Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

Previously we saw how a BBC News website report on the US decision to close the PLO office in Washington DC failed to provide readers with an adequate explanation of both the legal background to that decision and the fact that the same Palestinian officials now protesting it have had nearly three years in which to study the requirements for keeping that mission open.

The September 10th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ closed with an item on the same story which was introduced by presenter Julian Marshall (from 45:05 here) with the following framing:

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

Marshall: “The Trump administration is piling the pressure on the Palestinians. It’s already ended bilateral funding and also funding to the UN agency which looks after Palestinian refugees. President Trump says they’re ungrateful and should return to the negotiating table with Israel. And today the US ordered the closure of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Washington. The US State Department said the Palestinians were refusing to engage with the US over peace efforts. US National Security Advisor John Bolton also touched on the topic in his speech excoriating the International Criminal Court. He said the US decision to close the mission in Washington was a result of the court’s insistence on investigating Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza.”

In contrast to Marshall’s claim, the ICC’s preliminary investigations in fact came as a result of actions by the Palestinian Authority beginning in January 2015. Listeners then heard a recording of John Bolton speaking on the same day.

Recording Bolton: “The United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel. And today, reflecting Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel, the Department of State will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation office here in Washington DC and the Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. The United States supports a direct and robust peace process and we will not allow the ICC or any other organisation to constrain Israel’s right to self-defence.”

Marshall: “So why is Mr Bolton conflating two issues: the ICC and the Palestinians? Our State Department correspondent again, Barbara Plett-Usher.

While it is obvious that Barbara Plett-Usher is aware of the history and legal background to this story, BBC World Service listeners did not hear a lucid explanation. Despite the BBC having itself reported on Palestinian petitions to the ICC – including as recently as in May – Plett-Usher disingenuously portrayed that topic as though it were a claim dreamed up by John Bolton.

Plett-Usher: “Well that’s because Congress conflated them. Congress put some conditions on the ability of the PLO to open an office in Washington, one of which was that the Palestinians could not be going after Israel in the ICC and you heard there Mr Bolton saying they were in fact trying to do that. But even then, even if the Palestinians had made such moves, the PLO office could still be allowed to operate here if the Palestinians were engaging in peace talks with the Israelis, which they are not. They’re boycotting the US attempts to revive negotiations because they see them as blatantly favouring the Israelis on core issues. But the administration used these two arguments, these two conditions put down by Congress, to close down the mission.”

Marshall: “And has this mission in Washington been useful for the Palestinians?”

Misrepresenting the title of the PLO envoy to Washington and giving a partisan interpretation of the Oslo Accords Declaration of Principles, Plett-Usher replied:

Plett-Usher: “I think it’s been more useful at some times than at others but by and large what it was, it was set up after the Oslo Accords were negotiated in ’93-’94 and this was the sort of point man point in Washington to liaise with the US administration on efforts to implement those accords which of course were supposed to result in a Palestinian state and never did. More recently the diplomats here have engaged in direct outreach to Americans – to churches, civil organisations, students and the like – trying to build support for the Palestinians, to take advantage of a decrease in support for the Israeli government policies among Americans but also including American Jews. In fact the PLO ambassador claims that that was one reason they were shut down.”

Plett-Usher refrained from mentioning reports that the PLO mission in Washington had been funding campus activity of the anti-Israel BDS campaign in the US.

Marshall then went on to introduce his second contributor, failing to clarify to listeners that Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO’s executive committee.

Marshall: “[…] and earlier I spoke to Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian legislator and former negotiator. What’s her reaction to Mr Bolton’s remarks?”

[48:23] Ashrawi: “This is not an act that happened in isolation. It’s part of a concerted American assault on Palestinian rights, on the chances of peace [laughs] and on any semblance of justice, on legality and solving the Palestinian-Israeli issue. And it seems to me the US is certainly doing Israel’s bidding and is trying to resolve all issues by bashing the Palestinians, by punishing the Palestinians – who are already under occupation – and by rewarding Israel and granting it full immunity to act outside the law with full impunity.”

Marshall: “The United States says it’s doing this because the Palestinians are not supporting peace talks with Israel.”

Ashrawi: [laughs] That’s extremely ironic. There are no talks. There are no plans. There is no negotiating table to invite us back to: the US has smashed it into smithereens. It has decided unilaterally to give away Jerusalem to Israel which is illegal because Jerusalem is occupied territory – it is Palestinian land. It has decided single-handedly to redefine Palestinian refugees and to stop funding UNRWA which is an international organisation specifically set up to serve and protect the Palestinian refugees. It has unilaterally decided that the settlements are not illegal, that it doesn’t want the ’67 boundaries or the two-state solution. So what does it want? Right now it is busy telling the Palestinians if you do not surrender to our dictates, if you do not accept all these steps then you are going to be punished again and Israel is rewarded. So it’s extremely ironic. It’s really disingenuous to talk about peace. Actually now we are being punished because we dared ask the International Criminal Court to speed up its investigation of Israeli war crimes and as you know, settlements are a war crime by international definition according to the Rome Statute.”

Making no effort whatsoever to challenge Ashrawi’s egregious portrayal of Jerusalem as “Palestinian land”, her “war crimes” smear or her partisan interpretation of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, Marshall changed the subject.

Marshall: “Do you have any idea what the US peace plan is? Because the Trump administration says that the Palestinian leadership has condemned that plan that they haven’t even seen [Ashrawi laughs] and refused to engage the US government with respect to peace efforts in other words.”

Ashrawi: “Yes of course we refuse because we don’t need to talk about a plan; they’re implementing it. I mean anybody who has any sense – any sight – would see that the US is busy dismantling every single component or requirement of peace. These issues are very clear. So it’s not that we [laughs] are not talking peace. We have been talking peace for decades and we’ve negotiated with numerous American administrations. It’s this one that has…I think it has lost its mind. I think in this mad, hysterical defence of Israel, they just don’t make sense. They have lost their balance and it’s really serious because they’re creating a situation of tremendous volatility.”

Marshall: “How do the Palestinians now though gain their independent state? You’ve rejected the United States as a mediator; you’re not prepared at the moment to sit down with Israel. How do you achieve your political objectives?”

Ashrawi: “Well the president Mahmoud Abbas last year declared or announced an initiative about convening an international conference about the requirements of peace. There is a plan but obviously when the US has taken sides so blatantly and I think now it’s up to the international community that has to take up its responsibility to protect the Palestinians and to hold Israel to account and now to hold the US to account.”

Failing to inform listeners that Abbas’ ‘international conference’ was supposed to have taken place “by mid-2018“, Marshall closed the item there, once again neglecting to clarify Ashrawi’s PLO links.

As we see, once again BBC audiences were not given an adequate account of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of the US decision to close the PLO mission in Washington. They did, however, hear Hanan Ashrawi’s political talking points, inaccuracies and distortions go completely unchallenged for four straight minutes in this one-sided presentation of the story.

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BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

 

 

 

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BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

As noted here recently, a report published on the BBC News website on August 31st inaccurately described the PLO’s representative to the United States as “the Palestinian ambassador to Washington”.

“On Friday, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hossam Zomlot, accused the US of “endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees”.

The US “is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace”, he told AFP.”

BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website pointing out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state, that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time and that Mr Zomlot describes himself as the “Head of the PLO General Delegation to the US”.  

The report was subsequently amended and the passage concerned now reads:

However, no footnote explaining the amendment has been added to the report and the continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that those who read this article between the evening of August 31st and the afternoon of September 2nd remain unaware of the fact that they were given an inaccurate description of the envoy’s title.

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BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

Earlier this year BBC audiences saw quite a lot of reporting on the topic of US aid donations to the Palestinians in general and via UNRWA in particular – for example:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

That generous, if mostly imbalanced, coverage was hallmarked by the repeated failure to provide BBC audiences with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its record or its efficiency. Significantly, BBC audiences were not provided with an explanation of why – in contrast to the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees – UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – or “resettlement” in third countries.

Those crucial omissions were evident again in a report originally published on the BBC News website’s main homepage as well as its ‘World’, ‘US and Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on August 31st under the headline “US ends aid to Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa“.

The article opened with a three sentence description of the story:

“The United States is ending all funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, the US State Department says.

It described the organisation, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), as “irredeemably flawed”.

The US administration has “carefully reviewed” the issue and “will not make additional contributions to Unrwa,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.”

Readers then found three paragraphs of Palestinian Authority condemnation of the decision followed by two paragraphs and a screenshot amplifying comment from UNRWA’s spokesperson.

“A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later said the move was an “assault” against his people.

“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told Reuters news agency.

He added that the decision was “a defiance of UN resolutions”.

A spokesman for Unrwa, Chris Gunness, defended the agency in a series of tweets.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that Unrwa’s schools, health centres, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed’,” he wrote.”

The report continued under the sub-heading “What is Unrwa?”.

“Unrwa was originally set up to take care of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The agency says it currently supports more than five million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, including providing health care, education and social services.”

The BBC’s article went on to supposedly explain the background to the US decision under the sub-heading “Why is the US critical of Unrwa?”.

“The US disagrees with Unrwa, and Palestinian officials, on a number of issues. […]

The US and Israel also disagree with Unrwa on which Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes they fled following the 1948 war.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said earlier this week that Unrwa exaggerated the number of Palestinian refugees, and needed to reform.

“You’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America,” she said.

The state department says the US is contributing a “very disproportionate share of the burden of Unrwa’s costs”.

It complains of a business model and fiscal practices, linked to an “exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries”, which is “unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.”

Interestingly, the BBC chose not to report that the US State Department statement also included the following:

“We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business. These children are part of the future of the Middle East. Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model. They deserve to be able to plan for the future.

Accordingly, the United States will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the United States and other partners, that can provide today’s Palestinian children with a more durable and dependable path towards a brighter tomorrow.”

Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.””

Neither did readers get any information concerning the relevant topic of the Arab League’s politically motivated refusal to integrate Palestinian refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Egypt or the UN’s abandonment of that target.

“In November 1951, UNRWA’s second director, John Blandford, Jr., proposed a three-year, $200 million program to reintegrate 150,000-200,000 refugees into their Arab host countries. Blandford’s plan was endorsed by U.N. General Assembly resolution 513 of January 26, 1952, which tasked UNRWA “to explore with the governments … their assuming administration of reintegration projects at the earliest possible date.”  Seven years later, the concept was reaffirmed by U.N. secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, who called for the “reintegration” of refugees “into the economic life of the area.”

For its part, Washington was a foremost advocate of the reintegration program as evidenced by various State Department plans and proposals, including those in May 1949, May 1953, July 1957, March 1959, and June 1960. To this must be added the 1954 Anglo-American Alpha Plan, a plan proposed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as well as a bold initiative by Secretary of State Christian Herter and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in June 1960.

But since 1960, successive administrations have ignored or forgotten the reintegration idea, and U.S. allocations of funds to UNRWA have been devoted to maintaining the few surviving refugees and their much more numerous descendents in unsettled conditions, turning them into a growing source of conflict. […]

And so UNRWA abandoned its original mission of relief extension and conflict resolution, evolving into an agency for the perpetuation of unsettled claims against Jerusalem for millions of persons born in the years after the founding of Israel in 1948.”

Likewise, the BBC did not attempt to explain to its audiences why some 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship are still defined as ‘refugees’ by UNRWA or why a similar number of people who live in areas under the control of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas also continue to hold that status.

Readers of this report did however see a further six paragraphs of Palestinian messaging under the sub-heading “What does the Palestinian side say?” including uncritical amplification of statements from a person inaccurately described as “the Palestinian ambassador to Washington”.

“On Friday, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hossam Zomlot, accused the US of “endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees”.

The US “is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace”, he told AFP.”

With the BBC once again having failed to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for understanding of this story, readers would of course be unable to objectively assess Zomlot’s claims regarding the UN agency’s highly debatable role in contributing to “the prospects for future peace”.  

On September 1st that report was replaced by a subsequent one which will be discussed in part two of this post.

US Taylor Force Act not newsworthy for the BBC

Those getting their news from the BBC News website will not be aware that late last week the United States passed legislation relating to the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and the families of terrorists.

“The Taylor Force Act, legislation that cuts American funding for the Palestinian Authority over its payments to convicted terrorists and their families, officially became a law on Friday evening, after President Donald Trump signed a large budget bill that the act was a part of. The PA protested the passage of the legislation, which is named after Taylor Force, an American citizen murdered in a terror attack in Tel Aviv two years ago.

The bill was first introduced by Republican lawmakers in March of last year. Over the last 12 months, it has gone through a modification process that produced wide bipartisan support for it. The final version that became part of the wider budget bill includes a number of exceptions for projects that will continue to receive American funding, such as hospitals in East Jerusalem, wastewater programs and child vaccination initiatives.

It should be noted that the legislation will not affect the budget that the United States provides to the Palestinian Authority’s security and intelligence forces, which is separate from funding that goes toward dealing with civilian issues within the PA. […]

In a statement it [the White House] said that it “commends the Congress for including the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits most U.S. foreign assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the PA ends the abhorrent practice of providing payments to terrorists and their families in reward for acts of violence.””

Visitors to the BBC News website have to date not seen any reporting on that topic either on the US or Middle East pages. Even the predictable reaction from BBC regular Husam Zomlot did not receive any coverage.

“The PLO excoriated Congress on Friday for passing the Taylor Force Act, a law that threatens to freeze State Department funds to the Palestinian Authority unless it ends its longstanding practice of compensating terrorists and the families of terrorists convicted in Israeli courts.

The PLO envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, dismissed the effort as politically motivated. The pressure “does not work, and severely damages the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” he said. […]

The bill, Zomlot said, “punishes” the PA, “which is the only agency committed to peace and nonviolence, and undermines the American-Palestinian bilateral relationship and decades of US investments in the two-state solution.

“The Taylor Force Act represents the most recent effort in this 30-year-old trend of legislations that deliberately targets the Palestinian people,” Zomlot continued, accusing the US Congress of “flagrant bias.””

As regular readers know, the subject of the PA’s payment of salaries to terrorists is one that the BBC more often than not chooses to avoid, despite its relevance to members of the public in the many countries which donate aid to the Palestinian Authority – including of course Britain. Although familiarity with this issue is also key to BBC audience understanding of both the eternal PA budget deficit and the background to Palestinian terrorism, as we see the corporation continues to under-report the topic.  

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BBC News reports one story about a PLO envoy, ignores another

On December 31st 2017 an article was published on the BBC News website’s main home page, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Palestinians recall envoy to US“. BBC audiences found just 46 words relating to that headline’s subject matter.

“The Palestinians have announced they are recalling their envoy to the United States for “consultations”, weeks after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. […]

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki was recalling the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) envoy Husam Zomlot, Palestinian news agency Wafa said.”

The rest of that 228 word article included a one-sided view of the US announcement:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not accept any US peace plan in the wake of Mr Trump’s move.

Protests and clashes broke out in the Gaza Strip after the announcement.

A UN resolution calling on the US to cancel the decision was backed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly.

Thirteen Palestinians have died in violence since Mr Trump’s announcement, most killed in clashes with Israeli forces. […]

On Sunday Mr Abbas called Jerusalem the “eternal capital of the Palestinian people”.

The BBC did not inform readers that Abbas’ remark was made at a rally marking the anniversary of the founding of Fatah in 1965. 

In addition, audiences found the standard context-lite BBC background on Jerusalem:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel occupied the east of the city, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks. […]

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Although the PLO envoy’s recall was from the outset described as temporary, the very next day – January 1st 2018 – the BBC News website published another article relating to the same topic under the title “Trump’s Jerusalem move: Palestinian envoy sent back to Washington“.

“The Palestinian envoy to the United States says he is returning to Washington after just one day of “consultations” over President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Husam Zomlot said he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas privately.

He was instructed to return to Washington “immediately”, he said. […]

In a Facebook post on Monday Mr Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) envoy, said he would be returning to the US after spending time “with loved ones”. […]

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said on Sunday that talks between Mr Zomlot and Mr Abbas were arranged to “set the decisions needed by the Palestinian leadership … regarding our relations with the US”.”

Readers again found one-sided presentation of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“On Sunday, Mr Abbas said he would not accept any US peace plan following Mr Trump’s announcement.

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US announcement on 6 December led to protests and clashes in the Gaza Strip.

A UN resolution calling on the US to cancel the decision was backed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly. […]

Thirteen Palestinians have died in violence since Mr Trump’s announcement over the US view of Jerusalem, most killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Mr Abbas has called Jerusalem the “eternal capital of the Palestinian people”.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Husam Zomlot was however not the only PLO envoy to be recalled at the end of December. According to the PA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the envoy to Pakistan was recalled following protest from India after he appeared at a rally on December 29th.  

“The Palestinians have withdrawn their envoy to Pakistan after he appeared at a rally with a radical cleric linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Palestinian envoy Walid Abu Ali shared the stage with Hafiz Saeed, the head of the hard-line Jamaat-ud-Dawa movement, at Friday’s rally, which was held to protest US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. […]

Jamaat-ud-Dawa is believed to be a front for Lashker-e-Taiba, a group that fights Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir, and which was blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. […]

In a statement Saturday addressed to India, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the envoy’s participation “in the presence of individuals accused of supporting terrorism” was “an unintended mistake, but not justified.” It said the envoy has been recalled.

India had lodged a protest with the Palestinians earlier Saturday, calling the envoy’s association with Saeed “unacceptable.””

In contrast to the generous coverage of the temporary recall of the PLO envoy in Washington, visitors to the BBC News website did not find any reporting whatsoever on the story of the recall of the PLO envoy in Pakistan on either general or relevant regional pages.

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Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

On December 7th the BBC News website published an article by Barbara Plett Usher on its ‘US & Canada’ page and the same article appeared on the website’s Middle East page as ‘related reading’.

Titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“, the article begins with a subheading informing readers that the US president has ruined Christmas for Palestinians:

“A blue Christmas for Palestinians”

Readers then discover that the first “key takeaway” proffered by Plett Usher is that the PLO has cancelled a party.

“Less than a month ago the Palestinians’ top diplomat in Washington was telling me he thought President Trump might succeed at peacemaking where others had failed.

In every meeting Trump confirmed he would “give his heart and soul” to this process, said Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) representative.

It was an optimistic reading of a frequently rocky process. But there was enough in the efforts of Mr Trump’s peace envoys to give the Palestinians a sense that their relationship with the White House was on an upward trajectory.

Building off the momentum, Mr Zomlot organised a Christmas party on Capitol Hill with a guest list that included members of congress and government officials.

The idea was to live-stream Bethlehem Christmas celebrations into the political heart of America.

When the PLO mission got a late-breaking heads up about the decision on Jerusalem it cancelled the event, saying it would be unsuitable after an “announcement that runs counter to the message of peace”.”

Interestingly, the topic of recent PLO threats to freeze ties with the US – made weeks before the latest story concerning the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem broke – apparently did not come up during Plett Usher’s chats with Husam Zomlot.  

Erasing the fact that the US president had spoken to Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders on the phone prior to his announcement concerning the US embassy and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Plett Usher continued:

“The fact that the Palestinians, and reportedly Arab leaders, were largely taken by surprise is only one sign that the decision was not part of a wider Middle East strategy.”

She went on:

“There’s been speculation that Mr Trump was trying to shake things up as a tactic to prepare the ground for peace talks.

But there’s far more evidence he was simply focused on keeping a campaign promise to pro-Israel American Jews and evangelical Christians in his political base.”

Under the sub-heading “It’s a Christian thing” Plett Usher then unquestioningly amplified historically illiterate Palestinian claims concerning Christianity. [emphasis added]

“The face of Mike Pence beaming over Mr Trump’s shoulder during the announcement said it all.

The vice-president was an influential voice in convincing Mr Trump to follow through on his campaign promise, and this illustrates the political power of hardline Christian evangelicals who fervently support Israel.

That was not lost on Palestinian legislator and Christian Hanan Ashrawi.

“My god did not tell me what his god tells him,” she spat out in an interview with the BBC.

We are the original Christians, we are the owners of the land, we are the people who’ve been here for centuries. How dare they come here and give me biblical treatises and absolutist positions!”

Incidentally, the enterprising Mr Zomlot tried to play the Christian card with his Bethlehem-themed Capitol Hill reception, and has told activists the motto “Jesus is a gift from Palestine” might help translate the Palestinian message to Christian America.”

Palestinian officials of course have a long record of falsifying history in order to negate Jewish connections to the region and the ‘Jesus was a Palestinian’ canard is just one of the themes used to promote that narrative, particularly at this time of year.

Does the BBC really believe that amplifying the blatant falsehoods of professional PLO propagandists such as Ashrawi and Zomlot contributes anything of value to its audiences’ understanding of this story?

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Weekend long read

1) MEMRI has produced a report reviewing “statements by Palestinian officials threatening to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration and urging it to apologize for it, as well as the articles in the Palestinian press on this issue and the popular campaign that has been launched to promote the lawsuit.”

“In comments to the website of the satellite television channel Al-Mayadeen on February 11, 2017, PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that, during a visit to London last year (on October 31-November 1, 2016) he had told his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, that the British government and all its institutions must avoid participating in any events related to the Balfour Declaration and that any celebrations of the declaration’s centenary would have a negative impact on Palestinian-British relations. He also demanded that Britain acknowledge its historic responsibility for the declaration, apologize to the Palestinian people, and issue a new declaration recognizing a Palestinian state.”

2) At the end of last month the JCPA held a conference marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. Videos of lectures given by speakers at the conference can be found here.

3) The ITIC has produced a profile of frequent BBC interviewee Husam Zomlot in light of his appointment to a new post.

“On March 8, 2017, Mahmoud Abbas appointed Dr. Husam Zomlot as chief of the PLO delegation to the United States, in effect representing Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA). He will replace Maen Erekat, who has held the post since 2009. Erekat will be appointed to represent the PA in London. Since May 2016 Husam Zomlot has been advisor for strategic affairs to Mahmoud Abbas.”

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Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the claims and topics on which presenter Stephen Sackur chose to challenge Fatah’s Husam Zomlot during a ‘Hardtalk’ interview broadcast on BBC World News on March 2nd. In this post we will look at the claims and statements that Sackur chose to let stand by failing to use his role as interviewer to intervene and clarify issues to BBC audiences.

For example, Sackur made no effort to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords, failing to point out that they do not include the stipulation that Israel should withdraw from “all the territories” which came under its control following the Six Day War and that they do stipulate that the issue of borders is to be determined in final status negotiations. Neither did Sackur bother to remind viewers that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005 or to clarify that the territory is not ‘besieged’. Likewise, he refrained from clarifying that the 1949 Armistice lines are not borders and that definition of the two-state solution as meaning “a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders” is merely the PLO’s interpretation of the term.

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

Zomlot: “…you know I also witnessed the Oslo process as a young man, you know, witnessed the demise of the implementation of the peace process. I think if you are talking about the process itself, yes, it has been discredited. All along since 1997 we should have had a state. According to the Oslo Accords Israel should have withdrawn from all the territories it occupied in 1967 and in fact what happened after was the deepening of the occupation and the spread of colonial settlements and the besiegement [sic] of the people in Gaza and what have you and therefore, yes; you’re right – the process has failed miserably to deliver the outcome. And to many people it was a process actually designed to prevent the outcome; a process that was going in the opposite direction. But the hope and the aspiration and the goal of two states – of a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders – the hope for two states…”

Zomlot’s whitewashed and misleading portrayal of the PLO charter went unchallenged by Sackur with no effort made to clarify that Jews in Zomlot’s “egalitarian” Palestinian state only include those “who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion”.

Zomlot: “The PLO official…the Palestine Liberation Organisation official platform until 1988 was a one democratic state for all its citizens in the historic land of Palestine for Muslims, Christians and Jews but that platform had to be compromised simply because there was a condition by the international community – in fact by Reagan, the Reagan administration – on the PLO that we must abandon our dream of one democratic, egalitarian state, diverse and respecting the rule of law for all of its citizens, to a two-state solution.”

Sackur failed to challenge the falsehood promoted by Zomlot according to which the current economic situation in the PA and Hamas controlled areas is “unprecedented” and refrained from clarifying that GDP is currently significantly higher than was the case during the second Intifada and in 2006. Neither did Sackur challenge Zomlot’s bizarre claim of a Palestinian population of 12.7 million or the falsehood that Palestinians are ‘coerced’ into working in Israel.

Zomlot: “The socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza is simply unprecedented in terms of how deteriorated it has been. All economic indicators show some sort of an economic – what’s the word? – slaughter-house, actually. Let me give you some numbers very, very quickly about the economic disparity because of us having to work in Israel – not, by the way, by choice but by coercion. You know our population is around 12.7 million. We have 95% literacy and we have 70% under age of 29. This is a very youthful, very educated society. And we have very wealthy natural resources yet GDP – our GDP – I’m talking about 2015 – just a quick number – is $12 billion compared to $305 billion in Israel. Our per capita is 2,800 compared to 36,000 in Israel. Our unemployment rate…”

Sackur failed to inform viewers that Zomlot’s claims that the Israeli government seeks “full annexation of the West Bank” and that such a move is ongoing “on a daily basis” are false.

Zomlot: “…in our situation, given the calamity of the Israeli agenda now – the current government – and it’s very clear: they want full annexation of the West Bank. This is not what I’m saying; this is what they’re saying and doing on a daily basis. You’ve just quoted some of their bills passed in the Knesset and we are witnessing on a daily basis here in the West Bank and Jerusalem of course – East Jerusalem. Now if this is their agenda…by the way part of them pushing Gaza out of the equation so their annexationist agenda can prevail.”

Zomlot’s denial of Jerusalem as the capital – and seat of government – of Israel, his ridiculous claim concerning water consumption and his use of ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonisation’ tropes went unremarked by Sackur.

Zomlot: “Steve, the whole situation here is that of a system of entitlement. These people – some people in Tel Aviv right now – the government, the Right-wing extreme government, wants to keep a system whereby there is a group that are privileged as per these numbers. It’s our own water that they consume, most of it. Some groups that are privileged and others that are disprivileged [sic] and discriminated whether by means of occupation or by means of colonisation or by means of apartheid.”

Even the ridiculous claim that Palestinians are “treated as slaves” and use of the ‘chosen people’ trope produced no reaction from the BBC interviewer.

Zomlot: “Does this mean ending Israel’s occupation and establishing a State of Palestine? We are happy to proceed with you as partners. But if this means we will continue to be treated as slaves in our own land and we continue to put up against some people who argue that God is estate agent and God chose some people at the expense of others.”

In addition, on several occasions Sackur himself failed to adhere to the BBC’s own style on the use of the term ‘Palestine’ which states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – for example:

Sackur: “I’m going to stop you because you’re raising so many different points, all of which are important, about internal politics in Palestine.

As we see, while Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and rigorously on claims concerning internal Palestinian affairs during this interview, the same standard was not applied when Zomlot was speaking about other issues. The result of that discrepancy is that Zomlot was allowed him a free hand to mislead BBC audiences by propagating blatant falsehoods, delegitimising tropes and inaccurate anti-Israel propaganda.

 

 

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part one

The March 2nd edition of the BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired an interview with Fatah’s Husam Zomlot which was billed as follows:

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Husam Zomlot, a senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump era signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

The programme – also broadcast on the BBC News Channel – is available to UK-based viewers here and a clip from the interview was promoted on the BBC News website.

Presenter Stephen Sackur introduced the interview as follows, promoting the BBC’s now well established narrative of a ‘shift’ in US policy regarding the two-state solution.

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

Sackur: “For years the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been stuck, condemned to repeat itself year in, year out but now something has changed. The two protagonists remain deaf to each other’s demands but there is a new US president who seems to care little for Washington’s long-established quest for a two-state solution. So what does that mean? Well my guest is Husam Zomlot, advisor to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump ers signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

A significant proportion of the interview related to the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with the new US administration and additional topics included internal Palestinian politics and economy. While some of Zomlot’s claims and statements were challenged – at times vigorously – by Sackur, others were not challenged at all.

Part one of this post will look at the subjects on which Sackur did chose to use his role as interviewer in order to clarify points to BBC audiences and part two will examine the claims and issues on which he refrained from challenging Zomlot.

When Zomlot claimed a “national consensus” regarding the two-state solution, Sackur intervened to clarify to audiences that the claim is inaccurate, although he did not similarly challenge the myth of Israel being on ‘Palestinian land’ or point out that – crucially to the issue under discussion – the PA and Fatah refuse to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.

Zomlot: “And, you know, it took us so many years to get to that national equilibrium here in Palestine; to establish a national consensus on the two-state solution and on accepting, recognising Israel on 78% of our land. […]

Sackur: “…you claim you’ve reached a consensus, which of course you haven’t because that’s why Gaza and the West Bank are so deeply divided politically so we’ll get to that later.”

Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and vigorously with regard to his claims of communication with the new US administration.

Sackur: “That must worry you; that the Trump team do not seem to be interested in talking to you Palestinians.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on ‘cos this is important. Hang on, this is important. You’re telling me oh yes, don’t worry; we’ve got the contact. Look, the truth is Binyamin Netanyahu has already had a very cosy meeting with Donald Trump at the White House. Just tell me; what’s the extent of the direct, personal contact between Mahmoud Abbas and Donald Trump?”

Sackur: “Yeah but I asked you a direct question. What’s the direct answer? What’s the direct answer?”

Sackur: “All I can say is you do seem to me to be a wild optimist ‘cos you seem to think that, you know, the Americans are in listening mode and they’re waiting to talk to you.”

Zomlot was challenged extensively on the topic of security co-operation (as laid out in the Oslo Accords) between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, although his false claim that the PLO represents “all Palestinians” was not.

Sackur: “Your boss Mahmoud Abbas said many weeks ago, he said that if Israel pushes ahead with this legislation to legalise settlements built on private Palestinian land, then he would cut security co-operation with Israel. Well of course that bill has now passed through the Knesset but as far as I can see it, Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of making good on that threat. Or am I missing something?”

Zomlot: “No you are missing something because that decision was made and it was made even by the PLO central council and now it’s been approved by this very legitimate sort of parliament for all Palestinians, [it’s] for the executive branch to decide on the timing. Remember, Steve, the issue of security is not just an Israeli demand; it’s not just an Israeli interest. It’s also a Palestinian interest and we don’t want to see a situation here where we…we have groups and agencies from all over the region – and you know what is happening around us, just 300 kilometers all around – and we want to make sure that we deliver such a policy on the right time.”

Sackur: “Well that’s the point, isn’t it? If I may – forgive the interruption – but if I may tease out what you seem to have just said to me, your priority is more in keeping a lid on Hamas in the West Bank than it is in ending security co-operation with Israel.”

Zomlot: “That’s not what I said. No, no. That’s not…we have no lid on Hamas whatsoever. Hamas is in Gaza and has staged a coup d’etat and it’s in full control of Gaza. No that’s not what I said. What I said is that we…”

Sackur: “No but it’s the West Bank we’re talking about. You need the Israeli security co-operation in the West Bank to help you keep yourselves – Fatah – on the top in the West Bank. Israel is your ally in that.”

Sackur went on to challenge Zomlot on the topic of one aspect of the PA economy.

Sackur: “I want to talk economy just briefly if I may. You say yes, we are going to end security and economic co-operation with Israel. I would put it to you; you can’t afford to. First of all you need the Israelis to hand over the customs and the border revenues that come to you through the Israelis and if you lose that, you’re in even worse economic circumstances than you’re in right now. And also the tens of thousands of Palestinians who either work inside Israel – on the other side of the green line – or, you know, frankly, let’s be honest, thousands of Palestinians work on building sites and construction building the very Jewish settlements that you say are the chief obstacle to peace. If you stop all those people doing those jobs, you economy’s going to fall apart.”

Zomlot was also challenged on a topic much neglected by the BBC: internal Palestinian politics.

Sackur: “Why is it that President Mahmoud Abbas has so little credibility? Palestinian opinion polls show that the majority of Palestinians want him gone. He hasn’t won an election for – what is it? – at least a decade. His mandate has run out. Most Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority as corrupt. You are doing yourselves no favours.”

After Zomlot cited in his reply the rescheduled municipal elections as “a pillar of our democratic process” – without either he or Sackur informing viewers that they will not be held in the Gaza Strip – and described the PA as “one of the very few nations in this region that really do adhere to the democratic processes”, Sackur interrupted:

Sackur: “When your mandate lasts four years… when your mandate lasts four years and it was achieved thirteen years ago, you don’t have any legitimacy anymore.”

Zomlot went on to give a bizarre interpretation of democracy which English-speaking BBC audiences would of course have had difficulty following given that the corporation chose not to report on the 7th Fatah party congress.

Zomlot: “Allow me…no, we do have legitimacy because President Abbas is the president of the PLO – of the Palestine Liberation Organisation – which is much, much higher even than the PA. The PA was only established to fulfil our responsibilities under Oslo which Israel has failed miserably. He does have the national legitimacy and he was elected. […] In the end he was voted by Fatah only two months ago in such a democratic process.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on, just a moment. Hang on, hang on. You’ve just said something outrageous. You had a chance to answer.”

Sackur raised another topic serially under-reported by the BBC.

Sackur: “That might be a bit more convincing to the outside world if Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank didn’t keep locking up opponents, didn’t keep depriving people like Mohammed Dahlan who is an opponent within the PLO [sic] of…[…] You know Dahlan and his people say that it’s time for new leadership, new leadership and you guys refuse to countenance new leadership in your own organisation.”

He did not however react when Zomlot told him that internal Palestinian politics are “even not for the BBC to discuss” – although that approach from a senior Fatah and PA official does perhaps go some way towards explaining why BBC correspondents in the region serially avoid reporting on internal Palestinian affairs.

 

Shaun Ley’s multiple Middle East mangles on BBC Radio 4

An item in the December 28th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ related to the speech given by the outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry on the same day. Throughout that item (from 07:59 here), host Shaun Ley promoted several inaccuracies. [all emphasis in bold added]twt-28-12

Ley told listeners that:

“Last week President Obama authorised a change of tactics towards Israel. The US opted not to deploy its veto on a Security Council resolution condemning building by Jewish settlers on what had been Palestinian land until the Six Day War.”

Prior to the Six Day War Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem came under Jordanian occupation following that country’s attack on the newly declared Israeli state in 1948. That occupation was not recognised by the international community. Before the Jordanian invasion, the same areas were administered by Britain under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. Prior to British conquest during the First World War, the areas were controlled by the Ottoman Empire for some 500 years. Nevertheless, Ley promoted the totally inaccurate claim that Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem were “Palestinian land” until 1967.

Ley continued:

“It was a war which lasted less than a week yet the territory seized by Israel then is still de facto controlled by Tel Aviv today.”

Referring to “Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia”, he later told listeners that:

“They also share Tel Aviv’s anxiety about the growing importance of Iran in the region.”

As pointed out by our colleagues at CAMERA in relation to a correction secured from AP (and additional outlets) on the same issue earlier this month:

“This is a case of an error in the journalistic practice of naming a nation’s capital as shorthand for the country’s government. For instance, “Washington” is shorthand for the U.S. government because it is the capital. […]

But Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. The Prime Minister’s bureau is located in Jerusalem, next to the Foreign Ministry, the Bank of Israel, and across the street from the Supreme Court and the Knesset. While Israel’s Ministry of Defense is in Tel Aviv, the U.S. Department of Defense is in Arlington County, Virginia and yet the AP does not refer to “Arlington County” selling F-35s to Israel, for instance.”

As we know, the BBC presumptuously refuses to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but nevertheless, Ley’s choice of wording leads listeners to believe that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital – which is clearly inaccurate.

Ley also told audiences that:

“The attitude of Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia has become more ambiguous since they fought with Israel in 1967. Whilst continuing to make the case for a separate Palestinian state, most now accept the existence of the Jewish state.”

The Gulf Arab states are Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. None of those countries recognises or has diplomatic relations with Israel and all but one forbid entry to Israeli passport holders, meaning that Ley’s claim that “most” Gulf states “accept the existence of the Jewish state” is unsubstantiated. With the exception of Iraq and some minor air support from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, his claim that the Gulf Arab states “fought with Israel in 1967” is also misleading.

Later on, Ley managed to introduce an apartheid analogy into his commentary while implying the existence of some mysterious additional unpopulated “occupied territories”.

“If the occupied territories, as they’re called, including the populated ones – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – were formally absorbed into a single Israeli state, Mr Kerry suggested people would be separate and unequal – a phrase bound to anger many Israelis because of the implication that this is something similar to the racial segregation once practiced in South Africa and the United States. Israel insists that it treats all its citizens equally…”

Subsequently listeners heard an interview with the PA’s Husam Zomlot in which a reference to Israeli “tanks that is [sic] besieging entire communities” went unchallenged by Shaun Ley.

Part of the BBC’s public purpose remit is to “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” in its domestic content – which includes Radio 4. Shaun Ley’s commentary is so ridden with inaccuracy and incompetency that it clearly does not meet that remit.