Last month we noted that in a report by Aleem Maqbool which was aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ on November 18th listeners were told that the announcement made by the US Secretary of State concerning the US administration’s change of position regarding Israeli communities in areas that came under Israeli control during the Six Day War “breaks four decades of State Department policy”. [emphasis added]
Listeners also heard Maqbool say that:
“…the timing has surprised some people because, you know, many Palestinians will feel – even over those four decades during which the United States did consider the building of settlements inconsistent with international law, it never really stopped those settlements expanding at a rapid rate to the point now where some of them are as big as cities.”
“One of them in particular – Ma’ale Adumim – cuts the West Bank in half.”
BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those two inaccurate claims which included a link to a BBC News website report from the same day in which it was explained that:
“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.
Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.
However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”
On December 2nd we received a response telling us that BBC Complaints had “referred your complaint to the relevant people and regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On December 21st BBC Complaints informed us that “we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.
On December 30th we received the following reply:
“Thank you for contacting us The World Tonight on November 18. Firstly, we apologise for the delay in replying here – it’s taken longer than normal and we’re sorry for the undue delay. Your concerns about accuracy and impartiality were raised at the time and the programme team respond here as follows:
‘We stand by the assertion that President Trump’s policy is a significant change of a decades-long approach by the State Department to the issue of the legality of settlements in the West Bank.
Successive US administrations have largely avoided the expression of a public opinion on the issue of legality, although in 1980 the US voted for UN Security Council resolution 465 and in 2016 the US did not veto a UN resolution that declared Israeli settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[s] a flagrant violation under international law”.
With regards to Ma’ele [sic] Adumim and the settlements around Jerusalem: it is clear that their expansion has made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line, significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank.’”
UN SC resolution 465 dates from the time of the Carter presidency and the 2016 resolution (2334) from the end of the Obama administration. In other words, the BBC has chosen to ignore the interim thirty-six years during which – according to the BBC itself – “the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations”.
Obviously Israeli construction in Ma’ale Adumim or other locations has not “made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line” at all. That line remains as it was when drawn and is specifically defined in that agreement as being “agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”
However Aleem Maqbool did not claim that construction in Ma’ale Adumim had had the effect of “significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank” – he claimed that it “cuts the West Bank in half”. That statement of course remains inaccurate, as does the claim that the US Secretary of State’s announcement “breaks four decades of State Department policy”.