BBC’s Kevin Connolly rewrites history

If one has ever wished for a glimpse into the received wisdom of  BBC interpretations of Middle East history, then Kevin Connolly’s ‘Analysis’ text box in the November 2nd 2012 article entitled “Palestinian leader Abbas affirms hope for state in pre-1967 lines“, which appears in the Middle East section of the BBC News website, provides just such an opportunity.

The actual article comes as the result of an interview given by Mahmoud Abbas to Israel’s Channel 2 TV station, which can be viewed here . Although it commences in Arabic with Hebrew sub-titles, Abbas changes to English about half-way through. 

The BBC article itself appears to be trying to suggest that the Palestinian position has undergone some seismic changes, including relinquishing the ‘right of return’ to Israel for Palestinian refugees and territorial aspirations to areas of Israel inside the 1949 Armistice Lines. 

Unfortunately, despite the outwardly directed words of the Palestinian President (whose term of office ran out on January 9th, 2009 and who has not been re-elected since), the Fatah Constitution – even after amendments resulting from the Oslo Accords – still defines its goals as: [emphasis added]

“Article (12) Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.

Article (13) Establishing an independent democratic state with complete sovereignty on all Palestinian lands, and Jerusalem is its capital city, and protecting the citizens’ legal and equal rights without any racial or religious discrimination.”

Further, it includes among the stated methods to be used to achieve those goals the clause:

“Article (19) Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People’s armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.”

As for the BBC’s suggestion that Abbas has relinquished the ‘right of return’ on behalf of the Palestinians, the official PA news agency WAFA was quick to clarify that Abbas had done nothing of the sort, with Abbas’ spokesman clarifying that the TV interview “was aimed at “affecting Israeli public opinion.””, after stating:

 “The position of the Palestinian leadership remains fixed,” said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas. “The refugees and the right of return are among the final-status issues that will be negotiated with the Israelis. We are committed to the Palestinian principles as endorsed by the Palestine National Council [the PLO’s parliament-in-exile].”

And so, the BBC’s enthusiastic heralding of a new dawn appears to have been somewhat premature, even disregarding the fact that Abbas – at best – represents only a portion of the Palestinian people even in the areas remaining under his control.

But the real gem of this article is Kevin Connolly’s abridged version of the history of Israel, which really needs to be taken a line or two at a time in order to appreciate its egregious nature. 

Completely disregarding the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, as well as skating over the fact that the attempt to annihilate the nascent Jewish state in 1948 was joined  by forces  far beyond Israel’s “Arab neighbours” – including Pakistan, Yemen, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab Liberation Army, the Holy War Army and of course a certain John Bagot Glubb at the head of the British-funded and armed Jordanian Arab Legion, Connolly writes:

“Israel’s original boundaries were established after it fought a war of independence with its Arab neighbours in 1948-9.”

Next, Connolly presents this erroneous statement:

“Israel ended the war with much more territory than the UN resolution of 1947, which endorsed the creation of a Jewish state, originally intended.

The Partition Plan (UN GA Resolution 181) not only came long after the endorsement of the creation of a Jewish state by the UN’s predecessor, but was a non-binding recommendation, the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of both parties concerned. The Arab refusal to accept the recommendation not only negated its validity, but denied it of any legal status. 

Stripping the Six Day War of its context entirely – and conveniently ignoring the intentions of this second attempt to wipe out Israel as well as failing to mention that eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank had been occupied by Jordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt in 1948 – Connolly writes:

“The amount of land under Israeli control increased again after further fighting in 1967 in which Israel occupied – among other territories – the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem, the West Bank of the River Jordan, and the Gaza Strip.”

He goes on to state that:

“For many Palestinians the right to return to lost lands is a deeply cherished dream – many have been living in refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states since the 1940s.”

The mere passage of time makes it highly doubtful that there remain “many” Palestinians with over six decades of experience of living in refugee camps and Connolly fails to make clear why that is the case (or question the fact that the President of the PA still calls himself a refugee) or to clarify that those “lost lands” were never part of a Palestinian state.

Erroneously using the term “frontiers” instead of 1949 Armistice Lines – which, at Arab insistence, were clearly stated as having been agreed upon “without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto” – Connolly next writes:

“In his Israeli TV interview Mahmoud Abbas was re-stating the long-established position of the Palestinian Authority – that it seeks to create a state for the Palestinian people based on the frontiers as they were before the fighting in 1967.”

As mentioned above, that “long-established position” is not reflected in the constitution of Fatah – to which the PA President belongs.

Without raising the all-important question of whom exactly Abbas represents, and without making it clear that one of the reasons for the lack of progress in the peace process is that Abbas cannot claim to speak (or sign anything) on behalf of all Palestinians, Connolly goes on to opine that:

“In the middle of a parliamentary election campaign in Israel, at a time when there is no meaningful political contact between Israel and the Palestinians, Mr Abbas is signalling to the Israeli public that he wants to be seen as a partner for peace.”

Hampered by his own skewed version of history, and of course completely ignoring the loss of Jewish communities in Gaza, Schem, Hebron and so forth before and during the 1948 war, Connolly continues:

“That implies an acceptance of the territorial gains that Israel made in 1948-9 – a hugely painful and controversial concession in the eyes of many Arabs.” 

If Kevin Connolly’s version of history is any reflection upon what is taught in the Middle East Module at the BBC’s College of Journalism, then obviously it is hardly surprising that BBC journalists so often have difficulties adhering to the organisation’s professed flagship values of accuracy and impartiality. 

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