For years a dominant and recurrent theme in BBC coverage of Israel has been construction in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and certain districts in Jerusalem which is regularly portrayed as an ‘obstacle to peace’.
Just recently BBC World Service audiences have been told by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen that:
“….that idea of a two state solution is in great danger […] because of the colonisation of the occupied territories by the Israelis; the fact that settlements have been growing apace.” [source]
“Lots of people these days say that because of the growth of settlements – Israeli settlements on occupied land which is in defiance of international law; it’s illegal – it’s just physically going to be very difficult for the Palestinians to set up an independent state.” [source]
Audiences could therefore be forgiven for assuming that there has been something exceptional about the recent pace of construction in Judea & Samaria and they are obviously being steered towards the view that peace negotiations cannot be conducted if Israelis are building houses in places the BBC thinks they shouldn’t. The trouble with that politically motivated framing is that it conceals a whole host of relevant facts from audience view.
Via the Central Bureau of Statistics website it is possible to learn that the Palestinians were perfectly able to conduct negotiations on numerous occasions in the past even though Israelis were building in Judea & Samaria at the time.
In 1991 – the year that the Madrid Conference took place – 2,140 building projects were completed in Judea & Samaria and the following year 6,870 units were completed. In 1993, as the Oslo Accords were being negotiated, 4,440 building projects were finished and the year after that, 2,120.
The Oslo Accords – to which the representatives of the Palestinian people are of course willing parties – do not place any restrictions on construction in Israeli communities in Area C and the future of that territory is defined in those agreements as being subject to final status negotiations. As Israel and the PLO negotiated ‘Oslo II’ in 1995, 1,625 building projects were completed in Judea & Samaria and in the following two years, 2,154 and 2,443 respectively.
In the year that the Wye River Memorandum was negotiated – 1998 – there were 2,068 building completes in Judea & Samaria and the following year, as final status negotiations commenced, 3,995. The year 2000 saw the Camp David Summit taking place and 3,769 construction completes. In 2007 and 2008 as Ehud Olmert’s government negotiated with the Palestinians, 1,748 and 1,601 building completes were seen respectively in Judea & Samaria.
So has there been any dramatic change in the number of building completes since the days in which the Palestinians were able to come to the negotiating table even though construction was taking place and is Jeremy Bowen’s claim that “settlements have been growing apace” fact based?
The statistics for building completes in Judea & Samaria during the last five years are as follows: 2011: 1,682, 2012: 1,269, 2013: 1,351, 2014: 1,077, 2015: 1,273 (sources here and here). A look at the statistics for 1990 to 2015 inclusive shows that – in contrast to the impression given by the BBC’s Middle East editor – construction in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria has certainly not taken place in recent years at levels any higher than was the case over the last twenty-six years.
Moreover, the bulk of construction completes in Judea & Samaria in recent years have taken place in towns such as Modi’in Ilit, Beitar Ilit and Ma’ale Adumim which under any realistic scenario (e.g. such as those laid out in the Clinton plan or the Olmert plan) would remain under Israeli control in the event of a negotiated agreement. One of course assumes that the BBC’s Middle East editor has taken the trouble to familiarise himself with that fact and is hence aware that his claim that Israeli construction precludes the establishment of a Palestinian state does not hold water.
The BBC’s framing excludes from audience view the fact that during the first nine months of a ten month freeze on construction in 2009/10, the Palestinians failed to come to the negotiating table. It also of course avoids the inconvenient fact that the evacuation of every last ‘settlement’ from the Gaza Strip in 2005 did not advance the two state solution and certainly did not bring peace.
The editorialising which lies behind the framing of building in Judea & Samaria by the BBC in general and its Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in particular is glaringly obvious. Obviously it is not the BBC’s job to amplify a particular politicised view of this or any other topic but to provide audiences with the full range of information which will enable them to reach their own informed conclusions. That is clearly not the editorial approach that has been adopted with regard to this particular issue.