BBC’s Yolande Knell touts the ‘1967 borders’ illusion on Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sundayclaims that it gives listeners “a look at the ethical and religious issues of the week”. However, the lead item in its January 15th edition fell outside that mission statement and, as its description in the programme’s synopsis shows, was in fact a transparently political story.r4-sunday-us-embassy-15-1

“Yolande Knell reports on the implications of a proposal by President elect Trump to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item (from 00:61 here) as follows:

“Will Donald Trump follow through with his campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? The answer to that question could have huge implications for the Middle East. We’re joined from Jerusalem by our correspondent Yolande Knell. Yolande; it matters because the status of Jerusalem is absolutely crucial to the two-state solution that people, until now, say they want.”

Predictably, Knell’s response had the history of the millennia-old city beginning just fifty years ago, with no mention of the preceding 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem.

Knell: “That’s right and Jerusalem has proven time and time again to be one of the most explosive issues; one of the most difficult issues to solve in this decades-old conflict, not least because of its holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians. And of course Israel captured the east of the city – which includes the Old City – in 1967 in the Middle East war. It went on to annex East Jerusalem, declare all of Jerusalem its united, eternal capital – although that’s never been recognised internationally. And the Palestinians are basically saying that any move for a US embassy – bringing it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – would kill the two-state solution; this long-standing goal of international policy on this conflict. It’s enshrined in UN resolutions: the idea of creating a Palestinian state to live peacefully alongside Israel. It will be based in Gaza, the West Bank and have East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Stourton: “I think I’m right in saying the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been in the Vatican this weekend. He’s been talking about some of this, hasn’t he?”

In her response to that question, Knell introduced the falsehood of “pre-1967 borders” – a concept which not only does not exist, but was specifically and deliberately rejected by the parties to the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

Knell: “That’s right – very deliberate timing. He was actually at the Vatican to inaugurate an embassy for the State of Palestine. This is after the Vatican recognised a State of Palestine on pre-1967 borders and he was there for talks with the Pope. He told reporters while he was there that this…again, this move would destroy the two-state solution and he talked to the Pope about the need for Jerusalem to be an open city for three religions, we’re told. The Vatican’s position is that it seeks an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem: a status that would safeguard its sacred character.”

Stourton: “The…Donald Trump is not the first American president to have talked about the possibility of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Ahm…it hasn’t happened though in the past. How strong is the evidence that he’s really serious about this?”

Knell: “Well, because Donald Trump made this campaign promise and so many previous presidential contenders have – George W Bush and Bill Clinton at least and then they didn’t do it – that means that people really didn’t take it very seriously at first. But then we heard from one of his advisors – from Kellyanne Conway – that this was for him a very big priority. There was also the State Department official who came out saying to the press that it had been asked for logistical advice on a move. And then we know as well that the nominee for ambassador to Israel chosen by Mr Trump, David Friedman – somebody with very hardline views – he wants this very much. He issued a statement when he was nominated saying that he looked forward to moving the US embassy to Israel’s eternal capital Jerusalem: those were his words. So when I’ve been briefed by Palestinian officials – even in just the last few days – one of their fears is this announcement could come in the inauguration speech of Mr Trump.”

According to reports from the time, the words Knell claims to quote were actually these:

“In the statement, Freidman said he was “deeply honored and humbled” that Trump selected him to represent the US in Israel, and that he aimed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.””

Stourton continued:

Stourton: “What about the international background to all this because there’s this…as we have in the news, there’s this conference in Paris today on this question.”

Knell: “Yes and it’s also coming after a UN Security Council resolution was passed last month restating this commitment to the two-state solution and well-informed sources are basically saying that a draft statement from the Paris talks is going to come out with a similar kind of statement. It will affirm also the international community will not recognise changes to the pre-1967 lines for Israel unless they’re agreed with the Palestinians. It will make clear that a negotiated solution is the only way to ensure enduring peace but it’s also going to warn, I think, against unilateral moves. That could be a reference to the idea of Donald Trump moving…eh…moving the embassy because that would basically recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”

In fact, the reference to “unilateral steps” in the text of the conference’s closing statement specifically relates to the two parties to the conflict rather than to the US or any other outside country.

Stourton: “And, Yolande, finally: do you detect internally any appetite for renewed negotiations between the two sides?”

Once again, BBC audiences heard a sanitised version of the breakdown of negotiations in 2014 that promotes false equivalence in Knell’s response to that question. However, Knell made sure to close with some very clear signposting with regard to which side listeners should view as being responsible for the lack of current negotiations.

Knell: “Ahm…both sides say that they’re ready to have talks but then the talks have been frozen since April 2014. They fell apart and I think that’s why there is now this…a lot of frustration from the international community. You have 70 countries and international bodies like the EU, the UN, the Arab League, other organisations, coming together for these talks. When you talk to analysts they really see these as a last-ditch attempt to try to save the moribund peace process but they don’t expect much to come out of these talks because – as much as the Palestinians are supporting them – the Israelis say that these are futile, they’re rigged, this pushes peace backwards and they’re not even going to go for a meeting with President Hollande in the coming weeks to be debriefed on what happened.”

Fatah Facebook account

Fatah Facebook account

Since mid-December the BBC has produced several items concerning or mentioning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. All those reports – including this one – have amplified the Palestinian messaging on that topic but BBC audiences have yet to hear any opposite viewpoint – as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality demand.

Seeing as we now know that Yolande Knell is “briefed by Palestinian officials – even in just the last few days”, that lack of due impartiality is perhaps more comprehensible.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

The consequence of BBC failure to make online corrections

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of the Paris conference

 

 

 

 

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of the Paris conference

The BBC News website’s coverage of the pretentiously titled “Conference pour la Paix au Proche-Orient” which was held in Paris on January 15th included two items produced before the event took place and one report published after it concluded.

1) “Can Paris summit save fading two-state solution?” – Yolande Knell, BBC News website, January 14th 2017.

2) “Why aren’t the Israelis and Palestinians talking?” – BBC News website and BBC television news, January 14th 2017.

3) “Israel-Palestinian conflict: Summit warns against unilateral actions” – BBC News website, January 15th 2017.

Several noteworthy themes were apparent in those reports.paris-conf-report-2-filmed

a) In the synopsis to the second (filmed) report, audiences were told that:

“The two sides have not spoken directly since the last round of peace talks broke down in 2014.”

The report itself stated:

“The last round [of talks] collapsed in April 2014 and they haven’t met since then”.

In the third report, audiences were told that:

“The last round of direct peace talks collapsed amid acrimony in April 2014.”

BBC audiences have seen that mantra of equivalence promoted on numerous occasions in the past and the BBC’s framing of the story at the time did not provide audiences with the full range of information and background necessary for full understanding of the reasons for the breakdown of that round of talks. Thus we see that almost three years on, the BBC continues to promote a version of events which conceals from audience view the fact that the Palestinian Authority made three important choices between March 17th and April 23rd 2014 (not to accept the American framework, to join international agencies in breach of existing commitments and to opt for reconciliation with Hamas) which had a crucial effect on the fate of those negotiations.

b) The reports continued the long-standing practice of careless wording which leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.

The first report states:

“The conference follows last month’s UN Security Council resolution which called on Israel to stop settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

In the second report, viewers were told that before talks can resume:

“Palestinians first want Israel to stop settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem”.

And that the chances of renewed talks are “slim” because:

“Israeli settlement activity shows no sign of slowing”.

In report three, readers found the following:

“The meeting also comes at a time of tension between Israel and the international community after the UN passed a resolution last month denouncing Israel’s settlement activity on occupied land. […]

Palestinians fiercely object to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory it wants for a future state.”

Obviously the use of such inaccurate language does not enhance audience understanding of the subject and none of the reports mentioned the 2009 freeze of construction in communities in Judea & Samaria and the fact that the Palestinians refused to negotiate during most of that ten-month freeze. Likewise, all three reports refrained from informing audiences of the fact that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem. 

c) As ever, audiences were provided with a partial portrayal of ‘international law’ in all these reports. None of the reports provided any relevant historical background on the subject of the 1948 Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem or the 1967 Jordanian attack which subsequently left Israel in control of those areas.

The first report stated:

“Over 600,000 Israelis live in these areas which were captured in the 1967 Middle East war. They are seen as illegal under international law, but Israel disagrees.”

In report two viewers were told that:

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

The third report informed readers that:

“The settlements, home to about 600,000 Israelis, are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

d) Contrasting with the promotion of the well-worn BBC theme of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’, the presentation of issues on the other side of the divide was minimal and qualified, using the ‘Israel says’ formula. In the first report readers found the following:

“They [Israeli officials] argue that the very Palestinian leaders with whom they are supposed to be seeking peace have incited an upsurge in attacks, mostly stabbings, since October 2015.”

That, however, was ‘balanced’ with a statement straight out of the PLO’s media guidance:

“Palestinian leaders blame the violence on a younger generation’s anger at the failure of talks to end Israel’s occupation and deliver on promises of an independent state.”

In report two, viewers were told that:

“Israel does not want pre-conditions [to talks]. It says Palestinian violence and incitement is the big problem”.

Only in report three did BBC audiences find a brief reference to the very relevant issue of the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.

“Israel says Palestinian incitement and violence, and a refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, are key obstacles to peace.”

e) All three reports included portrayals of Jerusalem which failed to mention that it is one of the issues to be resolved in final status negotiations under the terms of the Oslo Accords.paris-conf-1-knell

In the first report, Yolande Knell told readers that:

“For many, the holy city of Jerusalem is meant to be a shared capital for Israel and the Palestinians – two peoples in two nations, living peacefully, side-by-side.

At least that is the dream of the so-called “two-state solution” to end a decades-old conflict.”

In the second report viewers were told that:

“They also disagree over Jerusalem. Israel says the city is its capital, but Palestinians want their own capital in the east”.

In report three readers found the following:

“The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive and complex issues of the entire conflict. The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state but Israel proclaim the entire city as its capital.”

f) The first and third reports included generous amplification of Palestinian statements concerning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem – once again without any clarification as to why there should be objection to the transfer of a foreign embassy to a location to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences the PA does not lay claim.paris-conf-3 

Report one told readers that:

“The timing of the talks in Paris – just days before Donald Trump moves into the White House – appear very deliberate.

He has not yet spelt out his vision for the Middle East but has shown strong backing for the Israeli far-right.

He has nominated a lawyer, David Friedman, who is an outspoken critic of the two-state solution and supporter of settlements, to be his ambassador to Israel.

Mr Trump has also promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Like other countries, the US currently keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv, as it does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

“This is very dangerous what President-elect Trump wants to do,” Palestinian official, Mohammed Shtayyeh tells me. “It is American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel.”

“We would consider this American move as an end to the peace process, an end to the two states and really putting the whole region into chaos.””

In report three readers were told:

“But they [the conference delegates] shied away from criticising President-elect Donald Trump’s suggested US embassy move to Jerusalem. […]

The conference comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and there are fears President-elect Trump’s plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could stoke it further.

There was deep alarm among participants at the conference that if President Trump does break with decades of US policy and move the embassy to Jerusalem, then conditions will be set for another upsurge in violence in the region, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris. […]

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told France 3 TV on Sunday he thought Mr Trump would not be able to make the move, but if he did, it would have “extremely serious consequences”.

On Saturday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned such a move could “bury the hopes for a two-state solution”.”paris-conf-filmed-dt

The third report closes telling viewers that:

“The Palestinians want international involvement, but Israel says a settlement cannot be imposed. And Israel has the backing of Donald Trump”.

Once again the BBC failed to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the background to this story – and not least the decidedly relevant fact that various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, completely reject the concept of the two-state solution – while promoting some of its regular framing of the topic.  

Related Articles:

Background to the BBC’s inaccurate framing of the end of Middle East talks

Revisiting the BBC’s framing of the 2013/14 Israel-PLO negotiations

BBC News produces eight versions of report on three-hour Paris meeting

BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Paris conference falsehood

BBC’s Bowen employs apartheid analogy in report on Paris conference

 

 

 

 

 

The consequence of BBC failure to make online corrections

On May 16th 2015 the BBC News website ran a story titled “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’” which was discussed here. A link to that article was included in an additional report that was published the following day.

Two days after the appearance of the original article – on May 18th 2015 – a follow-up article was published under the headline “Vatican clarifies Abbas ‘angel of peace’ comments” but as was noted here at the time, no action was taken regarding the two previous articles.

“The section of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on accuracy which deals with the subject of ‘managing online content’ states that:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.”

Given that and the appearance of this latest article, one would of course expect to see clarifications appended to the two previous reports in which the inaccurate claim was promoted. At the time of writing, no such clarification appears in either article.”

The consequence of that failure to clarify inaccurate information in a timely manner to both BBC audiences and BBC staff was apparent in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on January 14th 2017 under the title “Mahmoud Abbas: US embassy move to Jerusalem would hurt peace“. There, the ‘angel of peace’ theme – which the BBC itself reported as being misleading twenty months ago – is repeated.

angel-of-peace-para

The link in that paragraph leads to a filmed report by the BBC’s Vatican correspondent David Willey dating from May 17th 2015 which also does not include any notification based on the BBC’s subsequent report clarifying the Pope’s remarks. Viewers are told:

“Prominent among the guests at the Vatican ceremony was Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine. He was told by Pope Francis that he’s an angel of peace. […]

The saints are the first from Palestine to be named by the church since the earliest days of Christianity.” [emphasis added]

The BBC Academy’s style guide of course advises the corporation’s staff that:

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel. […]

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

An additional noteworthy aspect of the January 14th report is its portrayal of the comments made by Mahmoud Abbas which are reflected in its title.abbas-us-embassy-art

“Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has warned that peace could suffer if President-elect Donald Trump carries out plans to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. […]

On Saturday, President Abbas reiterated his concern over President-elect Trump’s plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and said he had written to Mr Trump to warn him of the risks of such a move.

“If this is the decision, to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem, it will not help peace and we hope it doesn’t happen,” President Abbas told reporters outside the Vatican.

Palestinian officials say the plan would undermine chances of a negotiated peace based on a two-state solution, in which Palestinian and Israeli states would live side-by-side.

“Not only would this move deprive the United States of all legitimacy in playing a role in conflict resolution, it would also destroy the two-state solution,” Mr Abbas was quoted earlier as saying in French paper Le Figaro.”

Remarkably, the BBC made no effort to provide audiences with information which would help them reach their own conclusions concerning the veracity of Abbas’ claim that relocation of the US embassy to seemingly any location in Jerusalem would “undermine” the chances of a peace agreement and did not update this report to include later related threats made by a Fatah spokesman.

Seeing as the BBC regularly informs its audiences – including in this report – that “the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state”, it would of course have been appropriate for this article to clarify why Mahmoud Abbas should object to the transfer of a foreign embassy to a location to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences the PA does not lay claim. 

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – December 2016 and year summary

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) during December 2016 shows that throughout the month a total of 98 incidents took place: 87 in Judea & Samaria, ten in Jerusalem and one attack from the Gaza Strip.

The agency recorded 67 attacks with petrol bombs, 19 attacks using explosive devices, two stabbing attacks and nine shooting attacks in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem as well as one shooting attack from the Gaza Strip.

Six people – two civilians and four members of the security forces – were wounded in shooting, stabbing and IED attacks in December. Additional incidents included an attempted stabbing at Tapuach junction on December 8th, an attempted vehicular attack near Qalandiya on December 13th, a shooting attack near Ramallah on December 14th and a shooting attack near Beit El on December 25th.

The BBC News website did not provide coverage of any of the 98 attacks which took place during December.

Throughout the whole of 2016 the BBC News website reported a total of thirty-nine incidents – i.e. 2.8% of the terror attacks which actually took place. Only one of the ten barrages of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip which took place during 2016 received (belated) English language coverage. In contrast with the previous year, the BBC did report all the Israeli fatalities resulting from terror attacks that occurred during 2016.

table-dec-16

The BBC’s public purpose remit includes ‘Global Outlook’ which is interpreted by the BBC Trust as meaning that audiences “can expect the BBC to keep them in touch with what is going on in the world, giving insight into the way people live in other countries” and includes the pledge to “build a global understanding of international issues” and “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

With the BBC News website having covered of just 2.8% of the terror attacks against Israelis throughout 2016 and with none of those reports, or any other, having clarified the all-important context of the scale of attacks as a whole, it is obvious that neither global nor domestic audiences are being adequately provided with “insight” into how Israelis live.

The absence of that information is important because it means that audiences are unable to properly understand Israeli counter-terrorism measures such as the anti-terrorist fence or checkpoints. It also means that when Israel is obliged to respond to rising terrorism (as seen for example in the summer of 2014), audiences and BBC journalists alike are unable to put events into their appropriate context and thus arrive at uninformed and inaccurate conclusions.

Related Articles:

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – November 2016

Reviewing the BBC News website’s coverage of terror in Israel: April to September 2016

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – December 2015 and Q4 summary

BBC partially corrects ‘The World Tonight’ inaccuracies

As documented here last month, the December 28th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a number of inaccuracies. [all emphasis added]twt-28-12

“[BBC presenter] 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.” […] 

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.” […]

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.””

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those inaccuracies and the response received includes the following:reply-twt-complaint

That correction reads as follows:

correction-twt

BBC Watch will be pursuing the outstanding issues.

 

BBC Arabic reports death of gun-running priest in partisan terminology

On January 2nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an English language report titled “Hilarion Capucci: Arms-smuggling archbishop dies aged 94“.

“A former Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem who was convicted of smuggling arms for Palestinian militants has died aged 94.

Monsignor Hilarion Capucci served two years of a 12-year sentence in Israel before the Vatican helped secure his release.

He had a history of activism linked to Middle East conflicts.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered his condolences and described him as a great “freedom fighter”.”

The death of Capucci was also reported the previous day on the BBC Arabic website. In that report readers were told that Capucci had been imprisoned for four years rather than two.bbc-arabic-capucci-art

A review of the article by a professional translator shows that – not for the first time – BBC Arabic reported the story using terminology which does not meet the BBC’s supposed standards of impartiality: the politicised language employed is of the type promoted by terror organisations and anti-Israel campaigners.  

In the article’s second paragraph Jerusalem as a whole is described as “the occupied city of Jerusalem” and readers are told that Capucci “was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces on charges of supporting the Palestinian resistance…”. [emphasis added]

The BBC Academy’s ‘style guide’ clearly states:

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.[…]

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

In paragraph three of this article, however, readers are told that Capucci was “expelled from Palestine in 1978…”. [emphasis added]

Last month we noted here that the BBC World Service’s upcoming expansion once again raises “the longstanding issue of the accuracy and impartiality of content produced by the BBC’s foreign language services”.

Arabic speaking audiences can find plenty of Arabic language media outlets which will report news using non-neutral terminology.  It goes without saying that BBC Arabic should not be one of them.

Related Articles:

Gun-Running Bishop in Flotilla (CAMERA) 

BBC’s new foreign language services raise an old question

Why is BBC Arabic feeding its audiences politicised terminology?

BBC News website produces a backgrounder on ‘settlements’

One of the most frequently recurring topics in the BBC’s Israel-related related content is that of ‘settlements’ and particularly construction in the places described as such. Examples from the past year alone include:

The return of the BBC’s political narrative on Israeli construction

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Gush Etzion – part one

BBC’s account of Quartet report exposes the holes in its own narrative

BBC’s Knell airbrushes two-thirds of Quartet report out of the picture

Another BBC airbrushing of the Quartet report

BBC News continues to cultivate its settlements narrative

More BBC promotion of the ‘Peace Now’ narrative on construction

BBC amplifies UN criticism of Israeli PM without providing relevant context

BBC News pushes settlements narrative in report on another topic

BBC News amplifies inaccurate US claim of ‘new settlement’

The majority of the BBC’s reports include a standard insert:

“About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been observed here on countless occasions, that standard insert breaches the corporation’s own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform BBC audiences of the existence of legal opinions which contradict the corporation’s own adopted political narrative.

Particularly given that repeated failure to meet the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’ it was interesting to see that on December 29th (in the wake of UNSC resolution 2334 and John Kerry’s related speech) the BBC News website published a backgrounder – titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” – which opens as follows:settlements-backgrounder

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has long been a major source of dispute between Israel and most of the international community, including its own closest ally, the US.

Here is a brief guide to what it is all about.”

To the credit of whoever wrote this article (readers are not informed of the author’s identity) it includes context which, as has been frequently documented on these pages, BBC audiences have been denied for years. [emphasis added]

“Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

This includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The West Bank and East Jerusalem had previously been occupied by Jordan since the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War.”

And:

“Israel has also established settlements in the Gaza Strip, seized from Egypt in the 1967 war, but it dismantled them when it withdrew from the territory in 2005. It also built settlements in the Sinai Peninsula, seized too from Egypt in 1967, but removed them in 1982 as part of a peace agreement with Cairo.”

And:

“Under the 1993 Israel-Palestinian Oslo peace accords, the issue of settlements was to be deferred until final status talks – a reason why Israel objects to pre-conditions and UN resolutions on the matter.”

Later on in the article, in answer to the question “So is a deal on settlements impossible?”, readers are told:

“Not necessarily, despite appearing insurmountable. Israel has said it is prepared to make “painful concessions” for peace, and it has previously shown it will relinquish settlements – such as in Sinai and Gaza, and four small sites in the West Bank in 2005.

It has agreed to negotiate the fate of existing settlements, and Jerusalem, as part of permanent status talks.

Israel has said in any final deal it intends to keep the largest settlement blocs, which are close to the pre-1967 ceasefire line.

This position seemed to get the endorsement of the US under former President George W Bush, who, in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, said it was “unrealistic” to expect a full withdrawal from the West Bank in a final peace deal.”

The writer could have also mentioned the Clinton Parameters and the Olmert Plan at this point – both of which included proposals for keeping the large settlement blocs in situ in return for land swaps. Nevertheless, this is only the second time in the whole of the past year that BBC audiences have been alerted to the existence of that possibility, with the corporation’s content more usually found promoting the PLO narrative of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’ and amplifying its demand for their complete removal.

In a section headed “Are settlements illegal under international law?” readers find the following:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.

The US describes the settlements as “illegitimate” and has refrained from calling them “illegal” since the Carter administration in 1980.

In December 2016, a UN Security Council resolution said settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law”. However, like previous resolutions on Israel, those adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter are not legally binding.”

While more could have been done to help audiences understand the legal background to the view held by Israel (and others too), it is extremely rare to find any mention of pre-1967 history in BBC content relating to the topic of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan for 19 years from 1948.

This article could have done more to explain to readers why the branding of Judaism’s most holy site and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied territory’ is so contentious. It should also have mentioned the much neglected topic of Jewish land ownership prior to 1948 in locations such as Hebron, Gush Etzion and Neve Ya’akov which the BBC now describes as ‘occupied’.

Unsurprising to those following the BBC’s portrayal of this topic over time is the inclusion in this article of data provided by the political NGO ‘Peace Now’.

“According to the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now, there are 131 settlements in the West Bank, comprising about 385,000 Israeli Jewish settlers, and 97 outposts – settlements built without official authorisation.

The group says there are 12 settlements in East Jerusalem, inhabited by about 200,000 settlers.”

The article also directs readers to a partisan report on the website of another political NGO which campaigns on the same topic – B’Tselem – with the promotion of that link obviously compromising BBC impartiality.

“Built-up settlement areas occupy about 2% of the West Bank but critics point out that the land controlled by settlement activity, such as agriculture, amounts to much more than that and requires heavy military presence.”

While this backgrounder is by no means perfect, it does at least present a more nuanced picture than is usually the case and includes information which BBC audiences have been denied for too long. Whether or not future BBC reports on this topic will follow suit remains to be seen.  

Related Articles:

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

 

Reviewing BBC coverage of UNSC resolution 2334 in R4 news bulletins – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the way in which the BBC presented UN Security Council resolution 2334 to listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’clock News’ on December 23rd.

The following morning listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard a report (from 00:00:58 here) on the same topic in the news bulletin which began the broadcast. News reader Corrie Corfield opened the item as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]today-24-12

“Israel has fiercely rejected a UN Security Council resolution which calls for an end to settlements on occupied Palestinian land. For forty years the US has vetoed such resolutions. This time President Obama took the view that building homes have been eroding the chances of negotiating an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Donald Trump has said things will be different when he takes over. From Washington, Barbara Plett Usher reports.”

Yet again (see related articles below) BBC audiences were told that the resolution relates to Israeli communities on “occupied” – rather than disputed – land and that the said territory is “Palestinian” despite the absence of any historic or legal basis to that claim and the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, its final status (together with the issue of borders) is to be determined in negotiations. The same language – which exclusively endorses the narrative of one party to the dispute – was used by Plett Usher.

BPU: “For the first time in decades the UN Security Council united to pass judgement on Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. The resolution demanded an immediate end to construction, saying that it had become a serious threat to a viable peace deal. It was that view which led the US to withhold its customary protection of Israel at the council; a sharp departure from standard practice.bowen-tweet-unsc

Some critics accuse President Obama of betraying an ally. Others said he’d waited too long; right to the final days of his administration. The White House defended the decision to abstain, saying he’d held out for a meaningful peace process but had felt compelled to act in the absence of one.

The resolution could become a reference point for further moves against Israeli policy in international forums but not for the next US administration. Mr Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, has sided with the Israeli government on this. And although the resolution is legally binding, it doesn’t spell out consequences for ignoring it – which is what the Israelis have said they’ll do.”

By describing the resolution as “legally binding”, Plett Usher is obviously inaccurately suggesting to listeners that it was adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. As the JCPA clarifies, that is not the case.

“The resolution (as all previous resolutions regarding Israel) was adopted under the sixth chapter of the UN Charter (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) and as such is not mandatory. It contains a series of political determinations and recommendations to the international community. The resolution does not make law, and as such, the determinations as to the lack of legal validity of Israel’s settlements are no more than declaratory.”

The news bulletin then continued with Corrie Corfield telling listeners that:

“The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the resolution was a blow to Israeli policy but Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to do everything he could to negate the harmful effects of what he called an absurd resolution. From Bethlehem, our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports on the reaction in the region.”

Knell told listeners:

“Shameful and disgraceful is how Israeli officials described this resolution. In a statement the prime minister said Israel would not abide by its terms. He accused the Obama administration of colluding with what he called a gang-up at the UN and said Israel now looked forward to working with president-elect Trump. For the Palestinians who’ve long pressed for such a resolution, this was a victory. Some six hundred thousand Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, on land the Palestinians want for a promised independent state. An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel and there’s concern over planned new legislation to legalise dozens of outpost settlements built without Israeli government permits on private Palestinian land.”

Knell’s reference to “an increase in settlement construction” is of course inaccurate and misleading, suggesting (once again) to BBC audiences that new communities have been built rather than housing in existing towns, neighbourhoods and villages. Moreover, Knell clearly confuses actual construction with building permits and tenders – as has often been the case in past BBC reporting. The Central Bureau of Statistics has yet to publish data on construction in the “recent months” of the second half of 2016 and so it is unclear on what basis Knell makes her claim.

Notably, Knell does not bother to inform listeners that the Israeli Attorney General long since expressed his opposition to the “planned new legislation” she cites and it is hence unlikely to become law.

Once again we see that the BBC’s reporting on this UNSC resolution fails to provide audiences with the full range of information needed for proper understanding of the issue while amplifying one side’s political narrative and promoting inaccurate information – most egregiously with regard to the status of the resolution itself.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC coverage of UNSC resolution 2334 in R4 news bulletins – part one

A review of BBC News website coverage of UNSC resolution 2334

BBC WS report on UNSC resolution endorses Palestinian narrative

A review of BBC News website coverage of UNSC resolution 2334

Events at the UN Security Council received generous coverage on the BBC News website on December 23rd and 24th. BBC audiences found articles relating to Egypt’s withdrawal of its draft resolution and reports concerning the subsequent tabling of  the resolution by New Zealand, Senegal, Venezuela and Malaysia which was approved by the UNSC on December 23rd.

December 23rd:un-sc-2334

1) Egypt delays UN motion on Israel as Trump intervenes

2) Israel blasts US over UN vote on settlements

3) UN Security Council votes against Israeli settlements Barbara Plett Usher (also appeared on BBC television channels and embedded in written reports)

4) Israeli settlements: UN Security Council calls for an end (date stamp changed

December 24th:

5) Israel settlements: Netanyahu rejects ‘shameful’ UN vote

6) Israel settlements: Netanyahu orders UN ties review

The narrative promoted in those reports was uniform and conformed to existing BBC editorial policy.

a) BBC audiences were repeatedly told that the resolution related to Israeli communities on “occupied” – rather than disputed – land and that the said territory is “Palestinian”.

“Egypt has delayed a UN vote on a text condemning Israeli settlements in occupied territory after Israel asked Donald Trump to intervene.” (report 1)

“Israel has reacted furiously over a renewed bid to bring a resolution condemning settlements on occupied land before the UN Security Council.” (report 2)

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a UN call to end settlement activity on occupied land is “shameful”. […]

The resolution, approved by 14 votes to zero, with only the US abstaining, demands that Israel immediately “cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”.” (reports 5 and 6)

“The move comes after the Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building on occupied land.” (report 6)

b) BBC audiences were also repeatedly told that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem are “illegal” and breach “international law” while the presentation of alternative views on that issue was limited to a box-ticking reference to the Israeli view with no further detail or explanation.

“The resolution submitted by Egypt called for Israel to stop settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it said breached international law. […]

About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.” (reports 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)

“Barbara Plett-Usher explains the significance of the UN Security Council’s vote against illegal Israeli settlements.” (report 3)

“The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution urging an end to illegal Israeli settlements after the US refused to veto it.” (report 4)

“It [the resolution] says Jewish settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”. (reports 5 and 6)

c) The reports failed to distinguish between “settlement building” and construction in existing communities, thereby giving audiences the mistaken impression that new communities are being built.

“The Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement building and there had been speculation that in its final month it might allow a resolution against settlements to pass at the UN.” (report 1)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory and there had been speculation that in its final month it might allow a resolution against settlements to pass at the UN.” (report 2)

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” (report 3)

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” (‘analysis’ from Barbara Plett Usher, reports 4 and 5)

d) One of the reports promoted the inaccurate implication that construction under the current Israeli government is exceptional. 

“And it [the resolution] says that the amount of building under this Israeli government is threatening the possibility of the creation of  Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” (report 3)

e) The reports uncritically amplified the PLO narrative of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’.

“The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians, who see them as an obstacle to peace.” (reports 1, 2, 4)

f) References to the parts of the resolution condemning terror and incitement were to be found in just one of the BBC’s reports. In contrast to the impression given to BBC audiences, the word ‘Palestinian’ is in fact not included in that part of the text

“French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said the “key goal” of the resolution was “to preserve and reaffirm the two-state solution”. […]

“It also condemns the violence and terrorism. It also calls to prevent all incitement from the Palestinian side so this is a balanced text.”” (report 2)

g) While some of the later reports included reactions from “the Palestinian leadership”, none of them informed audiences of the fact that the resolution was hailed by the terror organisations Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“The Palestinian leadership welcomed the UN resolution, which was passed by 14 votes to zero, with one abstention.” (report 4)

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman said the resolution was a “big blow to Israeli policy”.” (report 5)

“A spokesman for Mr Abbas said: “The Security Council resolution is a big blow to Israeli policy, a unanimous international condemnation of settlements and a strong support for the two-state solution.”” (report 6)

h) Three of the later articles (reports 4, 5 and 6) quoted the US ambassador to the UN as saying that “even if all settlements were dismantled, both sides would still have to acknowledge “uncomfortable truths” and make “difficult choices” to reach peace” but none of the reports reminded BBC audiences that although Israel did indeed remove all ‘settlements’ and ‘settlers’ from the Gaza Strip in 2005, peace was not forthcoming and the Hamas terror group continues to seek the destruction of Israel.

i) None of the reports reminded BBC audiences of the 2009 freeze of construction in communities in Judea & Samaria and the fact that the Palestinians refused to negotiate during most of that ten-month freeze.

j) None of the reports provided readers with the relevant context of the Palestinian Authority’s attempts to impose an outside ‘solution’ to the conflict in preference to negotiations.

k) None of the reports provides any relevant historical background on the subject of the 1948 Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem or the 1967 Jordanian attack which subsequently left Israel in control of those areas.

Anyone wondering why the generous coverage of this story was uniformly one-sided and failed to provide BBC audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding might find the following Tweet from the BBC’s Middle East editor (also retweeted by the BBC correspondent who contributed to much of the coverage) enlightening.

bowen-tweet-unsc

Related Articles:

BBC WS report on UNSC resolution endorses Palestinian narrative

BBC’s Knell airbrushes two-thirds of Quartet report out of the picture

BBC WS report on UNSC resolution endorses Palestinian narrative

On the afternoon of December 22nd (before news broke of Egypt’s withdrawal of its draft resolution tabled at the UN Security Council) listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard a report (from 50:04 here) relating to that story.plett-newshour-22-12

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]

JC: “The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed. The draft resolution is meant to put an end to all settlement activity by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem. Well, joining us now on the line from Washington DC is the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher. Ehm…so Barbara; this is meant to be voted on a bit later on today – is that right?”

Plett Usher responded:

BPU: “Yes; it’s a draft resolution put forward by Egypt which would say that Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the Palestinian…rest of the Palestinian territories are illegal. Now, UN resolutions already say that….eh…but there has been some push to get…ehm…it out there again and re-in…re…re-supported by the UN because of the…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.”

JC: “And what about the Obama administration’s policy? What do we know about its thoughts on this draft resolution?”

BPU: “The Obama administration and the United States generally has said that settlement building lacks legitimacy. It stops short of adopting the position that it is illegal under international law but Mr Obama’s administration has been very, very critical of the settlement building during his administration and he has…and some of his advisors and his officials have said it was…contributed to breakdown in the peace talks. So there’s been a lot of speculation that in the final month of his…of his term he might take some sort of step, some sort of parting shot, to put his own stamp on what he thinks Israel – Palestinian peace should look like or what the parameters might be or what the problems might be and so there’s been some speculation he might take action at the UN. Up until now…eh…the Americans have vetoed any resolution critical of Israel and the Obama administration did that too in 2011 exactly on a resolution involving settlements. But because he’s leaving, because of his contentious relationship with the Israelis, because Mr Trump is coming after him and looks like he will be changing policy or could change policy…ahm…there’s speculation that he might vote differently this time.”

JC: “So briefly, Barbara, what should we make of the president elect’s intervention?”

BPU: “It’s consistent with what he’s done so far. During the campaign his advisors…ahm…were very sceptical of a two state solution. He has appointed an ambassador as his nominee who is a hardline pro-settler…ah…views. Ahm…so I think that’s consistent with what we’ve seen.”

As we see, in that two and a half-minute conversation, listeners heard two references to “settlements” in “Palestinian territories”. The BBC Academy’s ‘style guide’ states that:

“Strictly speaking, the phrase ‘Palestinian Territories’ refers to the areas that fall under the administration of the Palestinian Authority…”

Obviously there are no Israeli ‘settlements’ in those areas and so the use of such inaccurate terminology misleads listeners.

Israeli communities do exist in Area C and in parts of Jerusalem previously occupied by Jordan for nineteen years. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords no limits are placed on construction in those regions and their final status is to be determined in negotiations. Listeners to this item, however, were not provided with that all-important context and the language used by Plett Usher and Coomarasamy clearly endorses and promotes the Palestinian side’s political claims and narrative, thereby compromising BBC impartiality.

Listeners also heard several references to “settlement building”. Just last September the BBC News website amended similarly misleading language – which leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – houses being built in existing towns and villages – most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.

Plett Usher’s claim that “this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building” does not stand up to scrutiny and does not clarify to audiences the existence of what Ha’aretz earlier this year termed “an informal construction freeze”.

It is by no means surprising to see the BBC continuing to push its well-worn but unabashedly partisan mantra on the topic of ‘settlements’ – the corporation has, after all, embraced that editorial line for years. However, as this report once again demonstrates, that editorial policy hinders audience understanding of both this specific story and the issue in general.

Related Articles:

BBC News amends misleading portrayal of Israeli construction

BBC News pushes settlements narrative in report on another topic

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part two

BBC News continues to cultivate its settlements narrative

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

The return of the BBC’s political narrative on Israeli construction