Another report on talks impasse fails to break the BBC mould

On April 9th an article appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israel PM Netanyahu curbs contacts with Palestinians“. The report opens:curbs contacts art main

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told his ministers to stop high-level meetings with their Palestinian counterparts.”

Only from the fifth paragraph onwards are readers informed that the issue is a lot less dramatic than the BBC’s initial presentation may have led them to believe.

“The government officials said Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, would be an exception from the PM’s edict.

Defence and security officials will also be allowed to continue to engage with the Palestinians, according to reports.

Otherwise, only low-level co-operation will be permitted.”

As has been the case in previous BBC reports on the impasse in the current round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, this report fails to clarify to audiences that the commitment on the part of the Palestinians not to apply to join UN agencies was part and parcel of the initial agreement which preceded the current round of talks (as recently confirmed by the PA president’s spokesman) and not just an understanding on the part of Israel as has repeatedly been implied by the BBC.

“The order follows “Palestinians’ violation of their commitments under peace talks”, officials said.

It comes after a request by the Palestinians to join 15 UN treaties and conventions as a state party.”

The report goes on to quote and promote unnamed “correspondents”, providing no information which would enable audiences to assess the relevance or validity of the claim made by those anonymous sources.

“Correspondents say Mr Netanyahu’s action has dealt another blow to the faltering US-brokered peace process.”

Under a sub-heading of “Unhelpful” the report goes on to promote the notion of equivalence as has been the case in previous BBC reports on the same topic.

“On Tuesday, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said the US would continue to promote the talks despite recent setbacks.

He blamed both sides for taking “unhelpful” steps.

The peace talks resumed in July under US auspices after a three-year hiatus.

Each side blames the other for violating previous promises.”

The article continues:

“The Palestinians were furious when Israel did not sanction the release of a fourth batch of prisoners, as agreed in principle under the terms on which the Palestinians returned to peace talks last year. The Palestinians wanted the group to include a number of Israeli Arab prisoners.”

Once again, no attempt is made to explain to BBC audiences the significance and implications of the Palestinian demand for the release of prisoners who are Israeli citizens.

That particular section of the article is illustrated using the photograph below, captioned “Israel has announced plans to build about 700 new homes in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem” and the same claim is reiterated in the body of the article, with no mention of the fact that the relevant tenders –situated in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo – had already been issued six months previously, meaning that the proposed oddly termed “settlement units” are therefore obviously not “new”. No attempt is made to clarify to audiences that limits on Israeli construction were not part of the agreed terms which preceded the recommencement of negotiations. 

“They [the Palestinians] were further angered by Israel’s approval of about 700 new settlement units in East Jerusalem.”

curbs contacts art pic

The report continues with the standard BBC insert which both fails to clarify to audiences the status of the relevant parts of Jerusalem before 1967 (occupied for 19 years by Jordan after its invasion of foreign territory) and breaches BBC editorial guidelines by failing to inform audiences that other legal interpretations of “international law” exist.

“Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and formally annexed the area in 1980. Settlements built there and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The article goes on to once again present aspects of the agreement which preceded the latest round of talks as though they were Israeli interpretation only and fails to clarify to readers that those points were actually part and parcel of the agreement.

“Israel stressed that it had predicated any prisoner release on progress being made in the negotiations and on the Palestinians abiding by a commitment not to seek membership of international agencies.”

As has been the case with all previous BBC reports on this topic, this article continues to avoid informing BBC audiences about crucial background factors which have contributed to the current impasse including the PA’s refusal (with Arab League support) to renounce future claims and thus bring an end to the conflict by recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.

In fact, in all its coverage so far of the topic of the current round of negotiations, the BBC has systematically avoided informing its audiences of the importance and significance of the issue of Palestinian – and wider Arab – recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and as time goes on, it is increasingly difficult to attribute that glaring omission to mere oversight.

Related Articles:

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BBC continues to present an incomplete picture of Israel-PLO talks

BBC’s selective omissions slant audience view of Israel-PLO talks

BBC opts for equivalence in report on talks breakdown

Crucial background to floundering of ME talks still outside the BBC’s frame

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