The fourth item (see the first here, the second here and the third here) relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary that was aired on the November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs show ‘Today‘ was an interview (from 02:36:33 here) with the Palestinian Authority’s Manuel Hassassian conducted by the programme’s co-presenter Mishal Husain.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Husain’s introduction to the item included the exaggerated claim that the Balfour Declaration “shaped the map of the Middle East”.
Husain: “A letter written a hundred years ago that shaped the map of the Middle East; seen by Israelis as the foundation stone for their country and by Palestinians as the beginning of a disaster. We’ve been marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on the programme this morning. After hearing from Israel’s deputy foreign minister earlier, we’ll be talking to a senior Palestinian in a moment.”
After listeners had heard – for the first time in the programme – a reading of the Balfour Declaration in full, Husain continued by upgrading the title of the head of the “Palestinian Representative Office” (rather than embassy, because the UK has not recognised a Palestinian state) in London.
Husain: “With us in the studio is Manuel Hassassian who is the Palestinian general delegate to the UK: effectively the Palestinian ambassador. […] We’ve been hearing the Israeli view already this morning that this is a moment of celebration for them. What do the words of the Balfour Declaration mean to you?”
Hassassian: “This letter that Arthur Balfour has published…had published in the past, it’s a one sentence with 67 words that meant the destruction and the destitution of the Palestinian people. Bringing the Jews from Europe to Palestine, you know, that in itself, you know, was a crime against humanity. This is how we look at Balfour because today, when we go back retrospectively 100 years, we have seen how this letter had been…had become part and parcel of the mandatory rule of Great Britain over Palestine in facilitating the Jewish immigration and in creating a national home for the Jews without any respect to the political rights of 95%; then the Palestinians who were the majority…”
As was the case in the first three items in this programme (as well as in much of the BBC’s additional coverage of the centenary – see ‘related articles’ below), Husain then misrepresented the part of Balfour’s letter that referred to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.
Husain: “Which…which are included in that letter, the second part of which does acknowledge that nothing in what has been said about Jewish…the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine should prejudice those rights. But from what you are saying it sounds as if your objection is to the first part as well: the creation in the first place of a home for the Jews in Palestine.”
Ironically, Hassassian then clarified to listeners what the BBC has put much effort into concealing before promoting some highly dubious ‘history’.
Hassassian: “And to the second part because it meant only the civil and religious rights. It did not mention the political rights and the Palestinians have fought the Arabs with the allied in order to get the promise of an independent Palestine.”
Husain: “Your objection to the first part of that – the creation of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine – that is at the heart of the creation of Israel.”
Husain: “So you are…you are opposed to the existence of Israel today?”
Hassassian then advanced the inaccurate notion that the “second part” of the Balfour Declaration meant the establishment of a “Palestinian state”.
Hassassian: “Today it’s a different reality. We are talking about the second part which was not fulfilled – i.e. the independent Palestinian state. Now in 1988 we have made our painful historic concession in recognising the State of Israel. We have embarked on the peace process. We have signed the Oslo Accords. We have recognised the State of Israel on 75% of the land. Today we’re not talking about, you know, the extermination of Israel. What we’re talking is about the fulfilment of the second part of this Balfour Declaration.”
With Husain making no effort to clarify to listeners that some Palestinian factions do indeed have “the extermination of Israel”at the top of their agenda, he went on:
Hassassian: “Instead of celebrating and marking and adding insult to injury, I think we Palestinians would have expected the moral and historic responsibility to be shouldered by this government and to apologise to the Palestinian people and to go ahead in the execution of the second part by recognising the State of Palestine.”
Husain: “You mean the British government?”
Hassassian: “Yes ma’am.”
Husain: “And the foreign secretary Boris Johnson has spoken about that second part – the protection of the non-Jewish communities of the area that was then Palestine – as being unfinished business. So there is a recognition of what you are saying. “
Husain’s portrayal of the article by Johnson to which she refers is inaccurate: the British foreign secretary did not say “that second part” of the Balfour Declaration was “unfinished business”. He did however refer to “the vision of two states for two peoples” as proposed in the 1937 Peel Commission report – a proposal that listeners were not told was rejected by the Arabs at the time and again on repeated occasions.
Hassassian: “Well that recognition is equated to hollow promises. We have been hearing this for the last several years. That the…the recognition of the fact that there should be a two-state solution, that they are against settlement building and which is true: the British government has taken a stand – a firm stand – by accepting and voting for Resolution 2338 [sic – actually 2334]. But by the same token we haven’t seen any concrete action plan. No pressures have been put on Israel. No BDS on Israel products, you know…”
Husain: “The boycott, divestment and sanctions.”
Hassassian: “The boycott…yes and sanctions. We haven’t seen any concrete action. It’s talking the talk but not walking the walk. We do appreciate what Mr Johnson has said. We do appreciate the position of the British government when it comes to the support of a two-state solution but we don’t see any action. Look at the situation in Palestine. The two-state solution is slipping because of the continuous building of settlements by the Israelis.”
Failing to challenge the specious claim that the two-state solution is endangered by Israeli construction and making no effort to clarify to listeners that the building there is takes place in existing communities rather than – as Hassassian implied – new communities being built, Husain continued by raising a topic rarely discussed on BBC platforms: Palestinian responsibility. She refrained, however, from using the word terror and under-represented the number of victims of Palestinian terror.
Husain: “Right. Well let’s talk about the Palestinians’ own responsibility; about Palestinian actions that have been seen particularly since the Oslo Accords which you mentioned were signed. The Palestinian Authority was set up in 1993. Between 1994 and 2005 hundreds of Israelis died in attacks that were carried out by Palestinians and the numbers only came down after Israel built its security barrier…or wall. What that means is that the basic premise of Oslo – the exchange of land for peace – was never honoured and Palestinian violence is part of that.”
Hassassian: “I am really shocked at your question because you have negated the fact that thousands of Palestinians have died at the hands of the Israelis and that this apartheid wall is a political statement and it’s not for security reasons because they wanted to change the facts on the ground by building more settlements and carving Palestinian land. Why did they build this apartheid wall ten kilometres deep into the West Bank and not on their borders of 1967?”
None of those falsehoods promoted by Hassassian was even remotely challenged by Husain who went on:
Husain: “Mr Hassassian, we’ve talked already on the programme this morning to the Israeli deputy foreign minister and we’ve talked about the situation in the West Bank. I’m asking you to acknowledge the deaths of Israelis because of Palestinian attacks.”
Hassassian: “You…you…we have also to expect the acknowledgement of the Israelis for the death of thousands – and not hundreds – of Palestinians. I don’t think this is a fair statement. For us to acknowledge the death of hundreds of Israelis who are occupiers, who have been, you know, uprooting us from our land…”
Husain: “They were civilians. They were civilians, they were children on buses – just one example – that were targeted.”
Hassassian: “And there were…and we have hundreds… thousands of children have been killed by settlers and by the what’s so-called the IDF forces. I mean why do we talk about one side and not the other side? We are the occupied. We have the right to resist. We have the right to establish our own independent state. Why do we equate the occupier with the occupied? Is this a fair statement? It’s not a fair statement. We have the right to resist because we have the inalienable right for self-determination.”
Husain: “But listening to you it seems to me that the chances of peace, the chances of a process that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state, is further away than ever.”
Hassassian: “No. My position as Palestinian ambassador [sic] is to promote the two-state solution. I personally have always believed that political accommodation and negotiations is the only way out of this quagmire. I believe that no military solution will ever be a solution. I believe that convulsive violence breeds more violence.”
Husain made no effort to question Hassassian regarding his claim that he promotes the two-state solution even though he is on record as promoting a very different ‘solution’.
“The Palestinian Ambassador to UK, Professor Manuel Hassassian, said ideally he would prefer a one-state solution but pragmatically and politically the two-state solution is the best option that the Palestinians could realistically achieve. Although, he said even that seems to be rather impossible under the current political climate.” September 2016
“Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic representative in the UK, condemned the Balfour Declaration. He said the Palestinians had been denied the right to self-determination and their basic human rights “due to the pledge by Great Britain to the Zionists”.
He said the Palestinian “right of return” was a “sacred right” and that the “non-Judaisation of the state of Israel is our red line”.” November 2013
“There is no two state solution. Democracies don’t fight each other. If Israel is a democracy I would claim that the Palestinians are also a democracy. If democracies cannot fight each other then why not have one state?; one man, one vote.” January 2013
“Ladies and gentleman, there is no two state solution left. We have to look to other, what I call, ingenious ideas and look outside the box and the only thing that comes to my mind is very simple; there is only one solution, which is a one state solution.” November 2012
Hassassian continued with yet more falsehoods and context-free claims that went completely unchallenged:
Hassassian: “We have done our share as Palestinians in order to promote peace. But look at Israel? What did Israel do? Since the Oslo agreement they have quadrupled the building of settlements. They have killed many thousands: two wars against our people in Gaza. So where is the intention of peace on the other side? On the occupier that claims to be a democracy?”
The final part of the interview was devoted to the topic of the Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation with Husain raising the issue of the significance of Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel in the context of its potential participation in a Palestinian unity government and Hassassian claiming that the Palestinian Authority is “trying to bring Hamas on board in a political programme that will recognise the State of Israel”.
Notwithstanding Mishal Husain’s atypical question regarding Israeli victims of Palestinian terror, this lengthy interview – over ten minutes long – obviously primarily provided a platform for yet more amplification of PA/PLO messaging concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary.
In all, listeners to the ‘Today’ programme on November 2nd heard over thirty-three minutes of coverage relating to that topic during which the part of the Balfour Declaration relating to the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” was misrepresented no fewer than six times. They did not, however, hear even one mention of the part of the same text that states that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice […] the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.