend’s donor conference in Cairo were evident before, during and after the event.

On October 11th – the day before the Cairo conference – an article by Yolande Knell titled “After Gaza war, Palestinians seek new path to statehood” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the website’s Middle East page.Knell Cairo conf art

Roughly half of Knell’s article is devoted to amplification of the PA’s various current unilateral strategies, with her closing sentences so encumbered by redundant understatement that they fail to inform readers of the true significance and implications of the PA’s breach of its existing commitment to a negotiated solution to the conflict in favour of additional headline-grabbing unilateral moves.

“The Palestinians know that their latest plan to return to the Security Council, which has been criticised by Israel, is very likely to fail. However, they hope for a show of support for statehood.

A draft resolution calls for an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territory by November 2016 and for an international presence in East Jerusalem to protect the Palestinian population.

The Palestinian back-up plan is to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to pursue legal action against Israel.

Both moves would stir up tensions with the US and other major donors to the Palestinian Authority. While they will raise the political profile of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, they are unlikely to bring a real peace deal much closer.”

Knell’s characterization of the PA’s attempts to bring about externally imposed actions rather than negotiated agreements as merely “unlikely” to bring about an end to the conflict is clearly absurd. Notably, she fails to make any mention of the fact that one partner in the current PA unity government – Hamas – refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and is not a member of the body with which Israel negotiates – the PLO.

 No less remarkable is her earlier misrepresentation of an existing construction project in the Jerusalem district.

“But in the coming days, Palestinian officials hope a series of events will put their cause back in the spotlight.

At a donors’ conference in Cairo on Sunday, President Mahmoud Abbas will seek $4bn (£2.5bn) for Gaza reconstruction.

A day later the British parliament is scheduled to hold a non-binding vote on whether the government should recognise Palestine as an independent state within the boundaries of the ceasefire lines which existed prior to the 1967 Middle East war.

Later this month there is a plan to ask the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for recognition and to set a deadline for Israel to pull out from occupied Palestinian territory.

The latter two steps are likely to be little more than symbolic but the Palestinians hope to increase political pressure on Israel, which has recently continued to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Jewish settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The location of the “settlements” to which Knell refers is indicated by an accompanying photograph with the following caption:

“Israel has been criticised this month for approving new settlement construction in Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem”

Knell Cairo conf art pic

Seeing as it already reported on the same planning application in 2012, the BBC should be aware of the fact that there is nothing remotely “new” about the plan to build housing in the Givat HaMatos district of Jerusalem. Knell, however, refrains from informing readers that the neighbourhood was the site of temporary housing for new immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia from 1991 onwards. She neglects to state that initiatives to replace caravans with proper housing were first proposed nine years ago and that the plans approved by the district planning committee in late September allocate around half of the planned apartments to Arab residents of nearby Beit Safafa – which itself straddles the 1949 armistice line and yet of course is never referred to by Knell and her colleagues as a “settlement”.  

Had she made sure to accurately and impartially inform BBC audiences of the above facts, Knell would of course have found it rather more difficult to make use of the BBC’s misleading standard editorial guideline breaching insertion “Jewish settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this”. The Givat HaMatos project is not a “Jewish settlement” but a planned mixed neighbourhood of Jerusalem in an area which would remain under Israeli control according to any realistic scenario of a negotiated two-state solution.

In other words, Yolande Knell has once again ditched her commitment to the BBC’s supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, as well as her obligation to enable audiences to reach an “understanding” of international issues, in favour of exclusive amplification of the PA’s political narrative. 

 

Slogan rich, evidence free: BBC’s Plett ‘analyses’ Israeli planning decisions

December 20th 2012 saw yet another article in the Middle East section of the BBC News website about ‘settlement building’ – this time relating to the call by several European members of the UN SC to “immediately halt new construction” – which they seem to have failed to notice is not yet underway and is in fact a very long way from commencement. 

The report opens with the adoption of one of the favourite mantras of anti-Israel campaigners such as the PSC: [emphasis added]

“The UN is stepping up pressure on Israel over its settlement building on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

It goes on to say:

Divided Jerusalem

“Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it as part of its capital, in a move never recognised internationally.”

What the BBC neglects to inform its readers, of course, is that eastern Jerusalem was artificially divided from the rest of the city – for the first time in its history – for only 19 years prior to 1967, as a result of the Jordanian capture and subsequent annexation of certain parts of the city. That annexation was also never recognized “internationally”.

Additionally, the report states:

“Also on Wednesday, Jerusalem’s planning committee granted approval for 2,610 homes in a new settlement in East Jerusalem called Givat Hamatos – the first to be built in the area since 1997.”

Interestingly, the BBC report not only neglects to mention that there are already people living in that area, but also that half the proposed housing units in Givat HaMatos are ear-marked for Arab residents. In addition, it does not inform its audience that one day prior to the decision on Givat HaMatos, over 600 houses were also approved – by the same planning committee – in the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safafa. Strangely, the latter decision did not appear to irk either the UN SC, the EU or the BBC.

Givat HaMatos

The article goes on to quote a statement from the EU on the subject:

“If implemented, these plans would jeopardise the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State and of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine”.

That theme is echoed in the side-bar of ‘analysis’ by the BBC’s UN correspondent Barbara Plett in which she claims that:

“The outcry at the UN reflects a real concern that Israel’s continued settlement building could deal a fatal blow to the chances for a two-state solution of its conflict with the Palestinians.

Its announcement of new construction plans, including the possibility of a new settlement in East Jerusalem, comes just days after its declared intent to build in a parcel of land known as E-1, which would cut Palestinians in East Jerusalem off from their West Bank hinterland.”

Plett analysis

Of course both the EU statement and Plett’s matching one – whilst high on hubris – have little connection to the reality on the ground as far as geography is concerned and as reflected in different peace proposals over the years.

The 2000 Camp David proposal – rejected by Arafat – included all of the sites of today’s proposed building in Israeli territory. 

Camp David proposal

Similarly, the 2008 Olmert proposal – widely accepted by many Israelis as representing the most they can offer to the Palestinians – also includes Ramat Shlomo, Givat HaMatos and E1 in Israeli territory.

Olmert plan

It is therefore notable that the BBC – along with members of the Quartet such as the EU – now appears to ignore all previous realistic proposals and instead embraces the rejectionist Palestinian approach to the dispute. It is also regrettable – and ridiculous – that they invent alarmist canards such as the notion that building houses in areas which – under any realistic peace plan – will remain in Israel “jeopardises” and “deals a fatal blow” to the chance of a two-state solution. 

For some eminently sensible and realistic commentary on the subject, one can do no better than to turn to Yaacov Lozowick, who recently wrote on the subject:

“When it comes to E1, he said, the Israelis and Palestinians are competing to see who gets the balloon and who gets the string. Jewish West Jerusalem, Maaleh Adumim, Rammallah and Bethlehem are all there to stay. Whoever ends up controlling E1 will have a comfortable land corridor between their two balloons while the other side will be left with a road through the other’s territory: a string. If Israel controls E1, the Palestinians will have a north-south road through it; if the Palestinians own E1, the Israelis will have an east-west road through it.

The claim whereby Israeli ownership of E1 would make for a truncated and thus non-viable Palestinian state on the West Bank ought to be about as convincing as saying a physical barrier between Manhattan and Brooklyn and New Jersey makes Manhattan non-viable.

To be clear: I’m not arguing for or against Israeli construction on E1. I’m merely pointing out that much of the verbiage on the topic is misleading.”

In addition to the five very pertinent points made by Mr Lozowick in the rest of his article, it is possible to add one other. If we assume that a peace agreement broadly based on something very similar to the two maps above will be the eventual outcome to the current dispute, then obviously significant numbers of Israelis will need to leave their current homes and livelihoods in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Rift Valley and relocate to other parts of Israel. The current zoning and long-term planning in areas which will remain within Israeli territory under such a two-state solution agreement could therefore actually speed up its implementation rather than presenting a barrier to it. 

It remains highly problematic that the best the BBC can apparently contribute to its audiences’ understanding of the Middle East peace process is the kind of evidence-free, slogan-rich hyperbole proffered by Barbara Plett in this article.  The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.”

On the subject of Israeli zoning and planning decisions, the BBC is failing miserably to meet its obligation to impartiality by consistently neglecting to provide audiences with any information on the indisputably significant “strand of thought” which lies behind several past peace proposals and according to which, the existing neighbourhoods of Jerusalem with a Jewish majority beyond the ‘green line’ would remain Israeli. 

By failing to meet that obligation, the BBC also contravenes – by omission – yet another of its Editorial Guidelines:

“The BBC Agreement forbids our output from expressing the opinion of the BBC on current affairs or matters of public policy”.