Landmark Israel-PA agreements not news for the BBC

In the past week two major agreements have been signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both of which relate to topics the BBC has covered – from certain angles – in the past.

The first deal involves the electricity supply to Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

“High-ranking Palestinian and Israeli officials gathered in a field outside the West Bank city of Jenin on Monday to turn on the first-ever piece of Palestinian-owned electricity infrastructure and ink a new electricity agreement between the two sides.

The deal, hailed as “historic” by signatories, will for the first time set parameters for the supply of power between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which for years has seen the PA default on billions of shekels of debt and Israel subsequently withhold electricity. […]

The station will allow Israel to send up to 135 more megawatts to the northern West Bank area, though the agreement currently calls for just 60 more. The energy will provide a much-needed boost to the Jenin area, which has suffered power outages more than any other Palestinian West Bank region.

The station also represents the first time the Palestinians will be able to control the distribution of the electricity to their own towns and cities.

The PA will still have to buy its power from the Israel Electric Corporation. But apart from that, once the power is handed off to the PA, it’s in Palestinian hands.

When infrastructure breaks down — which once necessitated Israeli teams escorted by the army to perform repairs, which inevitably caused delays — Palestinian teams will be responsible for dealing with any problems.

The station was built by the Israel Electric Corporation, by both Israeli and Palestinian workers, but it is owned by the Palestinian Electric Authority (PEA) and the PA. The IEC also trained Palestinians to work, maintain and fix the site.

[Israeli Energy minister] Steinitz described the deal as a “win-win project” for Israel and the Palestinians.

“It’s good for Palestinians because they will get more electricity, which will be more stable and of higher quality. It’s good for Israel because…the responsibility [for Palestinian electricity] won’t fall on the shoulders of the Israeli Electric Corporation,” he said. […]

Jenin is the first region to receive a substation, but three more are on the way — in the Hebron region in the south, in the Ramallah region in the center and in Nablus in the mid-northern West Bank. With all four stations, the Palestinian Authority will control the power flow across all the territory it controls.”

When the agreement that paved the way for this new substation was signed last September, the BBC ignored that story and there has to date been no reporting of this latest news.

While the topic of Israel’s withholding of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority has cropped up time and time again in the corporation’s Middle East coverage over the years, the BBC has repeatedly failed to adequately inform audiences of the relevant context of the PA’s massive debt to the Israel Electric Corporation and the reasons why that debt has accumulated.

The second agreement signed last week concerns water and a project that the BBC has covered in the past.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced an agreement that will provide millions of cubic meters of drinking water to the Palestinians from a desalination process. […]

The agreement announced Thursday is part of a larger trilateral agreement for the construction of a 220-kilometer (137-mile) pipeline transferring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea — the lowest body of water on earth — to benefit Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, and replenish the dwindling Dead Sea. As the water runs down the gradient it will be used to generate electricity that will also power a desalination plant to produce drinking water. […]

The water sharing deal reached on Thursday calls for an Aqaba desalination plant in Jordan to sell water to southern Jordan and Eilat, while water from the Sea of Galilee will be sold to northern Israel and Jordan. Israel will sell 32 million cubic meters of water to the Palestinian Authority from Mediterranean desalination plants — 10 million to Gaza and 22 million to the West Bank…”

BBC audiences have seen much politicised coverage of the topic of water in the past. Only last March BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged promotion of the falsehood that Israelis consume ‘Palestinian’ water.

Nevertheless, the media organisation that pledges to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world” did not find this latest landmark water-related story newsworthy either.

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NYT reports on a topic consistently off the BBC radar

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

 

BBC’s Connolly adds a postscript to his Dead Sea reporting

The June 23rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 45:10 here) by the Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly on the topic of the Dead Sea.

As readers may recall, six days earlier Connolly had produced a long written report on the same topic for the BBC News website. In this audio report Connolly focused largely on the effects of the declining level of the Dead Sea on tourism in the area and his superficial portrayal of the reasons behind that process was as follows:

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“The sea is dying because the countries of the Middle East are tapping into the waters of the River Jordan that once fed it.”

As far as this writer is aware, the River Jordan still flows into the Dead Sea.

Earlier, in his introduction to the report, presenter Julian Marshall had displayed an equally bizarre understanding of the geographical term ‘Middle East’:

“…for years there’s been a fear that the sea might live up to its name and die, as the countries of the Middle East drain the river system for precious drinking water.”

As was the case in his written report, Connolly refrained from providing his audience with more meaningful portrayal of the relevant issues of water agreements, irrigation practices, water recycling and water use efficiency. In what may perhaps be a first for the BBC, both of Connolly’s reports also ignored the topic of the influence of climate change on the River Jordan’s catchment area.

Connolly’s portrayal of the project intended to rehabilitate the Dead Sea was as follows in this audio report:

“A fix is possible: a grand scheme to build a pipeline across the desert from the Red Sea far to the south.”

In his earlier written report, Connolly had encouraged readers to view that project with scepticism:

“But the technical, financial and political difficulties are forbidding and the pipeline is unlikely to be built soon, if indeed at all.”

No such declarations were heard in this audio report – perhaps because just two days after Connolly published the above words, the Jordanian government announced that no fewer than seventeen international companies had made bids to carry out the work.

Related Articles:

Final status negotiations on Area C passé for BBC’s Kevin Connolly

Impartiality fail as BBC promotes FOEME objections to Red-Dead Sea project

Final status negotiations on Area C passé for BBC’s Kevin Connolly

On June 17th an article appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Dead Sea drying: A new low-point for Earth“. Towards the end of Kevin Connolly’s long and at times rambling and repetitive piece, readers found the following:Connolly Dead Sea

“If the waters of the River Jordan are not to be restored, the likeliest scheme to revitalise the Dead Sea involves constructing a huge pipeline that would bring water across the desert from the Red Sea, far to the south. […]

Water would have to be desalinated first at the Red Sea (salty water would pollute the Dead Sea’s unique chemistry). It would then have to be pumped up to a great height and fed into enormous pipes that would channel the water across the desert to its destination.

The extra fresh water would benefit not just Jordan and Israel but the Palestinians too, so the World Bank is keen and the US is likely to provide at least some of the start-up capital.

But the technical, financial and political difficulties are forbidding and the pipeline is unlikely to be built soon, if indeed at all.”

In fact a conference on the project was held in Jordan just last month.

“Israel and Jordan presented the planned Red Sea-Dead Sea canal to potential investors at an international conference in Aqaba, Jordan on Monday. […]

At the conference, project representatives presented a tentative timetable and listed its benefits. These include stabilizing the dropping water level in the Dead Sea, providing a source of desalinized water for Israel’s Arava desert and for Jordan, and strengthening cooperation between Israel and Jordan.

The U.S. government has already stated that it will be contributing $100 million to fund the project.

A tender to fund the project was recently published. Some 94 major international corporations have paid a fee to receive the tender paperwork.”

Connolly’s article is also remarkable for the crucial omissions in its portrayal of irrigation related issues, as shown for example in this particular passage:

“Israel has a dam across the southern section of the Sea of Galilee which gives it control of the amount of water flowing into the Jordan – it regards the Galilee as a vital strategic water asset, even though it’s been steadily increasing the amount of fresh water it creates through desalination plants in the Mediterranean.

The Israeli government began taking water out of the Jordan Valley system in the 1950s, the decade before it completed the dam.

And this creates problems for farmers in both Jordan and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank – all of whom need water to irrigate their farms and feed their people.

But Israel has problems too – although it has enough money and enough technical resources to ensure its own people have enough water.”

Any objective portrayal of that topic would necessarily inform readers of the existing water related agreements between Israel and Jordan and Israel and the Palestinians. It would also inform them on the topic of water use efficiency. In contrast to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Israel recycles waste water for agricultural irrigation, produces water for domestic consumption in desalination plants and uses water conserving irrigation methods

“The Palestinians absolutely refuse to irrigate their agricultural fields with treated sewage effluents. By comparison, more than half the agricultural fields in Israel are irrigated with treated waste water. Irrigating Palestinian agricultural fields with recycled water instead of fresh water would free up large amounts of water for home usage. This would greatly reduce the water shortage in many places.

Some Palestinian farmers irrigate their fields by flooding, rather than with drip irrigation technology. Drip irrigation, as practiced in Israel, brings water directly to the root of each plant, thereby reducing water consumption by more than 50 percent. Flooding fields causes huge water evaporation and leads to great waste.”

In other words, Connolly’s portrayal of a ‘rich’ Israel with “enough water” and – by inference – ‘poor’ Palestinians and Jordanians lacking water for crop irrigation is a very partial (although in no way unusual) picture of the real situation.

An additional notable feature of Connolly’s article is its use of politicised terminology – for example:

“Part of the [Dead Sea] shoreline is in the Palestinian West Bank under Israeli occupation so it’s possible that in future Palestinians too will reap the economic benefits of the sea’s unique properties.” (emphasis added)

Not only does that framing do nothing to enhance audience understanding of the history of the region, but it also conceals the fact that, like all other parts of Area C, the future of the area concerned is to be determined in final status negotiations according to the terms of the Oslo Accords, to which the Palestinians are of course party. 

Do BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy permit the misleading of audiences by means of an unqualified and preemptive claim about the end result of a process which has yet to take place?  

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Impartiality fail as BBC promotes FOEME objections to Red-Dead Sea project

Impartiality fail as BBC promotes FOEME objections to Red-Dead Sea project

On December 9th an article titled “Mid-East governments sign Red Sea-to-Dead Sea water deal” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. 

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Both the article itself and one of the recommended ‘related articles’ appearing as a link highlight the objections of ‘Friends of the Earth Middle East’ to this project.

“But critics fear the plan’s impact on the Dead Sea’s fragile ecosystem.”

“Environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth Middle East has called for an environmental study of how the brine from the desalination plant should be treated before the project begins in earnest, arguing it is unclear how brine from the Red Sea water will affect the Dead Sea’s ecosystem.” SONY DSC

The BBC report does not make it sufficiently clear to readers that considerable research has already been carried out, including a study of alternative options and a comprehensive environmental report. Neither does it sufficiently clarify the fact that the agreed project is in fact a pilot project involving relatively small volumes of water to be piped to the Dead Sea, which it has been established will not have a detrimental environmental impact, but which will enable further study of environmental factors.

If the BBC is going to highlight the issue of the project’s environmental aspects and amplify the concerns of FOEME, it should – in the interests of complying with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality – also provide audiences with details of additional professional points of view on that issue.

Meanwhile, BBC Watch looks forward to the long overdue removal of Martin Asser’s egregious “Obstacles to Peace:Water” article (see here and here) from the BBC News website in light of the innovations this joint Israeli/Jordanian/PA project will bring.