The BBC and the 1947 Partition Plan

Back in December 2013 we noted on these pages that an online BBC backgrounder on the topic of the 1947 Partition Plan (UNGA Resolution 181) had inaccurately informed all those reading it since its publication in November 2001 that David Ben Gurion had “opposed the plan”.

“Jewish representatives in Palestine accepted the plan tactically because it implied international recognition for their aims. Some Jewish leaders, such as David Ben Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, opposed the plan because their ambition was a Jewish state on the entire territory of Mandate Palestine.” [emphasis added]

It has recently come to our attention that several months after the appearance of that BBC Watch article, the backgrounder was amended to remove that inaccurate claim and a footnote was added.

Footnote Partition Plan art

The above section of the article now reads:

“Jewish representatives in Palestine (the Jewish Agency) accepted the plan tactically – though with reluctance – because it implied international recognition for their aims of establishing a state, but on lesser territory than they considered a legal and historical right to.”BBC UN PP

Of course all those who received the inaccurate information throughout the twelve years and five months it took to correct it are unlikely to be aware that the backgrounder has been amended because (as pointed out in our submission to the DCMS charter review consultation) the BBC News website does not have a dedicated corrections page.

That backgrounder is far from the only one which would be found by a student or member of the public conducting a search on the BBC News website for information on the subject of the 1947 Partition Plan and perusal of the material available reveals a lack of both consistency and accuracy in the corporation’s presentation of the topic.

Another backgrounder dating from 1997 fails to inform readers that the recommendation for partition was rejected outright by the Arab States and hence became a dead issue.

“The Palestine partition plan was approved by the United Nations in its 128th plenary session November 29, 1947. This is the official text of the resolution which divided Palestine and created one Jewish and one Arab state.

The resolution was approved by the general assembly – 33 votes in favour, 13 votes against, with 10 abstentions.”

Similarly, the timeline appearing in the BBC’s online Israel profile also fails to inform readers that the UN recommendation was opposed by the Arab States and hence became irrelevant:

“1947 – United Nations recommends partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with international control over Jerusalem and its environs.”

Other BBC material available to audiences does clarify that the Partition Plan was never implemented although in much of that content, the rejection is inaccurately portrayed as coming from one particular source and the role of the Arab nations in opposing the plan (and threatening violence should it be implemented) is erased from audience view.

“The United Nations General Assembly decided in 1947 on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem to be an international city. The plan, which was rejected by the native Arabs, was never implemented.” [emphasis added] (source)

“The UN set up a special committee which recommended splitting the territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. Palestinian representatives, known as the Arab Higher Committee, rejected the proposal; their counterparts in the Jewish Agency accepted it.” [emphasis added] (source)

“The United Nations General Assembly decided in 1947 on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem to be an international city. The plan, which was rejected by the Palestinians, was never implemented.” [emphasis added] (source)

Despite their numerous faults and inaccuracies, those examples of BBC content do indicate that the corporation is aware of the fact that the 1947 Partition Plan never got off the ground.

That of course makes the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s claim that “a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded” – the claim which is the basis for the BBC’s refusal to call Jerusalem the capital city of Israel – all the more bizarre.

Advertisements

Why does the BBC Trust’s ESC pretend that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing?

Readers no doubt remember that in the summer of 2012 the BBC’s Sports department produced a profile of Israel on its dedicated Olympics webpage which claimed that Israel has no capital city whilst listing “East Jerusalem” as the capital of “Palestine”.BBC olympics

After much public outcry, changes were made to the webpage and Jerusalem was listed as Israel’s “seat of government“, with “East Jerusalem” becoming the “seat of intended government” for “Palestine” according to the BBC.

Complaints were also made regarding the amended version of the webpage and in March 2013 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its January 2013 findings regarding appeals made (but not upheld) following those complaints (see page 34 onwards here).

A year later, in March 2014, the ESC published its January 2014 findings regarding yet another request for appeal on the same topic (see page 49 onwards here).

But the story does not end there. Via the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem (who was recently featured – in one case without identification of her PSC ties as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines – in several BBC reports) writing at Electronic Intifada, we learn that two Hamas-linked anti-Israel lobbying groups are still pursuing the issue of Israel’s capital city.

“At the end of 2013, PSC [Palestine Solidarity Campaign] and FoA [Friends of Al Aqsa] made a direct request to the BBC asking that it release these documents under a Freedom of Information request. The aim was to find out how and why the BBC Trust had made a decision that referencing Jerusalem as Israeli was not in breach of its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, and what had influenced the Trust’s decision.PSC and Hamas

This request was rejected by the BBC, leading to last week’s appeal to the commissioner, which is the next stage in the Freedom of Information process.

In the appeal, both organizations set out the background to the request. PSC had challenged the BBC in 2012 and 2013 over reporting on its online pages and radio broadcasting, where Jerusalem was called an “Israeli city,” and no distinction was made between East Jerusalem — which is considered by the United Nations to be occupied Palestinian territory — and West Jerusalem.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign website also carries the story, claiming that:

“…East Jerusalem is considered to be occupied Palestinian territory by the UN and the international community, including the UK government. West Jerusalem is considered to be under de facto Israeli control only, but not under Israeli sovereignty.”Ismail Patel

The fact that this is a transparently political campaign being run by two Hamas-linked organisations which have no other raison d’etre than professional anti-Israel campaigning and have taken part in delegitimisation projects such as the 2010 flotilla and the 2012 ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ (see here and here) is patently obvious – and predictable.

Whilst the BBC has so far not succumbed to this pressure to take a political stance from what Jeremy Bowen is unlikely to describe in future interviews to British papers as ‘full-time anti-Israeli lobbyists’, one particular section of the ESC’s two publications regarding the complaints is especially worthy of note.

In both of the above documents produced by the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee (page 39 here and page 51 here) it is stated that:

“The [BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory. “

Yes, you read that correctly: the highest BBC body charged with ensuring the corporation’s adherence to editorial standards (including those of accuracy and impartiality) claims that the 1947 UN Partition Plan – aka UN GA resolution 181– has some sort of relevance or validity and based upon that gross misinterpretation, presumes to dictate that a city in which there has been a Jewish majority since the nineteenth century “is not Israeli sovereign territory”.

Despite what the members of the BBC Trust’s ESC may choose to believe, like most UN General Assembly resolutions, 181 was non-binding and in fact it was no more than a recommendation – the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. As is well known (although apparently not in the higher corridors of the BBC) the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan en masse and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses – including the corpus separatum proposal – irrelevant.

 “Resolution 181 has no legal ramifications – that is, Resolution 181 recognized the Jewish right to statehood, but its validity as a potentially legal and binding document was never consummated. Like the proposals that preceded it, Resolution 181’s validity hinged on acceptance by both parties of the General Assembly’s recommendation.

Cambridge Professor, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice, a renowned expert on international law, clarified that from a legal standpoint, the 1947 UN Partition Resolution had no legislative character to vest territorial rights in either Jews or Arabs. In a monograph relating to one of the most complex aspects of the territorial issue, the status of Jerusalem, Judge, Sir Lauterpacht wrote that any binding force the Partition Plan would have had to arise from the principle pacta sunt servanda, [In Latin: treaties must be honored – the first principle of international law] that is, from agreement of the parties at variance to the proposed plan.”

In any case, the corpus separatum proposal had a sell-by date: the proposal was only intended to last for ten years, after which a referendum of the city’s residents was to be held to determine its status. As Sir Elihu Lauterpacht pointed out in the monograph mentioned above: [emphasis added]

“The role of the U.N. in relation to the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places is limited. In particular, the General Assembly has no power of disposition over Jerusalem and no right to lay down regulations for the Holy Places. The Security Council, of course, retains its powers under Chapter VII of the Charter in relation to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression, but these powers do not extend to the adoption of any general position regarding the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places.”

Further, as Dr Dore Gold points out in his book “The Fight for Jerusalem” (p. 134): [emphasis added]

“The UN took upon itself certain commitments with respect to Jerusalem as a result of the passage of Resolution 181. It pledged “to ensure that peace and order reign in Jerusalem” and that it would “promote the security, well-being and any constructive measures of development for the residents.” It empowered the newly created UN Trusteeship Council to draft and approve a detailed statute for UN administration of the Holy City. This was a necessary legal step for the UN to assume the responsibilities of the British Mandate after its termination.

But no Jerusalem statute was adopted. On May 14, 1948, the UN General Assembly convened in a special session to determine whether to assume formal responsibility for Jerusalem as the Partition Plan had proposed. The UN determined that it would have to take action before the Mandate expired on May 15. But the UN failed to adopt any proposal giving it legal responsibility for Jerusalem that would enable it to become the effective successor to the British Mandate as the General Assembly had envisioned.”

The issue of the BBC’s stubborn refusal to list Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city is one which comes up with tedious regularity on these pages and others. At least now we have gained some insight into the type of historic illiteracy which lies behind that misconstrued thinking. Perhaps fewer cosy chats between “senior BBC executives” and members of the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel lobby in the UK would help the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee to get a better grip of the historical and geographical facts.