Within the framework of the BBC’s generous coverage of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal, BBC television news programmes aired an interview with one of the Palestinian officials who has been doing the media rounds – Hanan Ashrawi. The interview, conducted by Zeinab Badawi, was also posted on the BBC News website on April 24th under the unambiguous title “Hanan Ashrawi: ‘Israel destroying peace talks’“.
The interview was also promoted on Twitter using similar language.
The synopsis to the interview as it appears on the website states:
“The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told the BBC he would never negotiate with a Palestinian authority that included Hamas, which he called a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel.” [emphasis added]
Hamas is of course recognized as a terrorist organization by numerous countries and its Charter clearly states its intentions with regard to the destruction of Israel. Neither of those issues – as this synopsis leads readers to believe – is exclusively the view of the Israeli prime minister.
During the interview Ashrawi – with very little interference from Badawi – goes to great pains to try to convince audiences that the new ‘unity government’, the PLO and Hamas are all unconnected subjects.
Ashrawi: “What President Abbas and Fatah and the PLO did was to try to repair the political system, to reinvigorate the democratic system and practices in Palestine, to build an inclusive…err…pluralistic…err…democracy that will represent all the Palestinians in more ways than one and that will be able to deliver. Now that government, as I said, will be a government of independent professionals and of course the PLO will continue to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians and anybody who joins it will be committed to the PLO programme to a two state solution and to peaceful settlement of the conflict and will honour all commitments.”
Badawi: “Alright. So basically Hanan Ashrawi…..OK….so you are basically saying that Hamas will not be part of a unity government in the future because if it were, as you know, that would trigger sanctions both from the Israelis and the Americans, on whom you depend for a great deal of aid.”
Unfortunately Badawi refrains from asking the crucial question of what will happen if elections take place as stated in six months’ time and this unelected “government of independent professionals” is replaced by one which includes Hamas. She does not ask exactly what such an unelected interim government will be “able to deliver” to the Palestinian people or what will happen if that “unity government” adopts policies at odds with those of the PLO. Neither does she press Ashrawi on the non-inclusive and non-democratic make-up of the PLO itself, with members of the Palestinian National Council – the PLO’s legislative body – being nominated by the PLO Executive Committee rather than by the ordinary Palestinian people. Likewise Badawi makes no attempt to unravel the obvious complications arising from the fact that Hamas – which won a significant proportion of the votes in the 2006 PLC elections – is not currently a member of the PLO.
HA: “Now excuse me. I think the government we’re talking about is not a factional government – a government of representatives of political parties – but it is a government of independence that will deliver the required services; this is it. But too I don’t see why it is any of…emm…Netanyahu’s…Israel’s business or even America’s business to tell who’s acceptable and who’s not in a pluralistic political system. I can tell you I don’t want to talk to Lieberman or we don’t want to talk to Naftali Bennett. These are people who are either racist or settlers or who deny Palestinian rights or who reat us as sub-human species or who want to take all of historical Palestine for greater Israel. These are people who are in the Israeli government coalition and the Israeli government is responsible for an army that is daily killing Palestinians and yet they tell us that if we reconcile and if we repair our system and if we have elections, then that means we don’t want to negotiate. What about [unintelligible] settlements?”
In near-apologetic manner and folding quickly, Badawi replies:
ZB: “OK well I was asking you about the formation of a unity government that would include Hamas. I was just seeking your clarification on that.”
HA: “It’s a government of national accord.”
ZB: “So it may not have a Hamas..”
HA: “It’s a government of national accord.”
ZB: “Alright. I understand.”
HA: “No, there will be no card-carrying member of any faction or any party. That’s the government we have agreed to and everybody knows that. It’s no secret. And we’ve been striving for national unity because it is the responsibility of any leadership to repair this lethal rift that has weakened the Palestinians and of course the EU welcomed it.”
“Alright. Tell me briefly though….OK….briefly, do you accept though that President Abbas has basically given a hand up to Hamas, which has been looking pretty isolated and relatively weak, particularly since the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt?”
HA: “Definitely Hamas has been weakened, but what President Abbas has done is he has responded to the Palestinian people’s persistent and vocal demands to go back to unity, to try to repair the system itself, to try to bring Hamas to the fold and to have elections – because we need elections badly and without Hamas we cannot have it – and to present Hamas as part of this fabric – the political fabric of the Palestinian system – rather than as an alternative to it.”
Again, Badawi does not use the opportunity to ask what will happen if Hamas once again wins the next election. She concludes by providing Ashrawi with yet another opportunity to promote PA political propaganda.
ZB: “Alright. In a quick word – are the peace talks dead then; in the future they may not be revived?”
HA: “I think Israel has done everything possible to destroy the peace talks, to sabotage the process itself, and I think this time its withdrawal from the talks – even though we still have a few days left till April 29th – is a clear signal that it’s looking for any pretext, any excuse, to undermine them and to bring them to an end while giving it a free hand to continue with its settlement activities, its siege of Gaza and its annexation of Jerusalem, plus reneging on its commitments and its signed agreements – particularly the release of Palestinian prisoners.”
Even the BBC must be aware that when the PA demanded the inclusion of Israeli Arabs among the list of terrorists to be released it knew exactly how that demand would endanger the talks. Of course when Mahmoud Abbas signed applications to join various UN bodies in defiance of the ‘pre-nup’ agreement which facilitated the current round of negotiations, it was perfectly obvious that their continuation was in jeopardy. Likewise, the PA and the PLO were well aware in advance of the precise reactions that a ‘unity agreement’ with Hamas would bring from Israel and the international community. But Badawi makes no attempt to clarify those points to BBC audiences and instead allows them to go away with only Ashrawi’s unchallenged PLO propaganda.
Once again the BBC makes a mockery of its commitment to “enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.