The BBC’s fantasy version of peace talks

On July 22nd 2013 an article titled “Netanyahu pledges Israeli referendum on peace deal” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. 

Netanyahu referendum main

Right at the end of the article we yet again find the BBC misleading readers on the subject of the reasons for the discontinuation of previous talks in September 2010.

“The issue of settlement-building halted the last direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 2010.”

In fact, what actually “halted the last direct talks” was Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to continue them when a ten month building freeze which he had ignored for 90% of its duration came to an end on September 26th 2010.

The BBC has promoted this misleading version of events to readers of its website incessantly over the past few weeks – see for example here and here.  

In the article’s penultimate paragraph we find another distortion.

“The Palestinians have insisted Israel recognise pre-1967 ceasefire lines as borders of a Palestinian state, subject to some negotiation, before any talks commence, but this is something that has been opposed by right-wing members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition.” [emphasis added]

The notion that a homogenous group called “the Palestinians” – or its representatives – is open to negotiation with regard to the 1949 Armistice Lines is patently false. Hamas (which received 44.45% of the votes in the last PLC elections) obviously rejects such a proposal, as do many others. In fact, the concept of land swaps – which is what the BBC is describing here – has only been officially accepted by the Fatah central council – which is just one of the factions making up the PLO which actually conducts negotiations – and even then under very limited terms. 

“The Fatah Central Committee has accepted the Arab League’s latest proposal authorizing land swaps with Israel. […]

“Although PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat initially said that this was not a new idea and that the proposal was presented in coordination with the Palestinians, some Fatah and PA officials have come out against the land swap plan.

Other Palestinians said the Arab League did not have a mandate to speak on behalf of Palestinians and offer territorial concessions to Israel.” […]

Unlike most Palestinian factions, Fatah said that today, it was not opposed to the land swap idea.

Fatah’s leaders stressed after their meeting, however, that they perceive the idea as meaning that there would be “minor and mutual adjustments” to the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Accepting the idea does not mean “legitimizing settlement blocs” in the West Bank, they explained.

“Settlements in all the Palestinian lands are illegal. There can be no land swaps without an Israeli recognition of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders,” they said.”

Here we see the BBC patronizingly lumping of all Palestinians into one uniform group, and erasing the distinctions between Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, as well as ignoring the fact that there are large sections of Palestinian society not represented by any of those bodies.

 Clearly, the BBC is trying to present a much more accommodating picture of the Palestinian leadership than actually exists – and to contrast it with a picture of “right-wing” Israeli government intransigence in the second half of the above sentence.

This is not news reporting or current affairs analysis. It is the dumbed-down distortion of facts in order to promote a specific politically motivated narrative – i.e. propaganda – and that is not what the licence fee-financing public pays for.


Keeping BBC audience’s eyes on the ‘settlements’ ball

Predictably, the BBC has been busy over the past few days churning out a flurry of articles on the subject of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to get talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on final status negotiations restarted. In those articles, care has been taken to ensure that audiences keep their eye on the ball with regard to the BBC’s narrative regarding the ‘peace process’.

In a July 19th article entitled “Palestinians undecided on Kerry peace talks plan” readers are told yet again in a side box of analysis by Lyse Doucet that: 

“…settlements are still a major stumbling block. As Mr Kerry shuttles, Israel keeps announcing plans and permits for new homes.”

Doucet makes no attempt to explain to audiences that in fact there is absolutely no reason why planning committees should not continue their work as no building freeze has been agreed upon and indeed she makes it sound as though the routine granting of planning permissions is some sort of deliberately spiteful move on Israel’s part. 

In another article from the same day entitled “Israel and Palestinians reach agreement to resume talks” readers are once again told that:

“The last round of direct talks broke down nearly three years ago over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Of course the last round of direct talks actually broke down in late September 2010 when Mahmoud Abbas refused to continue them after the expiry of a ten-month ‘goodwill promoting’ building freeze which he had ignored for 90% of its existence.

Under the sub-heading ‘stumbling blocks’, readers are told yet again in the same article that:

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks between the two sides.

The Palestinian president has said that Israel must freeze settlement-building before stalled peace talks can resume, while Mr Netanyahu has urged Mr Abbas to return to talks without preconditions.”

Curiously, it never seems to occur to the BBC to question why Mahmoud Abbas cannot sit down to talks without a building freeze – or why when there was one he avoided negotiations for most of its duration.

Later on in the article the frequently made mistake of inaccurately describing the 1949 Armistice Lines as “borders” is repeated yet again – despite clear guidelines on that subject having only recently been refreshed on the BBC College of Journalism website.

“The settlement issue is just one of several thorny problems which have stymied previous attempts to get the two sides back to the negotiating table.

The Palestinians have also demanded previously that any talks be on the basis of the borders in place from 1949 to 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.”

The latest BBC guideline specifically relating to that subject says: [emphasis added]

“The Green Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949.

The exact borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state are subject to negotiation between the two parties. The Palestinians want a complete end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and use the phrase to mean a return to the pre-4 June 1967 borders.

In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have. To that end, we can call the Green Line ‘the generally recognised boundary between Israel and the West Bank’ “

The article goes on:

“The future status of Jerusalem and any “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendents are also core issues in any future peace talks.”

Apparently the writer did not deem it necessary to inform readers of additional “core issues” such as the PA’s incessant glorification of terror and incitement against Israelis.

Right at its end, the article states:

“The Palestinian position is further complicated by the the [sic] fact that Gaza is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, whereas Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement is in control of the West Bank.

Hamas has rejected the announcement of a return to talks, according to AFP, saying Mr Abbas had no right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.”

Some might say that “further complicated” is a bit of an understatement. The fact that the PA is not in control of part of the territory it will be negotiating about, and upon which it hopes to establish a state, is clearly a huge issue, as is the fact that the PA president’s legitimate mandate to sign anything on behalf of the Palestinian people expired years ago. Another glaring problem is that the PA clearly cannot claim to be able to give security guarantees on behalf of the range of terrorist organisations including Hamas, the PFLP, the DFLP and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad which are openly hostile to negotiations.

But the BBC apparently has no interest in any in-depth exploration of those issues; instead it keeps audiences focused on the mantra of settlements.

Isn’t it time that BBC audiences got the comprehensive, narrative-free, impartial and accurate analysis which would help them understand all aspects of this issue – to which they are entitled and which they pay for? 

Another obstacle to peace the BBC will not report

As we recently noted, the BBC has refrained from informing its audiences about the terrorist-run summer camps in the Gaza Strip in which tens of thousands of children are indoctrinated with hatred towards their neighbours and encouraged to believe that Israel will cease to exist. 

Like many of the Western voices which – with comic regularity – inform us that time is running out for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the BBC endeavours to keep public focus on the issue of Israeli building plans rather than facing up to the fact that supporters of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups have absolutely no interest in an outcome in which two countries exist peacefully side by side. In addition to ignoring that sizeable proportion of public opinion on the Palestinian street, the BBC also ignores the glorification of terror by Israel’s so-called ‘moderate peace partners’ in the Palestinian Authority. 

A few weeks ago we published here the English-language translation of the list of Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli prisons since the pre-Oslo Accords period. Not only are those people sometimes erroneously described by the Western media as being “political” prisoners, but their release is one of several demands presented by the Palestinian Authority as pre-conditions to peace negotiations. 

Over at Palestinian Media Watch is a recent report documenting the glorification of the terrorist acts of two of those prisoners on PA controlled television.  

“Faraj Saleh Abdallah Al-Rimahi, who is serving a life sentence for beating an 84 year-old Israeli to death with a hoe in 1992, was coined a “giant hero” by the PA TV host. The host continued:
“Our hero, Faraj Al-Rimahi, is still writing the finest epics of endurance, heroism and self-sacrifice…”

“The PA TV host referred to Ibrahim Faiz Abu Ali, who is serving a life sentence for murdering a 24 year-old Israeli taxi driver in 1992, as “the hero prisoner.” The editors of the program also chose to include words of praise by the terrorist’s mother:
“By Allah, he is good, good. Ibrahim is honorable and a man. He’s never harmed his Muslim brother, never harmed a neighbor, never harmed any person…”

The PMW report also includes details of a “solidarity visit” to the families of other prisoners – as reported in the PA newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida – by officials not infrequently quoted by the BBC in articles on the subject of Palestinian prisoners.

“Hebron district, in cooperation with the Prisoners’ Club, the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs and the Committee of Families of Prisoners, organized a solidarity visit to the families of veteran prisoners in the Hebron district… they are: Ziyad Mahmoud Ghanimat and Mustafa Ghanimat (both serving a life sentence)… Najeh Muqbil (serving 38 years in prison)… Muhammad Al-Tus (serving a life sentence)… Governor of the Hebron district [Kamel Hamid] awarded the ‘shield of resolve’ to the families of the veteran prisoners.”

The BBC’s consistent censorship of the institutional glorification of terrorists and their acts by the Palestinian Authority – and the resulting lack of preparation of its population for a peaceful end to the conflict – is yet another aspect of its failure to inform audiences of the real obstacles to a two-state solution which compromises its adherence to standards of accuracy and impartiality and prevents it from fulfilling its defined public purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues”. 

BBC still flogging the ‘settlements’ horse

An article entitled “ ‘Hard decisions’ needed for Middle East peace – Kerry appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on May 24th 2013. 

Kerry art

The article – which ostensibly reports on the subject of the recent visit to the region by US Secretary of State John Kerry – devotes a considerable amount of space to promoting the habitual BBC mantras of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’ and ‘settlements are illegal under international law’. However, the telegram-style clichés repeated in this article, as in countless others, not only fall short of contributing to BBC audiences’ gaining comprehensive understanding of the issues at stake, but actively prevent them from doing so.

“The last round of direct talks between the two sides broke down two years ago over the issue of settlements.”

This pro forma statement is so well-worn that BBC editors have apparently not noticed that it is no longer accurate even from the point of view of its time-scale. The Palestinian Authority refused to continue direct negotiations in late September 2010 – two years and eight months ago. The statement fails to inform readers that prior to that break-down in talks, a ten-month freeze on construction had been implemented by Israel in order to encourage the renewal of discussions, but the Palestinian Authority failed to come to the negotiating table for nine of those ten months and then used the end of the construction freeze on September 26th 2010 as a pretext to refuse to continue talks.

“Mr Kerry called on Israel to prevent further settlement building where possible in the West Bank but stopped short of calling for a total freeze.”

This statement misleads BBC audiences by implying through the use of the phrase “further settlement building” that new towns and villages are being constructed in Judea & Samaria and by failing to make clear that in fact the issue is building within the municipal boundaries of existing communities. 

“Palestinian officials want all settlement activity in the West Bank to stop before they return to negotiations with Israel.

Israel says it will not accept any preconditions for talks.

Last week the Israeli government took steps to authorise four Jewish settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

As usual, the BBC conceals from its audiences the fact that there are differing legal opinions on the subject. 

“The main issues to be addressed in a peace agreement include borders, the future of Jewish settlements, the status of Jerusalem and fate of Palestinian refugees.”

Note the repeated use of the term “Jewish settlements” rather than ‘Israeli’. Communities in Judea & Samaria were built under the auspices of successive Israeli governments – all of which were democratically elected by the entire spectrum of the Israeli people – including the 20% or so who are not Jewish.  

An average reader of this article would go away convinced that building in communities in Judea & Samaria is the main issue preventing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. So let’s take a look at just some of what the BBC has to airbrush out of its ‘peace process’ narrative, as presented in this article and many others, in order to promote that chimera to its audiences. 

1. The Palestinian Authority’s insistence on the ‘right of return’ for refugees: a scenario which would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

2. The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

3. The fact that Mahmoud Abbas does not hold a legitimate democratically elected mandate to sign any agreement on behalf of the Palestinian people.

4. The fact that part of the territory intended to be a Palestinian state is not controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but by a terrorist organization at war with Israel.

5. The fact that the ‘international community’ seems to be entirely at ease with the deliberate suspension of the rights of the Palestinian people to elect their leaders and representatives in order to keep the Palestinian Authority on ‘life support’ by postponing a Hamas take-over of the PA.

6. The fact that the Palestinian Authority engages in daily delegitimisation of Israel, incitement against the Israeli people and glorification of terror.

The BBC’s article also includes ‘analysis’ by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly. 

Kerry art analysis

Connolly states: 

“When the basic principles of the two-state solution were first enunciated in 1967, America’s 69-year-old Secretary of State was 23. William Hague, a senior partner in the international search for peace, had not yet turned seven. The core of the issue and the depths of mutual suspicion and hostility between Israel and the Palestinians are not much changed.

Mr Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton came to Israel only five times in four years; Mr Kerry’s already been four times in as many months. If there is any glimmer of private hope to explain that burst of diplomatic energy there is no sign of it in the public domain.

Israel still wants security guarantees and Palestinians are reluctant to talk until there is some kind of halt to Israel’s building of Jewish settlements on the territory it occupies on the West Bank of the River Jordan. Israel shows no sign of satisfying that requirement for now.” 

There’s Connolly once again implying that new communities are being built in Judea & Samaria as we read – rather than housing units in existing towns and villages – and using the term “Jewish settlements” instead of Israeli. But note Connolly’s first paragraph in that ‘analysis’. The opaquely phrased claim that “the basic principles of the two-state solution were first enunciated in 1967”, followed by the use of the term “hostility between Israel and the Palestinians” deliberately airbrushes out aspects of the conflict which are vital in contributing to readers’ understanding of it.

Connolly’s reference to 1967 presumably means the Khartoum conference, but to interpret the results of that as enunciating “the basic principles of the two state solution” (whereby, according to its accepted definition, the State of Israel and a Palestinian state exist peacefully side by side) is a pretty far stretch – and one which not only downplays Arab countries’ involvement in the conflict, but ignores the third attempt by Arab states to annihilate Israel six years later. 

“The Arab Heads of State have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of the aggression and to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of June 5. This will be done within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” [emphasis added]

The BBC systematically sells its audiences short by failing to contribute to their understanding of why the peace process has failed to make any significant progress through the repeated airbrushing out of the picture of factors of considerably graver consequence than the subject of building in “settlements”. That practice not only seriously damages the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality, but also fails to meet the requirements of the “public purposes” set out in the BBC’s charter. 

It is high time the BBC made some (apparently) ‘hard’ decisions of its own regarding its seeming unwillingness to meet its obligation to inform audiences accurately rather than making do with the incessant promotion of a specific political narrative. One place to start, for example, would be an in-depth feature on the subject of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terror and the effects of that on the chances for peace.