On September 10th a story that has been brewing for a long time was reported on the BBC News website under the headline “US to shut Palestinian mission in Washington“.
Nearly 22% of the 578-word article was used to tell readers “How have the Palestinians responded?” and over 31% of its word count was given over to descriptions of US cuts to donations – including the already widely covered UNRWA story – under the sub-heading “What other steps has the US taken?”.
The background ostensibly intended to enable readers to understand the story was presented in 138 words under the sub-heading “Why is the Palestinian mission being closed?” and began by quoting parts of the relevant statement from the US State Department.
“The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the state department said on Monday.
“To the contrary, the PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.”
The statement also cited Palestinian efforts to get the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged violations of international laws and norms regarding the treatment of people and property in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.”
Readers were next provided with links to two previous BBC reports: the first dating from November 18th 2017 and the other from May 22nd 2018.
“Last year the US state department warned the mission that under US law it faced closure if Palestinian leaders continued to do so.
But in May, the Palestinian foreign minister formally asked the ICC’s chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation, saying he had “ample and insurmountable evidence”.”
In order to understand the relevance of “US law” to the current story, readers would have had to click on that first link, where they would find the following:
“US officials say the PLO could be breaking a legal condition for it to operate in the US.
The US law says Palestinian authorities must not pressure the International Criminal Court to investigate Israelis.
The PLO, which is seen by the international community as representing all Palestinians, opened an office in DC in 1994.
It is the first time that the State Department has declined to reissue a six-monthly operating licence for it.
A state department official cited “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders” about the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the reason behind the non-renewal.
Obviously that account does not provide readers unfamiliar with the story with a full and clear explanation of its background. An article published by the Times of Israel around the same time however does.
“In 1987, Congress sought to rid US soil of any PLO institutions, which included a United Nations mission located in New York City and a Palestinian information bureau in DC. At the time, the PLO was a US-designated terror organization, backing attacks against Israelis. […]
Despite the bill becoming law, ultimately the US couldn’t close the Palestinian mission to the UN because this would have violated international law. The DC information office, however, was closed.
Fast-forward to 1993. Israel and the PLO have just signed the Oslo Peace Accords. The Palestinians have sworn to end decades of terror attacks against Israel and are slated to receive their own state in the coming years. At this historic occasion, the US Congress allowed the president to suspend all sanctions against the PLO as long as the Palestinians stay faithful to commitments made in the accords. The suspension would have to be renewed every six months. This act by Congress allowed the PLO to open up a diplomatic mission in DC.
In 1997, Congress made it easier for the president to waive the sanctions against the PLO: The president would now just have to say the waiver was in the US’s national security interest with no explanation needed. Again, a waiver would have to be signed every six months.
This was the case until 2011, when the Palestinians joined UNESCO and declared they wanted full-membership status in the UN.
In response, Congress slipped in a new provision into the annual State and Foreign Operations Bill […]
Now, if the Palestinians obtained full membership status in the United Nations outside of an agreement with Israel, the president would be unable to waive sanctions against the PLO, unless “the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” […]
After the Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015, Congress, without any public debate or headlines, slipped in a similar provision into the December 2015 foreign ops bill […]
The provision calls for the waiver to be revoked should the Palestinians “initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation” against Israel.”
In other words, when Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly on September 20th 2017 that “[w]e have called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people” he was no doubt aware of the potential consequences under the terms of the legislation passed by the US Congress nearly two years earlier under the Obama administration. And yet despite the US State Department having issued that warning in November 2017, in May 2018 the PA’s foreign minister nevertheless chose to present a referral to the ICC.
Nevertheless, as was reported in November 2017, the PLO mission in Washington could have remained open.
“The declaration does not automatically mean the mission will close. US President Donald Trump now has a 90-day window to decide whether “the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel” — in which case he can waive the requirement to shutter the office.”
However, the Palestinians have of course done no such thing and – as the BBC has itself reported on numerous occasions over the past ten months – Palestinian officials have repeatedly made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of even considering a US peace plan.
In summary, while readers of this BBC report found an unsatisfactory 48 word ‘explanation’ of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of this story, they saw 127 words of PLO condemnations of the US administration decision – but no clarification of how the Palestinians could have prevented that decision from being taken.
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