On March 17th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East and US & Canada pages under the title “Obama tells Palestinian leader to take risks for peace“. The messaging in that headline was repeated in the article’s opening lines.
“US President Barack Obama has told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas he must take “risks” for peace.
Mr Obama told reporters at the White House that the search for a two-state solution remained elusive but he hoped to see progress in the coming weeks.”
But did Obama in fact tell Abbas that “he” specifically – as claimed by the BBC – “must” take “risks for peace”? Not according to the transcript released by the White House which shows that Obama’s remarks were actually much less explicit and referred to a general need by all sides to “take some tough political decisions and risks” rather than being a demand or an instruction directed towards Abbas in person.
“Secretary Kerry is here today and has been working diligently with all sides. And as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was here just a couple of weeks ago, I believe that now is the time for not just the leaders of both sides but also the peoples of both sides to embrace this opportunity for peace. But we’re going to have a lot of details that we’re going to have to discuss. It’s very hard; it’s very challenging. We’re going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we’re able to move it forward. And my hope is, is that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks.” [emphasis added]
Clearly the BBC’s reporting of Obama’s remarks is inaccurate and hence misleading to audiences.
Later on the report states:
“Mr Netanyahu is insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but Mr Abbas has refused.
The Palestinians recognise the State of Israel, but say recognising its Jewish character would have implications for Palestinian refugees and Israeli-Arabs.”
The BBC does not bother to unpack the PLO’s claims of “implications for Palestinian refugees and Israeli-Arabs”, thus denying audiences the background necessary appraise the implications of that statement on the fate of negotiations.
As has been the case in past reports, the BBC amplifies the Palestinian and Arab League position on the issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state but disregards BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform audiences of the other side of the story. No attempt is made to explain the significance of the issue from the Israeli point of view and hence audiences are denied the background necessary to understand the Israeli demand.
A lasting peace agreement cannot of course be brought about without recognition and acceptance of Israel’s existence in the region as an expression of the national rights of the Jewish people, along with an end to the kind of all too prevalent officially sanctioned incitement which encourages Palestinians (and others in the wider region) to continue to view Israel as “Arab land”. The recognition of Israel as the Jewish state by the Palestinians and the Arab world in general is hence critical to what must be the bottom line of any peace agreement worth the paper it is written on: the end to any future claims. From the point of view of many Israelis, the PLO’s refusal to agree to recognize Israel as the Jewish state as part of the potential agreement currently under discussion suggests that it will not succeed in bringing an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
If BBC audiences are to be able to “participate in the global debate on significant international issues” they clearly need the BBC to adhere to its commitment to accurate and impartial reporting and to tell them the side of the story which this article ignores.