BBC’s Marcus invents a “cloudy understanding” about Israeli building

An article entitled Does Middle-East peace process matter? by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus  first appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on Monday, August 12th. As of August 18th, it was still there. 

Marcus article MEPP on HP

One of the main points promoted by Marcus in the article is that an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is an issue of prime importance for the Middle East as a whole.  Apparently even he realizes how flimsy that claim sounds after thirty-two months of relentless violence and civil war in the region during which more people have been killed by their own countrymen than throughout the whole Arab-Israeli conflict and the death toll still rises daily. Hence, Marcus both plays up and plays down the issue by writing:

“But two major trends underpin Mr Kerry’s efforts – and for many analysts they make an Israel-Palestinian peace more important now than ever. […]

The other trend is the chaos and uncertainty ushered in by what used to be called the “Arab Spring”.

Popular upheavals have degenerated into military take-over, near anarchy, full-scale civil war and the renewal of bitter sectarian violence.

The crisis in Syria has called into question the very borders of some of the states established in the wake of the departure of the colonial powers after World War II. It is clear that these processes are profound and will unfold over a considerable time period.

It is not so much that an Israel-Palestinian peace will solve any of these problems. It will not. It won’t even contribute to resolving them.” [emphasis added]

Very true, of course, but unfortunately that statement is followed by this one:

“But Western diplomats believe that a resolution to one of the world’s most intractable disputes could lance a diplomatic boil that inflames passions and tensions way beyond the Middle East and contributes to making a very bad regional situation even worse.”

The notion that sectarian violence in Iraq (which last month saw the highest death toll since 2008) is in any way influenced by progress – or lack of it – in peace talks between Israel and Palestinian representatives is of course absurd. The idea that Bashar al Assad will retire to write his memoirs and play golf, that strife in Egypt will be eased or that Iran will stop persecuting Bahais if only Livni and Erekat manage to sign a piece of paper is downright comic. Western diplomats – perhaps hampered by the culturally dependent notion that if there is a problem, it must have a doable solution: a premise which does not always work in the Middle East –  may indeed “believe” such fairy tales, but that is no reason to promote them to the BBC’s audiences. 

But as long-time observers of the Middle East well know, the Arab-Israeli conflict excuse has for years been used to deflect public attention away from issues plaguing the broader region as a whole and it is therefore all the more disappointing to see an article passing as ‘analysis’ promoting the same jaded myth. The BBC would serve its audiences’ interests much better were it to acknowledge that the canary in the Middle East mine which is the refusal to accept Israel’s existence merely reflects a wider pathology which also rejects equal rights for women, religious and ethnic minorities and gays.

Marcus’ other main theme is the decidedly frayed at the edges idea that ‘time is running out for the two-state solution’.

“One trend is the growing belief in many quarters – you hear it explicitly from British Foreign Secretary William Hague – that the opportunity for a “two-state” solution, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip living alongside Israel, is fast running out.

“The window for a two-state solution is closing,” Mr Hague noted in December last year.”

Indeed he did. Hague has also said exactly the same thing on many other occasions too, including November 2012, October 2011 and July 2010. And if readers are perhaps tempted to ask themselves the philosophical question of how much time can something be running out of time, it is probably worth remembering that the ‘time is running out’ notion was being promoted as far back as January 2004 by the man who probably did more than any other to prevent a two-state solution from coming into being – Yasser Arafat.

Of course, like the ‘Israeli/Palestinian deal is the key to regional peace’ notion, the ‘time is running out’/’window of opportunity closing’ meme is employed as a tactic to put pressure upon Israel, as can be seen by Marcus’ next sentence:

“According to this view the occupation risks becoming permanent, raising profound questions about the nature of Israel’s democracy and for the way the country is viewed abroad, especially in the West.”

Isn’t it strange how the repeated failure of the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table, to stop incitement and the glorification of terrorism, or the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to renounce terror, do not apparently raise “profound questions….especially in the West”? And isn’t it even stranger that the BBC does not (in the interests of audience understanding, accuracy and impartiality) go anywhere near such subjects, instead sticking cosily to the FCO party line?

Marcus also does a neat little smoke and mirrors trick in this article: take a look at the following paragraph:

“There are the almost ritual concessions to get talks going – the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel; a cloudy understanding either to freeze or restrict new construction in Israeli settlements; and the equally public announcement of new building anyway as a conservative Israeli government seeks to placate domestic opponents of the peace talks to its right.” [emphasis added]

Of course in actual fact, no such “understanding” – cloudy or otherwise – was ever reached before the current round of talks.

“An Israeli diplomatic official […]characterized Palestinian anger over Sunday’s announcement of new construction tenders in Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs as “theater” intended for both an international and Palestinian audience. […]

He added that it was clear to both the Palestinians and the Americans that Israel did not commit to a settlement freeze either before or during the coming negotiations.

Two weeks ago Netanyahu told the cabinet that the Palestinians had rejected his offer of a limited construction freeze in the settlements outside the large blocs instead of a prisoner release.”

If the BBC indeed “aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism” as it claims – or if it wishes to remain even slightly relevant in the competitive arena of online media presence – it really is going to have to ditch the damaging habit of acting as a self-conscripted PR outfit for the Palestinian Authority.  

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