The BBC and the Middle Eastern bazaar

Below is a screenshot of the BBC News website’s Middle East page as seen on the morning of November 13th 2013. 

ME HP 13 11

Two hours later, the lead article was changed, and links added to Yolande Knell’s report on the Jordan Rift Valley and one of the items from Martin Asser’s 2007 ‘Obstacles to Peace’ series which, despite its plentiful failures of accuracy and impartiality, is still promoted on the BBC News website. 

ME pge 13 nov version 2

The synopsis to the upgraded main article – titled “Israeli PM orders rethink on settlement construction plans” – informs readers that:

“Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu orders his housing minister to reconsider construction plans for more than 20,000 homes in the West Bank”. [emphasis added]

That statement is repeated in the article’s opening paragraph.

In actual fact, the subject of the request from PM Netanyahu to Housing Minister Uri Ariel was not “construction plans”, but the considerably earlier stage of preliminary planning tenders.

“A Construction and Housing Ministry spokesman said that preliminary tenders such as these were issued by the tens of thousands throughout the year and throughout the country, and that the vast majority – for various reasons, ranging from environmental concerns to objections from planning bodies – did not come to fruition. He said that of the 650,000 units in the country that were in various preliminary stages of planning, only some 25,000 would likely be built, and that only over a period of four to 20 years.”

And indeed, readers who bothered to study the article in detail would later learn from Kevin Connolly’s side box of analysis that – contrary to the impression promoted in the misleading headline, synopsis and opening paragraph:

“His latest announcements of new homes planned in the territories related to a very early stage of Israel’s lengthy planning process – nowhere near construction.” [emphasis added]

But what is really interesting about this and other BBC reports on the subject of Israeli construction is its inevitable promotion of the maximalist approach which forms the policy tactics of the Palestinian Authority. The article states:

“The Palestinians had said they would appeal to the UN, warning that Israel’s move would kill off peace talks.”

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas earlier warned that current stalled peace talks with Israel would be effectively over if Israel proceeded with the construction.”

At no point does the BBC clarify to audiences that for most of the twenty years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian representatives managed to talk quite adequately to their Israeli counterparts despite ongoing planning and construction in disputed areas. Only in 2009 did the subject of construction become an issue which the PA began to claim ‘prevented’ it from engaging in talks. However, when a ten-month building freeze was implemented by Israel in order to encourage the Palestinian Authority to negotiate, it refused to come to the table for 90% of that period of time and then proceeded to abandon the barely begun talks when the freeze expired. 

The article also states:

“The Palestinians want their state to include all land captured by Israel in 1967, but some 500,000 Jews now live in more than 200 settlements and outposts in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As ever, the BBC makes no attempt to provide audiences with factual information on the subject of alternative opinions on the subject of the legal status of communities and neighbourhoods in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem – or even to adequately inform them that such opinions exist. 

Whatever one’s opinion of how the dispute should be resolved, it is very clear that, on the basis of previous attempts to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, any future Palestinian state will not include “all the land captured by Israel in 1967” and that compromises – along the lines of those proposed in the Clinton initiative, the Geneva Initiative and the Olmert plan – will be part and parcel of any agreement. 

The Palestinian Authority is of course entirely aware of that fact too, but still continues with its ‘Middle Eastern bazaar’ approach of demanding the maximum whilst knowing full well that it will eventually settle for less.

The only oblique reference in this article to potential practical solutions comes in the form of its final sentence:

“Mutually-agreed land swaps have been discussed in previous talks as a way to overcome this problem.”

Instead of properly and fully informing its audiences of the pragmatic possibilities available for the resolution of the dispute, the BBC continues to amplify and promote the maximalist tactics adopted by the Palestinian Authority, including the routine ‘the sky is falling’ over-reaction to every planning tender which may or may not come to fruition in decades to come.

In doing so, the BBC is not merely failing to meet its goal of enhancing audiences’ “awareness and understanding of international issues” – it is actively preventing that from happening.


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