The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 17th was centred around the 106 word long statement put out by Hamas earlier that day.

Following the earlier report on that story – which was over twelve and a half minutes long – the same programme also aired an additional item on the topic which brought the total time allotted to the subject to over twenty minutes.

Presenter James Coomarsamy introduced the second item (from 45:06 here) thus:

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

Coomarasamy: “Let’s return now to our main story today: the announcement by the Palestinian group Hamas that it will dissolve the administration that runs Gaza and hold talks with its rival Fatah about forming a government of national unity and holding elections. I’ve been discussing this with the Palestinian academic Khaled Hroub – he’s a professor of Middle Eastern studies and the author of two books on Hamas – and Oliver McTernan, the director of the mediation group ‘Forward Thinking’ who’s been working on bringing the sides in the Middle East closer together. So why does he think Hamas has done this now?”

BBC audiences have heard from both Qatar-based Khaled Hroub and from the director of the UK charity ‘Forward Thinking’ on previous occasions but it would of course have been helpful to listeners trying to put the ‘analysis’ they heard into context had they been informed that McTernan is a proponent of the view that being a terror organisation committed to Israel’s destruction should not disqualify Hamas from governing the Palestinian Authority or being part of negotiations to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, Coomarasamy did not comply with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality which require the “particular viewpoint” of contributors to be clarified in advance.

Given McTernan’s approach, his promotion of Hamas favoured terminology by inaccurately describing the restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip as a “siege” was not unexpected. Coomarasamy however did not challenge that inaccurate portrayal or the false linkage McTernan tried to create between Israel’s counter-terrorism measures and the electricity crisis in Gaza.

McTernan: “Of course life for ordinary people in Gaza is under tremendous pressure at the moment because it’s almost ten years of siege and that means that the flow of goods, the flow of people and in particular the current situation on electricity – where you have roughly three hours a day for the average person – is putting a lot of strain on ordinary life in Gaza.”

Neither was it much of a surprise to hear McTernan later repeat his long-held view that the international community should have embraced the terror group’s victory in the 2006 PLC election.

McTernan: “…so I think what’s needed now is a wise action by both leaderships [Hamas and Fatah] to say we move into a situation where we can share power and then we go back to the electorate and stand for election and both sides should be committed this time round to fully respecting the outcome of the election. Because 2006 was recognised as one of the most open and fair elections in the Arab world and sadly the international community were responsible greatly for not respecting that outcome.”

The very relevant fact that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that rejects recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the question of how that can possibly align with the Palestinian Authority’s existing commitments to agreements signed with Israel was not raised by Coomarasamy in this item even when McTernan pontificated on what Israel should do.

McTernan: “I think if Israel had wisdom they would see Palestinian division is in fact not in their interest. It’s both in their immediate and long-term interest first of all to see stability both in Gaza and in the West Bank and secondly to allow the Palestinian political leadership to form itself in a way that can truly represent the Palestinian cause and therefore be an effective partner.”

McTernan’s later additional inaccurate references to a “siege” likewise did not produce any challenge from Coomarasamy.

McTernan: “…the reality of the situation in the region is that Abbas or Hamas don’t control the freedom of movement so I think Israel is a big player in this. They control what goes into Gaza, who can come out, who can go in. I think what needs to be looked at is the whole siege of Gaza and I think that will require much more international determination both from the West and from the Gulf countries and Egypt to sort of say to Israel ‘look, it’s not in your interest to keep the siege going’.”

In among McTernan’s barely concealed advocacy of Hamas talking points listeners did hear some relevant points raised by Khaled Hroub, including clarification of the significance of Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip, the relevance of Egypt’s concerns about the ISIS presence in Sinai and the fact that after ten years of unaccountable absolute power, Mahmoud Abbas might be less willing to embrace parliamentary limitations and accountability. Those topics were not however explored further.

While over twenty minutes of coverage of a 106 word statement from Hamas might seem generous or even excessive, the binge was not yet over: the later edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day also led with the same story and that will be discussed in a future post.

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Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part three: BBC Radio 4

Part one of this post looked at BBC News website coverage of the launch of Hamas’ new policy document and part two reviewed reports concerning the same topic on BBC World Service radio – in which the document was repeatedly and inaccurately portrayed as a ‘new charter’.

The same story also received coverage on BBC Radio 4, including a lengthy item in the May 2nd edition of ‘The World Tonight’ (from 31:16 here). In contrast to her World Service colleagues, presenter Ritula Shah introduced the item to listeners without falling into the trap of describing the document as a ‘new charter’. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has said it’s willing to accept an interim Palestinian state without recognising Israel’s right to exist. The group’s published a new policy document; the first since its founding charter of 1988. The new document doesn’t mention Hamas’ parent organisation the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist movement banned in Egypt. The text is seen as an effort by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to soften its image. The group as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, the UK and some other powers. Launching the document in the Qatari capital Doha, the leader of Hamas Khaled Masha’al said the aim was to clarify the organisation’s ideology, politics and guidelines but Hamas maintained its view that Israel was established illegally and they wouldn’t recognise its right to exist.”

Listeners then heard a voice over translation of an excerpt from Masha’al’s speech.

v/o: “Hamas is developing without losing the core principles or waiving the established rights and demands of our people. Hamas also believes that our struggle against the Zionist occupation, the Zionist enterprise, is not a struggle against the Jews or the Jewish faith. Hamas is struggling against the Zionist occupiers, the aggressors.”

Shah continued, introducing her first interviewee.

“So just how significant is the move? Khaled Hroub is an expert on Hamas and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University in Qatar.”

Unfortunately, the reasonable portrayal of the story that listeners had so far heard in this item was compromised when Hroub opened his commentary by making the inaccurate claim that Hamas has embraced the two-state solution and promoting the falsehood of ‘1967 borders’ – with no meaningful challenge from Ritula Shah forthcoming.

Hroub: “It’s indeed very significant to acknowledge and accept the idea of the two state solution; to have a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Now we have this kind of in a document; official document.”

The Hamas document states very clearly that it views the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory in part already under Palestinian Authority control as an interim measure rather than a permanent solution to the conflict. It also clearly states its rejection of Israel’s right to exist and therefore obviously does not “accept” the two-state solution that promotes a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel, but rather Hamas obviously sees that as a stepping stone along the route to its aspiration to eradicate Israel.

After Hroub had also promoted the notion that the new document means that Hamas has changed from being “a religious movement with political, national dimensions” to “a national Palestinian movement with a religious and Islamist background” (despite the fact that the text includes the claim that “Palestine is an Arab Islamic land” and “Palestine is at the heart of the Arab and Islamic Ummah”), Ritula Shah interjected, but failed to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression that Hamas now accepts the two-state solution.

Shah: “But crucially the document doesn’t officially recognise Israel or renounce violence. From the view of – the point of view – of Western diplomats, presumably that gives them little room for manoeuvre.”

Hroub’s answer to that question included the inaccurate claim that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state is not a crucial part of the story, along with the falsehood that Israel does not accept the two-state solution and erasure of the fact that the Oslo Accords put the vast majority of Palestinians under PA rule.

Hroub: “Recognising Israel is not really the big issue. From Hamas’ perspective – and I am not defending them but let’s say from a wider Palestinian perspective – they say well, we have been collectively doing this and yet nothing in return we have achieved. The Israeli side did not get on the two-state solution. Nothing whatsoever concretely materialised on the ground so the internal, if you like, Palestinian political spectrum recognised Israel except Hamas. This lack of recognition on the side of Hamas is not the issue. We have so many bigger issues [unintelligible], you know, the process.”

Shah then asked:

“If we accept that Hamas has moved its position somewhat but perhaps not nearly as far as the Israelis would like, who do you think Hamas is aiming to appeal to by changing its stance in the way that it has?”

Hroub’s response once again misled listeners by erasing the Hamas document’s unequivocal references to “Arab Islamic land” and the “Islamic Ummah”.

Hroub: “Number one I think to the Palestinian constituency itself – the Palestinian people – because by saying well we are a national Palestinian liberationist [sic] movement, this means we are kind of cutting off any trans-national Islamist dimensions so we are a purely Palestinian movement.”

He continued:

Hroub: “Number two is maybe the wider regional and international audience to say well we speak politics, we speak diplomacy and now we are going maybe halfway through in fulfilling a number of conditions that have been imposed on Hamas – and even the Palestinians – by the Quartet Middle East committee saying well they have to do this and that. Now I think Hamas is saying now we are kind of going down that road but we cannot go the entire kind of road without having or without receiving in return substantial and concrete steps from the Israeli side and the American side.”

The Quartet’s three principles are renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and adherence to existing agreements. Hamas is nowhere near “halfway” to fulfilling those conditions and – as this new document once again shows – clearly has no intention of doing so. In other words, Khaled Khroub was again allowed to mislead BBC audiences with inaccurate claims that went completely unchallenged.

The editorial decision to broadcast this interview with Khaled Hroub – which clearly not only contributed nothing to audience comprehension of this story but actually muddied any such understanding by promoting numerous false claims – is obviously highly questionable. The fact that the item then went on to broadcast an interview with Michael Herzog in which listeners heard ‘the Israeli view’ of the new Hamas document (together with a few home truths that BBC audiences rarely encounter) does not mitigate that editorial decision.

Shah: “Well Israel’s held Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip and has carried out three major military campaigns in Gaza since 2008. The offensives were preceded by escalations in cross-border fighting with scores of rocket attacks from Gaza and airstrikes against Hamas by Israel. So what do Israelis make of the Hamas document? Michael Herzog is a retired brigadier general in the IDF. He’s participated in most of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians since 1993.”

Herzog: “Hamas feels isolated. It’s in economic bankruptcy. There is a huge rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas. There are strained relations with Egypt and I think they felt the need to do something in order to extricate themselves from this position of isolation but in terms of what’s in the document itself…”

Shah: “So what would you say that’s new? Just identify what’s new for us.”

Herzog: “What’s different is first they try to present themselves …to go away from antisemitism which characterised their 1988 charter by saying that they are not against Jews but they are against Zionism. However, they reject Israel as it is; they will never recognise it. Another modification is that in the original charter – which by the way was not abrogated; it’s still there – Hamas presents itself as a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it is. In this document this disappeared because they did not want to upset Egypt. Other than that there is willingness to accept a Palestinian state along the ’67 lines – which is not new, by the way; they’ve been saying it over the last few years – but on condition that Israel will withdraw to ’67 lines, accept all refugees – which means the annihilation of Israel – and they will not relinquish their demand for the whole of historical Palestine – including Israel – and they will never give up on what they call armed resistance which we refer to as terrorism.”

Shah, however, insisted on trying to put some positive spin on the story:

Shah: “So, plenty of shortcomings from your point of view but you recognise that there is a move – however incremental – and is that in itself to be welcomed?”

Herzog: “The move is very modest. It does not change the basic ideology of this organisation. It does not turn it into a willing participant in a peace process which espouses recognition between two states. I think it’s more of a tactical move. I of course think that any move in that direction is positive but let’s not delude ourselves about this organisation. At the very same time that they come out with this document they continue to encourage and direct and initiate terrorist activities in the West Bank and inside Israel. You just have to follow what’s happening every week here.”

Listeners to this programme would be unlikely to have the knowledge to enable them to understand Herzog’s words because BBC audiences are of course serially denied information concerning “what’s happening every week” in Israel. Since the beginning of this year, the BBC has not reported any of the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip to its English-speaking audiences and as of March 2017, had reported just 0.3% of the total number of terror attacks that took place.  

Shah continued:

Shah: “So in terms of the bigger picture then, in trying to restart some kind of meaningful peace process, as far as you’re concerned this makes no difference.”

Herzog: “It does not. The partner of the peace process is not Hamas; it is the Palestinian Authority which is rival to Hamas and feels that Hamas wants to undercut it. And I think the context for this document – as well as very harsh measures recently adopted by the Palestinian Authority against Hamas, including cutting of salaries and not paying for electricity and so on – is the upcoming meeting between President Abbas and President Trump in the White House tomorrow. I think that both parties feel Abbas would like to present himself as someone who is a willing partner, while Hamas would like to not be cut out of the picture.”

While the BBC has certainly not been alone in falling for this latest Hamas PR stunt, it is remarkable that the corporation’s various platforms have presented differing portrayals of the Hamas document. Particularly noteworthy is the BBC World Service’s repeated insistence on telling audiences that the document is a ‘new charter’ despite the fact that even Hamas itself says it is not. Given the plethora of inaccurate reporting, it will be important to track the BBC’s portrayal of this topic in the future.

Related Articles:

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part one: website

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio