BBC myths and mantras on the peace process

Particularly on the day following the horrendous terrorist murder of a British soldier in Woolwich, it was difficult to find anything remotely newsworthy about the item broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 May 23rd edition of the ‘Today’ programme with regard to the latest visit by John Kerry to Israel. At the time it was broadcast (9:30 am local time), Kerry would barely have had time to hang up his coat, let alone make any headway in the Middle East peace process. But nevertheless, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly used the occasion of the visit as a convenient hook upon which to hang three and a half minutes of repetition of jaded BBC mantras and to cook up some new tropes. 

Today prog 23 5

The broadcast is available here for a limited period of time and the relevant section begins at 1:30:40. Presenter John Humphrys opens:  

“The American Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East today doing what every secretary of state’s been trying to do for decades: trying to encourage a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Direct talks between the two sides had broken down even before the Arab uprising swept the Middle East. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly reports.”

It is not clear why Humphrys should see any connection between the timing of “the Arab uprising” and the breakdown of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Connolly’s report begins:

“Last week Palestinians marked with protests and with rallies the moment in 1948 which helped define the modern Middle East. They call it the Naqba – the catastrophe. Israelis celebrate the same sequence of maneuverings of the UN and fighting in the Holy Land as Independence Day. It was diplomacy as a zero sum game. Israel – it seemed to the Arab world – won because the Palestinians lost. ” 

What the phrase “sequence of maneuverings of the UN” is supposed to represent is anyone’s guess, but it is notable that Connolly whitewashes the intended annihilation of nascent Israel by five Arab nations by euphemistically referring to “fighting in the Holy Land” and that he describes their defeat solely in terms of a Palestinian loss. Of course, had there been no Arab attack on Israel, there would have been no defeat – and no “catastrophe”.  Connolly continues: 

“In the decades since, world leaders have come to coalesce around what they believe would be a win-win solution. A Palestinian state could and should be created on the land Israel conquered in 1967. Israel could and should give up that territory in return for recognition and guaranteed security. Land for peace. “

Of course Connolly does not bother reminding readers that “the land Israel conquered in 1967” was due to another annihilation attempt by Arab nations or that the said land was conquered by Jordan in 1948, with its 19-year occupation never recognized by the international community. Neither does he bother to examine the track record of the ‘land for peace’ principle. He goes on:

“When Barak Obama came to Israel a couple of months ago he put the argument elegantly and passionately, as he’s done before.”

The programme then cuts to a recording of part of Obama’s speech in Jerusalem in March:

BO: “But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination – their right to justice – must also be recognized. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

Then it is back to Connolly:

“Everyone knows the depths of mutual hostility and suspicion that make a deal so difficult. But the key players know how to avoid international condemnation by sounding like they’re readier to do a deal than they really are.

Under Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank have expanded. They are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes that interpretation. Mr Netanyahu leads a government which includes ministers who oppose the very idea of a Palestinian state, but when he talks about it, it still sounds eminently doable.”

There’s ye olde “international law” mantra, coming before the distinctly bizarre notion that all ministers in a democratic government should have the exact same opinions as their prime minister and if they don’t, then a peace deal cannot be made. The 1979 Knesset debate on the subject of the peace treaty with Egypt lasted a turbulent 28 hours – and not because all those present agreed with each other – but in the end the treaty was approved. 

The broadcast then cuts to a recording of Binyamin Netanyahu:

BN: “So let me be clear: Israel remains fully committed to peace and to the solution of two states for two peoples. We extend our hands in peace and in friendship to the Palestinian people.”

Connolly goes on:

“The Palestinian leadership, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, says there can’t be peace talks until that settlement expansion stops. But on other issues Mr Abbas sounds the very soul of flexibility. He says he’s ready to give up his personal claim to right of return to his own childhood home – which is now in Israel – in order to make peace.” 

There’s BBC mantra number two: ‘settlements are an obstacle to peace’. The broadcast then cuts to a recording of Mahmoud Abbas speaking in a 2012 interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV station. 

MA: “But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it but not to live there. West Bank and Gaza is Palestine. Other parts [sic] is Israel.”

Connolly conveniently avoids examining the issue of whether all Mahmoud Abbas’ ministers are pro-peace and ignores the fact that the Palestinian governmental system as a whole currently has no legitimate elected mandate. He equally conveniently airbrushes Hamas and the other rejectionist Palestinian factions out of the picture altogether. And of course Abbas’ supposed willingness to “give up…right of return” has absolutely no significance, as Abbas himself soon clarified.

 “Talking about Safed is a personal position and does not mean giving up the right of return.” Indeed, he went on, “No-one can give up the right of return as all international texts and Arab and Islamic decisions refer to a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee issue, according to UN Resolution 194, with the term ‘agreed upon’ meaning agreement with the Israeli side.”

“I do not change my position,” Abbas stressed. “What I say to the Palestinians is no different from what I say to the Israelis or the Americans or anyone.”

Connolly concludes:

“And yet, even with all that reasonableness around and all this renewed effort, another Naqba day has gone by with no deal. There was a time when making peace between Israel and the Palestinians was seen as the key to changing the Middle East, but the Arab Spring has shown that the Middle East was capable of changing while this peace process remained hopelessly stalled.”

Those who may think or have thought that the Arab-Israeli conflict is or was “the key to changing the Middle East” obviously had no understanding of the myriad of complex issues facing the region in the first place, but allowed themselves to be dazzled by the spotlight placed on that issue by political activists. They are – coincidentally – quite often those who equally erroneously promote the idea that the changes brought about by the ‘Arab Spring’ so far have made any significant difference to the lives of the peoples – and particularly the minorities – of the Middle East.

It seems that Kevin Connolly and the BBC are unable – and unwilling – to get themselves out of the rut of incessant repetition of the same old jaded, politically inspired myths and mantras about the Middle East which prevent audiences from gaining any real grasp of the region’s history, present or future.


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