BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the April 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which related in part to an unpublished US administration peace plan and which adhered to existing BBC framing of that subject.

Later on in the same show (from 1:33:59 here), listeners heard a longer item on the same topic introduced by co-presenter Mishal Husain.

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

Husain: “Post-election talks are continuing in Israel with Benjamin Netanyahu expected to be formally named prime minister for a fifth term tomorrow.”

In fact the Israeli president was due to task the candidate recommended by most party leaders with the forming of a new government. Husain went on to cite the same newspaper report referred to earlier by Knell.

Husain: “And then, most likely in June, President Trump is expected to unveil what he’s called ‘the deal of the century’ between Israel and the Palestinians. The Washington Post reports that the plan will involve Palestinian autonomy rather than a sovereign state and ahead of its publication a group of 30 senior European figures including former prime ministers and former foreign ministers have said Europe should reaffirm its commitment to a two-state solution.”

The letter concerned can be found here. Without explaining the concept of the two-state solution, Husain introduced her guest.

Husain: “Well Douglas Alexander – former Labour MP and former Foreign Office minister – is one of the signatories to that letter and he’s with us. […] Why make this statement before we’ve seen what’s in the Trump peace plan?”

Alexander: “Because the core argument of the letter is that statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given or indeed a gift to be denied by Donald Trump but a right to be recognised in international law. For decades the United States has been the key actor in this region trying to secure peace. But I think it’s important to recognise that this administration has taken a series of dangerous steps in a very dangerous region. Whether that’s the withdrawing of funding for the 5 million Palestinians who are supported by the UN Work [sic] and Relief Agency, whether that’s the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, whether it was the recognition last week of Israeli sovereignty in relation to the Golan Heights. So at that point I think as Europeans we face a fundamental choice: are we going to be part of an apparatus of enablement for the permanent annexation of Palestinian land or are we going to continue to speak up for democracy, for human rights and for that two-state solution that’s been the goal for so many years?”

Husain failed to challenge that use of the politically motivated term ‘Palestinian land’ and made no effort to ask Alexander how he proposes to bring about a two-state solution given that the Palestinian Authority does not represent the whole of the Palestinian people and does not control part of the relevant territory. Neither did she inquire how ‘speaking up for democracy’ is served by advancing the creation of a state on territory currently ruled in part by a terrorist organisation which oppresses human rights and in part by an entity headed by a ‘president’ whose term of office ended over a decade ago. Instead, Husain in fact just repeated her first question.

Husain: “But you are making an assumption based on the actions you list about what will be in the Trump peace plan.”

Alexander: “Well let’s look at what Donald Trump has actually done over the last couple of years. His strategy seems to be pursuing a policy systematically to weaken the Palestinian Authority while lifting restraints on Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank.”

Although no land in “the West Bank” has been annexed at all in “the last couple of years”, Husain failed to challenge that falsehood.

Alexander: “And in that sense the destruction is coming from the Trump administration rather than the position we articulate in the letter, which is the end solution has to be based on the long-standing parameters.”

Husain made no effort to remind listeners that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected that “end solution” over the decades.

Husain: “Would you acknowledge though the limited power of European leaders in all of this? It is really the United States which is…which is the key influence on the…on the Israeli government.”

Once again we see the BBC portraying Israel as the only active party in the conflict.

Alexander: “Oh absolutely. I recognise that the United States has a key influence in the region but as Europeans we face a choice. Do we stand by a crushed and marginalised people or do we accede to a view by Donald Trump of the international community. Let’s be clear: this is a Trump administration that fundamentally believes multilateralism is nonsense. Look at the institutions created after the second World War – the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the World Bank, the IMF, WTO. All of those as far as Donald Trump is concerned are really just a mechanism for small countries to rip off the United States. So we face a choice: do we stand for multilateralism and international law or do we accede to that radical viewpoint?”

Husain refrained from asking what that theory has to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. She then side-stepped another opportunity to explain to listeners why the two-state solution has “gone nowhere” – even when Alexander replied to her next question with a blatant falsehood.

Husain: “But you seem to be standing for an idea, a pledge – the two-state solution – which has gone nowhere for the last 25 years. Isn’t it time to think about something else?”

Alexander: “I think it’s certainly right to recognise that the Palestinians for 25 years have been negotiating to try to secure that outcome but in the face of what we’re now witnessing from the Trump administration and indeed from the statements we heard from Netanyahu last week, we can pretend that nothing’s changed, we could certainly do that. Or we can do what I think is the just and decent thing by an oppressed and marginalised people who aspire within the rules of international law to something that Israel has enjoyed since 1948 which is a land of their own. That seems to me a perfectly reasonable objective for European politicians.”

The BBC’s idea of balance to that superficial softball interview in which Douglas Alexander was given an unchallenged platform from which to promote assorted distortions and falsehoods was an interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel in which an impatient-sounding Husain interrupted her no fewer than eight times and brought the interview to an abrupt close when Haskel began talking about the prioritisation of “weapons, hatred and war” by the Palestinian leadership in the Gaza Strip over the creation of an autonomous entity serving the interests of the Palestinian people.

Once again we see that the BBC’s portrayal of the as yet unpublished US peace proposal adheres to strict and selective framing in which there is no room for information which would enhance audience understanding of the topic, such as Palestinian rejection of that plan, Palestinian rejection of previous proposals, Palestinian rejection of the Jewish state or the twelve-year split in Palestinian leadership which renders the two-state solution irrelevant.

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BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part one

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BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part one

As we have most recently seen in BBC coverage of the Israeli election and in an article by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent, the corporation’s framing a US administration peace plan which has not yet even been made public continues.

That framing has included the failure to clarify to audiences that the Palestinian Authority has already rejected the US initiative even before its publication, the failure to clarify that, significantly, the Palestinian Authority does not represent all the Palestinian factions and a total absence of information concerning Palestinian rejection of past peace proposals.

Additionally, BBC audiences have seen the two-state solution presented as “the formula for peace negotiations” but with that term only partially explained: the all-important phrase “two states for two peoples” is consistently absent from BBC presentation.  Instead, audiences repeatedly see the two-state solution defined according to the Palestinian interpretation of it as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s framing portrays the success of the as yet unpublished peace plan as dependent upon Israeli actions alone, with the Palestinian side reduced to a passive entity.

That pre-emptive framing continued in two items aired on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on April 16th. Listeners first heard a report (from 37:28 here) from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell introduced by co-presenter Justin Webb.

Webb: “Israel’s political parties meet the president today following the election of course. Yolande Knell is our correspondent in Jerusalem. What happens then, Yolande?”

Knell gave an explanation of the process of the president’s consultation with the heads of the parties which gained seats in the recent election in order to decide which party leader will be tasked with trying to form a new government before going on:

Knell: “…it’s extremely likely that it will be Benjamin Netanyahu that’s allowed to form the new government because he did win the greatest number of seats in the new parliament [not accurate – Ed.] and because he has support, we know, from the smaller Right-wing and pro-settler parties, he’ll be able to control the majority seats. And Israelis saying this is most likely to be the most Right-wing government in Israeli history. That was also the boast of the last government too. And of course this new government will be put in place – he’ll have 28 days to decide – Mr Netanyahu – if he can put…how he’ll put his government together…ahm…but this will come at a really important time.”

The item continued with pure speculation based partly on an article in a newspaper.

Webb: “Well an important time because Donald Trump says he has a peace proposal and a peace proposal that is acceptable to…ahm…err…the Netanyahu government potentially. In that case, if that were to be announced relatively soon, what would it be?”

Knell: “Well we’ve been looking for a lot of clues. Ahm…of course the big question is could the US abandon the two-state solution: this long-time international formula for peace that envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. It’s been written up in UN resolutions and it’s also been the cornerstone of US policy for over two decades now. But we had yesterday the Washington Post reporting that the US proposal probably wouldn’t include a fully sovereign Palestinian state and then the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo giving a series of congressional hearings over the last two weeks and in questioning he didn’t give too much away for sure ahead of the publication of this long-awaited Trump administration peace plan but he did say that…or he seemed to imply that the idea of the two-state solution was bunched in with what he called ‘a failed old set of ideas not worth re-treading’ and he kept talking, as we’ve heard before, about recognising realities.

What’s also been pointed out really importantly is that the Trump administration and Mr Pompeo didn’t speak out against a campaign promise that was made very controversially by Mr Netanyahu in the last days of the election campaign where he promised to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank where there are Israeli settlements…ah…put them under full Israeli control. And…err…of course settlements seen as illegal under international law but the Palestinians say that would leave them with no contiguous territory for a Palestinian state.”

As we see Knell’s speculative portrayal adheres to the BBC’s standard framing seen to date. The second item on the same topic in this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.

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BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part two

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BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

In December 2017 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“. In March 2019 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means”.  

The latest article in the ‘Trumplomacy’ genre by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on April 12th under the headline “Trumplomacy: Where are things at with the Mideast peace plan?”. [emphasis in bold added]

The main image illustrating the article is captioned “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) recently became the first high-ranking US official to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall last month”. In fact previous American visitors to the site have included the US President, Vice-President and former UN ambassador.

Although Israel’s president will only begin meeting with representatives of the lists which won seats in the Knesset in last week’s election on April 15th in order to hear their recommendations for the candidate who should be tasked with forming the next government and that person will then have 28 days in which to do so (with the possibility of a two-week extension), Plett Usher already ‘knows’ what sort of new government Israel will have:

“With a newly elected right-wing government taking shape in Israel this is a good time to check in on the status of the Trump administration’s peace plan.”

Under the sub-heading “How has the [US] policy changed?” Plett Usher instructs readers to:

“Remember that the formula for peace negotiations has been: two states based on the borders of Arab territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with mutually agreed land swaps; sufficient security arrangements; a just solution for Palestinian refugees; and negotiations to settle the fate of Jerusalem, the occupied eastern part of which Palestinians claim as their capital.”

While Plett Usher does not specify the source of her “the formula for peace negotiations”, her description is apparently based on non-binding UN General Assembly resolutions such as 3236 and/or the extinct 2003 Quartet road map.

Interestingly, Plett Usher does not bother to inform her readers that the Oslo Accords – the one agreement which resulted from actual negotiations between Israel and the PLO – did not specify the two-state solution as “the formula”.

Significantly, while portraying the “fate of Jerusalem” as the sole issue to be resolved in negotiations, Plett Usher fails to inform audiences that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, other topics she portrays as ‘givens’ – borders, refugees and settlements – are also to be resolved in permanent status negotiations.

Instead Plett Usher promotes the false notion of pre-1967 “borders”, failing to clarify that those were actually armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders. Equally revealing is Plett Usher’s description of land assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland which was belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 as “Arab territory” and her prior reference to “the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

In other words Barbara Plett Usher has unquestioningly adopted and promoted the PLO’s stance on that issue.  She goes on:

“But the White House has declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, cut funds to the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, and accepted Israel’s unilateral annexation of other occupied territory, the Golan Heights.”

A journalist with integrity would clarify that the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that – in contrast to the impression Plett Usher is trying to create – it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Today’s actions—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the relocation of our embassy—do not reflect a departure from the strong commitment of the United States to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

And if bringing up the topic of cuts in US funding to UNRWA, a journalist devoted to informing readers would also have explained the background to that decision, the controversies surrounding that UN agency and the broader issue of Palestinian refugees.

Going on to reference the anti-Israel BDS campaign, Plett Usher likewise fails to inform readers of that campaign’s aims, thereby denying them the ability to judge the statement she paraphrases.

“The state department’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, has reinforced this Israeli narrative in US policy.

He told us that boycotting goods made in Jewish West Bank settlements was anti-Semitic, even though the settlements are illegal under international law and have expanded to such a degree many question whether a Palestinian state is still viable.”

Plett Usher then bolsters her article’s core messaging to readers with a quote sourced from an organisation she once again signposts as “liberal”.

“The administration’s embrace of the Israeli government’s right-wing positions has alarmed liberal American Jewish organizations.

“What they’ve done so far tells you what they intend to lay out,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami of the J Street lobby group. “They have no intention to lay out what could conceivably resolve the conflict. Instead they will tie American government positions to those of the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum.””

In her final section – sub-headed “What about the Palestinian reaction?” – Plett Usher qualifies the description of people convicted of violent attacks against Israelis.

“Mr Abbas is very unpopular. But on a recent trip to Jerusalem I was told anecdotally that Palestinians have at least given him credit for standing firm on their three core issues: Jerusalem, refugees and maintaining funds to Palestinian prisoners – whom the Israelis regard as terrorists – despite financial pressure.”

Although the US administration’s proposal has yet to be revealed, the Palestinian Authority has already made its rejection of it amply clear. Nevertheless Barbara Plett Usher’s aim in this article is to convince BBC audiences that when it does appear, that plan is destined to fail because it ‘embraces’ the positions of “the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum” rather than because the Palestinians have made it a non-starter.

While Plett Usher’s promotion of that narrative comes as no surprise, it is unfortunate that BBC audiences continue to be fed commentary which does little to enhance their understanding of this and additional topics from a person whose impartiality on issues relating to Israel has long been in plain sight.

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Another Israeli election, another BBC claim of a ‘shift to the right’

On April 8th a filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman was posted on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “How far will Israel shift to the right?”.

The accompanying synopsis tells BBC audiences that:

“Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new government.

It has come down to a race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff.

Mr Netanyahu has faced accusations that he fostered racism in the campaign, after he oversaw the creation of an electoral alliance involving a party that calls for the expulsion of most Arabs from Israel.

Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman reports, starting in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.

Within the city of about 200,000 Palestinians, a few hundred Jews live in settlements that are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Like that synopsis, the report itself – introduced as “Israel’s election and the far right” – made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that Jewish residents of Hebron live there under the terms of a twenty-two year old internationally supervised agreement between Israel and the PLO under which the then Israeli prime minister – one Binyamin Netanyahu – agreed to redeploy Israeli forces from 80% of the city and hand control over to the Palestinian Authority, thus making the city “divided” with Palestinian consent.

Lacking that essential background information, the view audiences got from Bateman’s report was inevitably distorted. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

“Last month, settlers celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. Several hundred of Israel’s most ideologically driven settlers live here, guarded by soldiers, in the city of 200,000 Palestinians.”

Bateman: “I mean on one level it’s just a party, it’s people dressing up and having a good time. But like so many things here, it just takes on a different meaning because this is so contested, this is such a tense place, it becomes about an expression of identity by people who feel that they under siege. For the Palestinians it feels like a complete provocation.”

Having heard from a man in a van that “again and again, every generation, there are nations that are trying to destroy the Jews”, Bateman went on to opine on “religious resolve (whatever that may be) and nationalism”.

Bateman: “That explains why religious resolve and nationalism are so much on display here. Those things are a powerful part of Israeli politics. And in this election, the extremes have been courted by the Israeli prime minister. An anti-Arab party called Jewish Power. They didn’t want to talk to us.”

Having tried to talk to a man in the street, Bateman went on:

Bateman: “His party wants to annex the occupied West Bank and also expel what it calls ‘enemy Arabs’ from Israel. Some of the Israelis dress up as Palestinians. So this lady here is wearing a Palestinian [sic] head scarf and carrying a plastic AK-47.”

Viewers were then told that:

“Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be elected for a fifth term. He faces corruption claims and a serious challenger: former military chief Benny Gantz. Mr Gantz is leading a political alliance in the centre ground. It accuses Mr Netanyahu of dividing Israelis and says he hasn’t been tough enough on security.”

Bateman then refocused audience attentions on Hebron, again failing to provide relevant context such as the consequences of Palestinian terrorism on freedom of movement for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Bateman: “Virtually all of the Palestinians are staying indoors while the parade goes on. Palestinian movement is heavily controlled in this part of the city, especially around the parade.”

Woman: “I feel like their lives are much more relaxed than ours. Apart from that, you can see they can do what they like. They have total freedom in the area and in all the areas that are shut down like this one. We feel sad.”

Bateman: “So what’s happened to Israel’s left wing? Well we found some of them in the market in Tel Aviv. […] I followed around the Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay. They can drum up a bit of a crowd in the market here. But the problem for the Labour Party leader is he could be looking at Labour’s worst poll ratings in this country’s history.”

Making no effort whatsoever to give viewers a real explanation of why that is the case, Bateman went on to push the core agenda behind his report.

Bateman: “After a decade in office, Benjamin Netanyahu has changed the conversation in Israel. For example the two-state solution with the Palestinians is off the agenda for either party that can win.”

In other words, Bateman would have BBC audiences believe that disillusion among Israeli voters and politicians alike with the belief that a two-state solution can be achieved is entirely down to Netanyahu having “changed the conversation” since 2009 and has nothing whatsoever to do with years of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli citizens, Palestinian Authority glorification and rewarding of terror, Palestinian refusal to accept numerous previous offers of precisely such a solution or the Hamas-Fatah split which for over a decade has made any agreement “with the Palestinians” impossible.

Following a conversation with Ayelet Shaked of the ‘New Right’ in which she apparently did not succeed in persuading Bateman that Israeli democracy is sufficiently robust to include a broad range of opinions across the political spectrum, he continued with promotion of unsupported claims from unidentified commentators.

Bateman: “Israel has been taking a look at itself in this election. Some see the move rightwards over the last decade as decisive now. They see ideas that were once on the margins a few decades ago becoming more and more mainstream. Like the possibility of Israel annexing parts of the occupied West Bank.”

Bateman has apparently never heard of the ‘Alon Plan’ proposal of annexation of parts of Judea & Samaria devised by a Labour movement leader shortly after the Six Day War.

Finally, BBC audiences learned that even if Netanyahu does not win this election and even if a centrist/left coalition forms the next government, Israel has – according to the BBC – nevertheless shifted to the right for one reason alone.

Bateman: “Regardless of the result, there has been a marked shift to the right during Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in office.”

Of course this is by no means the first time that the BBC has used coverage of an election in Israel to promote the notion of a lurch to the right. Once again the lack of understanding by BBC reporters of the inapplicability of their own Eurocentric interpretations of terms such as Left and Right to the Israeli political scene is in evidence. But this time Bateman has managed to avoid any reference to Palestinian actions and choices which have made many Israelis more sceptical of their supposed peace partner’s commitment to the process while squarely placing the blame on the shoulders of the Israeli prime minister.  

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BBC WS radio tries to do Arab-Israeli conflict demographics

During her recent visit to Jerusalem the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi found time to produce a report for the BBC World Service radio edition of the programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

Aired on March 10th, the item was described in the programme’s synopsis as follows:

“Zeinab Badawi’s been to Jerusalem – and heard from carers and parents at a mixed pre-school where Palestinian and Jewish children grow up together and learn to talk out their differences.”

However the introduction (from 06:59 here) given by host Pascale Harter went beyond the topic of Badawi’s afternoon at the YMCA’s bilingual Peace pre-school, with listeners steered towards the facile and downright false view that the only obstacle to “peace in the Middle East” is the Arab-Israeli conflict. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Harter: “Peace in the Middle East is a dream which diplomats have struggled to make a reality for decades now. The question of how Israelis and Palestinians can best live together has tormented the world. With so much bitterness and suffering inherited from the past, how does one begin to sow the seeds for peace in the future? Even though it’s small, one initiative Zeinab Badawi visited recently in Jerusalem is not to be dismissed.”

In among her portrayal of the Jerusalem pre-school, Badawi also chose to give listeners a superficial portrayal of the topic of demographics.

Badawi: “Having a baby in Israel is strongly encouraged by the authorities. There are all sorts of tax incentives and other benefits for new mothers. And the more children you have, the more the benefits accrue.”

Indeed Israeli parents are eligible for tax credits and child allowances similar to some of those received by parents in the UK. Whether or not Zeinab Badawi believes that the British government also “strongly” encourages people to have children by means of such financial benefits is unclear but she does not appear to have considered the possibility that the governments of many countries similarly support their citizens’ life choices. She went on:

Badawi: “Fertility treatment like IVF is made easily available, even to same-sex couples.”

Israel does indeed lead the world in IVF treatment. Badawi however neglected to point out that the treatment – like the financial benefits – is of course available to all eligible Israeli citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. She went on to present her main point:

Badawi: “The demographics of Israel and the occupied territories feed directly into the debate about the future. The Jewish population in these lands is about six and a half million, with an equivalent number of Palestinians.”

At the end of 2018 the population of Israel was made up of 6,668,000 Jews, 1,878,000 Arabs and 426,000 others. The most recent figures (2017) from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics cite a population of 4,952,168 in the PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip while the CIA Factbook suggests a lower figure. In other words, in order to present her portrayal of “equivalent” numbers of Jews and Palestinians in “these lands”, Badawi has added the entire Israeli Arab population to the Palestinian population, regardless of whether they identify as such or not.

Making no effort to explain the obviously relevant issue of the hereditary refugee status given to descendants of Palestinian refugees, Badawi went on:

Badawi: “If you add the Palestinian refugee population in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria then even by the lowest estimates the Israeli view is that any right of return for these people would pose a threat to Israel because Palestinians would far outnumber Jews. The birth rate is still high by global standards among both Jews and Palestinians here. In my afternoon at the Peace pre-school I spotted no fewer than four pregnant women.”

Notably, Badawi refrained from clarifying that the core aim of the demand for ‘right of return’ is to eliminate the Jewish state and that such a move would also eliminate the two-state solution that is supported by the international community.

And so, what BBC World Service radio audiences heard in Zeinab Badawi’s account of her brief visit to Jerusalem was in fact a context-free, simplistic and predictably jejune portrayal of a complex conflict which contributed nothing to audience understanding of the issue.

New PA PM not newsworthy for the BBC

With BBC audiences still unaware of the fact that the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister resigned in late January, a new – and of course unelected – prime minister was appointed by Mahmoud Abbas on March 10th. 

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on Sunday, a senior official said, in a move seen as part of efforts to further isolate Hamas.

Abbas asked Shtayyeh, a member of the central committee of the Palestinian president’s Fatah party, to form a new government, Fatah vice president Mahmoud al-Aloul told AFP.”

A member of Fatah’s central committee as noted above, Shtayyeh has a record of denying Jewish history in the region and whitewashing terrorism. That of course has not prevented him from being interviewed by the BBC on numerous occasions over the years.

In late 2014 listeners to BBC World Service radio heard Shtayyeh claim that areas assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland but occupied by Egypt and Jordan between 1948 and 1967 were “Palestinian territory”

“This is a strategic shift in which we are leaving the bi-lateral negotiations that has not been really the answer for ending the Israeli occupation that has occurred on the Palestinian territory in 1967.” 

He also gave an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of years of avoidance of serious negotiation by the PA.

“We have given the negotiations every single possibility and unfortunately the United States has not really made Netanyahu thirsty enough to bring him to the river to drink.”

Shtayyeh gave a similarly inaccurate portrayal of the reasons for the demise of the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO during which three tranches of releases of convicted terrorists took place, with the fourth and final tranche postponed due to lack of progress in the negotiations and later cancelled because of unilateral Palestinian moves that included ‘reconciliation’ between Fatah and Hamas.

“And Israel did not allow the release of the Palestinian prisoners which has been agreed upon and mediated by Secretary Kerry, so from our side we have given negotiations every possibility.”

Since early 2017 BBC audiences have repeatedly heard Shtayyeh opine that the prospects for a two-state solution have ended.

“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.””

And:

“For us we consider Jerusalem as a future capital of the State of Palestine, so having the president moving the embassy there, then it is an American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel. That’s why we consider this American move as an end to the peace process; an end to two states and really, putting the whole region into chaos.”

Shtayyeh has been promoting ‘internationalisation’ of the conflict at least since 2011.

“The peace process is not going anywhere. The facts on the ground are changing all the time. Israel continues to build settlements,” says Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior negotiator who will help write President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the United Nations this week.

Photo credit: Daily Mail

“The only option we have is to go to the United Nations and ask for recognition of the 1967 borders. This is not a unilateral move. The United Nations is a multilateral forum.”

None of that is of course surprising coming from one of the Fatah faithful who was present at the 2014 wreath-laying ceremony for the Munich Olympics terrorists in Tunis together with Jeremy Corbyn.

It does however mean that – as one analyst put it – there is no reason to expect any changes in the new PA government’s policy.

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BBC ‘Global Questions’ from Jerusalem rescheduled

Readers may recall that last November the BBC invited members of the public to take part in an edition of ‘Global Questions’ to be broadcast from Jerusalem the following month. That broadcast was however subsequently cancelled.

Now the BBC is advertising that event – and another in Arabic – once again.

“Global Questions is your chance to put questions to a high-level panel of politicians and decision makers. Moderated by Zeinab Badawi, one of the BBC’s most respected journalists, the discussion is shaped by questions from the audience.

The Future for the Israelis and Palestinians

The Middle East awaits President Trump’s much vaunted peace plan – billed as the ‘deal of the century’. But the Palestinians say it was dangerously provocative to declare the disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital, and to move the American Embassy there. A quarter of a century on from the Oslo Accords, what chance is there now of the ‘two-state solution’, where an independent Palestinian state sits alongside Israel?

Having marked the 70th anniversary of its creation, Global Questions travels to Israel to ask what the next 70 years might bring.

Ever since its birth, the country has been mired in conflict with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours. Is further conflict inevitable or could there be a lasting peace that allows the next generation to live without war

BBC Global Questions will record a debate in English on Wednesday 27 February followed by a debate in Arabic on Thursday 28 February. You are welcome to join one or both programmes.

On the panel:
Naftali Bennett Israel’s Minister of Education
Diana Buttu Palestinian lawyer and former PLO spokesperson
Jake Walles Former US ambassador and peace negotiator
Jawad Anani Former Deputy PM of Jordan”

Registration and further details here.

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BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part one

Guardian op-ed by Diana Buttu claims Palestinians are arrested for ‘criticising Israel’  (UK Media Watch)

Diana Buttu is at it again, Harvard Edition  (CAMERA)

Countering Propaganda: Focus on Diana Buttu  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

Mapping changes in BBC reporting of Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’

In July 2013 the BBC News website produced a backgrounder intended to inform audiences about what it considered to be the five “Core Issues” of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians: Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees and security. Although that backgrounder is no longer available online in its original form, in a section titled ‘refugees’ the Palestinian position was presented thus:

“Formally, they maintain the “right of return”, arguing that without it a great injustice would not be put right. However, there has been regular talk among Palestinians that this “right” could be met by compensation.” 

In other words, the BBC presented the Palestinian demand for the ‘right of return’ for refugees as a formality and steered audiences towards the view that the issue would be resolved on a practical level by means of compensation.

Over the past nine months, however, audiences have seen changes in the BBC’s presentation of that topic – primarily but not exclusively in reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ events.

In the BBC News website’s first report on those events on March 30th audiences were told that:

“Palestinians have long demanded their right to return but Israel says they should settle in a future Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The following day visitors to the BBC News website were told that:

“Hundreds were wounded at the start of protests demanding a right for Palestinians to return to former family homes in what is now Israel. […]

The aim of the protest is to assert what Palestinians regard as their right to return to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.”

Listeners to BBC radio 4 on March 30th heard that “Thousands of demonstrators gathered for the start of a six-week campaign for the right to return to homes that are now in Israel” and that “The demonstrators said they wanted to send a clear message that they have a right to return to what used to be Palestinian land: one of the major issues of contention in the Middle East conflict.” [emphasis in bold added]

That programme highlighted one of several issues seen BBC reporting on this topic: the corporation’s failure to challenge deliberate misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194 by Palestinian interviewees.

On the same day listeners to BBC World Service radio were told that “Thousands of Palestinians massed today in what is the start of weeks of protest to demand that refugees be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel” along with yet more misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194.

However, in early April BBC audiences began to see the use of a new phrase: ‘ancestral lands’. [emphasis in bold added]

“The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel.” BBC News website, April 6th 2018

As was noted here at the time:

“One may have thought that BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality would have prompted the use of terminology such as “what Palestinians see as their ancestral lands” (particularly seeing as only two years of residency in Mandate Palestine is required to meet the UN definition of refugee) but that was not the case…”

Additional examples of the cross-platform use of that and similar terminology – which is too widespread to be explained by anything other than an editorial decision – include the following:

“The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel…” BBC Radio 4, April 6th 2018

“…in similar protests last Friday in support of the demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel…” BBC World Service radio, April 6th 2018

“Protesters want refugees to be allowed to return to ancestral land now in Israel.” BBC News website, April 13th 2018

“Palestinians want the right to return to their ancestral homes which are now in Israeli territory.” BBC World Service radio, May 9th 2018

“The demonstrations have seen thousands of Palestinians mass on the border in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, June 20th 2018

“…mass demonstrations along the border, at which thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel…” BBC News website, July 17th 2018

“…thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 7th 2018

“…protests along the Gaza-Israel border at which thousands have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 15th 2018

“The protest campaign expresses support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 28th 2018

“The protests began with a demand for Palestinians to return to their ancestral land that now lies in Israel…” BBC News website, October 1st 2018

“The protesters are demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt and the right to return to Palestinans’ ancestral land which now lies inside Israel.” BBC Radio 4, October 12th 2018

“The protests, orchestrated by the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, are held in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, October 25th 2018

“The demonstrations began in March over a declared Palestinian right to return to ancestral homelands from the blockaded Strip.” BBC Radio 4, November 23rd 2018

The term “ancestral land” is of course  often used in reference to lands belonging to an indigenous cultural people or community as well as in connection to the place of origin of previous generations. The BBC’s widespread introduction of the non-neutral terms “ancestral lands”, “ancestral homes” and “ancestral homelands” over the past nine months into multiple platform reporting on the topic of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is hence particularly noteworthy – and all the more so given that audiences were serially denied important background information in the same reports.

Audiences were not provided with adequate context concerning the circumstances under which some of the Arabs living in the area in 1948 became refugees – and not least the fact that the process began because neighbouring Arab states chose to initiate a war intended to eradicate the emerging Jewish state.

None of the BBC’s reports informed audiences that UN GA resolution 194 is non-binding, that it does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) and – contrary to often heard assertions – neither does it grant any unconditional ‘right of return’.

Equally notable is the BBC’s failure in the majority of its reports to adequately explain to audiences why Israel cannot countenance the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ and the failure to clarify that the aim of that demand is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state.

“The Israeli government has long ruled out any right of return…” BBC News website, April 6th 2018

“Israel rejects that demand, saying that it is a threat to its Jewish majority.” BBC World Service radio, May 9th 2018

“Israel says it cannot allow five million refugees to return because this would overwhelm the country of 8.5 million and mean the end of its existence as a Jewish state.” BBC News website, May 15th 2018

“They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic…” BBC World Service radio, September 1st 2018

Significantly, no effort has been made over the past nine months to explain to BBC audiences that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is at odds with the two-state solution proposal which the BBC has repeatedly told its audiences in the past is the “declared goal” of “the international community”. 

Related Articles:

The BBC’s double helping ‘Nakba’ backgrounder

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return” (CAMERA)

 

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BBC’s ME editor continues his ‘Bedouin village’ narrative – part two

As documented in part one of this post, on September 17th viewers of two BBC television channels saw a narrative-driven report blighted by important omissions on the subject of the Bedouin encampment called Khan al Ahmar produced by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

On the same day listeners to two different BBC radio stations heard an audio version of Bowen’s report and the following day it was heard yet again by listeners to BBC World Service radio. The almost identical introductions to the report gave clear signposting to BBC audiences in all three cases. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

1) BBC World Service, ‘Newshour‘, September 17th, presented by Tim Franks, from 45:05 here.

Franks: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court authorising the destruction of the village called Khan al Ahmar. Supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land. They’re delighted also by the backing that they’ve had from President Trump. Most of the world though regards Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an occupation and that the Jewish settlements are illegal under international law. The consequent fear is that the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Israeli settlers which will in turn split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

2) BBC Radio 4, ‘The World Tonight’, September 17th, presented by Ritula Shah, from 17:35 here.

Shah: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court there authorising the destruction of the village called Khan al Ahmar. Supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land. They’re delighted too by the backing they’ve had from President Trump. But most of the world believes Israel is an occupier in the West Bank and that the Jewish settlements there are illegal. They fear the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Jews that will split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – absolutely and definitively impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

3) BBC World Service, ‘World Update’, September 18th, presented by Dan Damon, from 05:10 here.

Damon: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court authorising the destruction of Khan al Ahmar. It’s a village which supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories say is in the way. They applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land and they’re delighted that the backing has come from President Trump. Most of the world believes Israel’s an occupier in the West Bank and that Jewish settlements are illegal. They fear the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Jews that will split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – absolutely and definitively impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

As we see, all three of those introductions gave a context-free presentation of ‘occupation’ – with no explanation that Khan al Ahmar is located in Area C and hence under the terms of the Oslo Accords is under Israeli control pending final status negotiations – and a partial representation of ‘international law’. Significantly, all three also promoted the contiguity myth seen amplified in an earlier report by Bowen – despite the fact that any potential building in the area in which Khan al Ahmar is located would in no way render the two-state solution “absolutely and definitively impossible” as claimed by the BBC.

In other words, even before Bowen began his report, a politicised and partisan narrative was in evidence.

The first part of Bowen’s report had been recorded on September 14th.

Bowen: “A small group of demonstrators has surrounded an Israeli army bulldozer at the entrance to the village of Khan al Ahmar. Not very many of them but this is a symbolic and important issue for the Israelis and for the Palestinians. Khan al Ahmar is a small – very small – Bedouin village on the main road down from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Dead Sea. It’s just a settlement of tents and shacks but like so many of these small disputes about land and territory, it’s attracted a lot of international attention.”

Obviously one reason for that “international attention” is the fact that political NGOs and foreign media have – like Bowen himself – made the story a cause célèbre. Bowen then went on to give an account of events at Khan al Ahmar which – as was the case in his filmed report – contradicts accounts of other journalists at the scene.

Bowen: “What they seem to be doing is blocking alternative routes into the village so there’s only one left open and that means that when they come to demolish this place, they will be able to control everybody who goes in and everybody who goes out much more easily.”

In contrast, AP reported that the bulldozers were clearing rock barriers that had been “set up to slow demolition” by local and foreign activists. Bowen went on to pass his unprofessional judgement on the proceedings.

Bowen: “Somebody’s laying down in front of it. There’s a bit of a scuffle going on. A few demonstrators trying to stop the bulldozer and the paramilitary police try and push the demonstrators back. It’s very symbolic. Really there’s no particular need for them to do it at this particular moment – move the bulldozer – and also the demonstrators know they can’t really stop the military. But both sides play their part in what goes on here.”

Listeners then heard a conversation between Bowen and an unidentified man.

Man: “I can’t speak now ‘cos I am breathing. I am tired now.”

Bowen: “Yes but tell me how…”

Man: “To open the way.”

Bowen: “You want to open the way?”

Man: “Yes. Only I can speak that they are criminals. They are the thieves of our souls and spirits.”

Bowen: “They’re gonna come back though you know if you open this; they’ll bring the bulldozer back.”

Man: “If they come back we are all ready to this. Our land mean our blood. Our land mean our blood.”

Bowen of course did not bother to clarify to BBC audiences that the man’s use of the word “our” is inaccurate because the Jahalin tribe does not own the land on which the Khan al Ahmar encampment was set up. Failing to inform listeners of the relocation package offered to the residents – including free building plots – and the Palestinian Authority’s use of the Bedouin as political pawns, Bowen went on to claim that they had “settled there in the 1950s” despite there being photographic evidence to contradict that claim.

Bowen: “The people of Khan al Ahmar have refused to move to another site. They settled there in the 1950s after they were expelled from the new Israel. Britain, France and Germany among others have warned that demolishing the village will make it even harder to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The UN’s warned that Israel would be committing a grave breach of international humanitarian law, which is a war crime.”

Following that repeat amplification of the contiguity myth and the notion that the relocation of squatters from an illegally constructed encampment on land to which they have no claim is a “war crime”, listeners heard the sound of singing.

Bowen: “As they talk the conflict grinds on. Hundreds of Jews at the funeral of an Israeli-American stabbed to death by a 17 year-old Palestinian boy and more Palestinians killed on Gaza’s border with Israel. Naftali Bennett is Israel’s minister of education and the leader of the nationalist right. He doesn’t believe in the two-state solution.”

Bennett: “The Palestinians’ hope to wipe out Israel: as long as that hope endures terror will continue. When they give up on the hope to eliminate Israel and realise we’re here to stay, they’re here to stay, we’ll see terror less.”

Bowen: “President Trump has made a difference. What kind of difference?”

Bennett: “He has. President Trump has brought fresh thinking to a region that’s been fairly stagnant in terms of its methodologies and ideas. What Trump is telling the Palestinians: if you think you’ll continue inciting against Jews and killing Jews and somehow time is on your side, you’re wrong. You’ve got to act. You’ve got to move. Let’s make peace. Don’t wait on the sidelines because time is not on your side.”

Listeners next heard recordings made by Bowen on September 13th.

Bowen: “President Trump believes pressure works and they’re feeling it here at the Augusta Victoria hospital in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. The president has cut the $25 million the US was paying Palestinian hospitals in this part of the city. I’m in the pediatric dialysis department – children’s cancer’s just down the corridor – and I’m with Walid Nammour the CEO here at Augusta Victoria.”

Nammour: “We could not believe that sick children – children with cancer – will be used by any civil state, by an American government as an element for negotiations that were putting pressures to achieve political results or gains. It’s incredible.”

Bowen: “Well the Americans say it’s Palestinians’ fault for not taking part properly in talks and also for taking cases to the International Criminal Court.”

Nammour: “This is politics. Why would a child who has cancer pay the price? Our life has become terrible of catastrophic level since the Trump administration took over. I don’t know what heart he has this man to stop medications from this child. This is an administration that is seeking peace treaty?”

As in his filmed report, neither Bowen nor his interviewee bothered to inform BBC audiences that by September 9th – the day after the US announcement and at least four days before this interview was held – the Palestinian Authority had already announced that it would make up the deficit.

Neither did Bowen raise the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s financial priorities – including the payments to convicted terrorists – when he went to get more backing for his chosen narrative in Jericho.

Bowen: “At his office in hot and dusty Jericho the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat despairs about the impact of Donald Trump on Palestinians and Israelis.”

Erekat: “I think there is no longer a Palestinian moderate camp. There is no longer an Israeli peace camp. He succeeded in getting Palestinians and Israelis off the raft of the two-state solution. Now the kids in my neighbourhood are being taught by Trump’s policies that if you claim something, grab it. This is what he’s teaching and educating and telling in his Twitters every morning to every child in Palestine. If you’re man enough, if you’re woman enough, don’t be silly [and] wait for courts or solving problems by peaceful means or negotiations; grab it! And Trump is succeeding in making Palestinians despair and desperation will lead to desperate acts.”

With apparently nothing to say about Erekat’s barely veiled threats or the Palestinian education system which teaches glorification of terrorism and negates Israel, Bowen closed his report.

Bowen: “The row over Khan al Ahmar touches the big issues of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But it’s also about families who most likely will lose their homes, children who will lose their school and a community that might be dispersed. This conflict has caused great suffering across generations and it seems that more will soon be inflicted on the people of Khan al Ahmar.”

Once again Bowen deliberately refrained from informing listeners that if the residents of Khan al Ahmar had not been exploited by the Palestinian Authority for entirely political purposes they could, like other members of their tribe, have relocated to a site nearby offering free plots of land, utilities and a school, with no need whatsoever for the community to ‘suffer’. Those facts, however, do not help advance the political narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and so in these three radio items – just as in his previous filmed and audio reports – they were erased from the one-sided and politicised picture he presented.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ME editor continues his ‘Bedouin village’ narrative – part one

BBC’s Bowen recycles the ‘contiguity’ myth on World Service radio

Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

THE LA TIMES, THE BEDOUIN OF KHAN AL AHMAR AND ‘THEIR LAND’  (CAMERA)

MEDIA EMBRACE E1 FALSEHOODS  (CAMERA)