Half a day before the launch of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan on January 28th, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme aired an edition which included several reports concerning a document which had at that stage not yet been made public.
Listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman (at 10:03 here), a news bulletin (at 2:02:46) during which Bateman told audiences that “the Palestinians say it [the US plan] would entrench apartheid” and another report by Bateman (at 2:48:40) based on vox pop interviews with people in Jerusalem.
The main item in that programme (from 2:10:04) included interviews with three people. Presenter Nick Robinson began by once again promoting the unsupported claim that the US administration calls the document ‘the deal of the century’ and adding another. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Robinson: “It will be the deal of the century Donald Trump has long boasted; a plan which he’ll unveil today and which it’s claimed can produce what has eluded the world for decades – peace in the Middle East. It has though been drawn up without consultation with the Palestinians. The president of the Palestinian Authority has refused to even take a call from Donald Trump. That is in stark contrast to the presence at the White House yesterday of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.”
Listeners first heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen who repeated a speculation he had already made on the same programme three days earlier, claiming that “the agenda followed by Israel’s prime minister Mr Netanyahu has very much been absorbed by the Trump plan”. Bowen’s talking points included the claim that the plan is unlikely to succeed “if the objective is to bring peace to the area” and promotion of the Palestinian narrative concerning the Oslo Accords, which of course do not mention the two-state solution at all.
Bowen: “Since Oslo in 1993 – the Oslo Agreements – the underlying principle under all the negotiations that have been taking place is the so-called two-state solution. An independent Palestine alongside Israel. But the indications are that Trump wants to change that and perhaps get to a point where they say to the Palestinians ‘look, you’re not going to get it. Accept it; take what we’re offering now, much less than what you hoped for’.”
Bowen went on to promote additional speculation concerning “the timing of this initiative” – speculations which were shown later in the item to dovetail with PLO talking points.
Bowen: “…they [Trump and Netanyahu] are both men who need something else going on […] I think that the message from Netanyahu is ‘look, you don’t want to see me in court or even in jail’.”
In fact, more or less as Bowen was promoting that hypothesis, Netanyahu withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity.
Robinson’s next interviewee (from 2:13:12) was former national security advisor to the Israeli prime minister Yaakov Amidror and, refraining from reminding listeners that the US administration has been working on the plan for several years, he began by “putting to him the thought that this was really all about domestic politics” – a theory dismissed by Amidror.
Robinson went on:
Robinson: “…is what we call the two-state solution – the idea of a separate Palestinian state – is that going to be buried today?”
Amidror: “ As far as we know the deal includes an independent Palestinian state and if it will be adopted by the Israelis – by the Knesset or by the government – it will be the first time that formally Israel is adopting such [a] solution which was not mentioned in the Oslo Accords at all.”
Despite the BBC having repeatedly promoted the myth that the Oslo Accords were based on the concept of a two-state solution, Robinson showed no interest in expanding that point in order to enhance audience understanding and instead went on to ask whether “that state will be what they, the Palestinians, want as a state”.
Amidror: “No, it will not be the state that the Palestinians want. The state the Palestinians want does not include Israel at all. They want a Palestine all over from the Mediterranean into the Jordan River. As always the Palestinians say no before they know the details of the plan. Never in the history did the Palestinians agree to negotiate with the Israelis based on any offer by us or by the Americans.”
Robinson did not ensure that listeners heard any further detail on the obviously relevant topic of the Palestinian agenda.
The final interview in that item (from 2:17:24) was with a person Robinson had earlier described as “the Palestinian ambassador in this country”.
Robinson: “Listening there to that in the studio is the Palestinian ambassador to the UK. Ambassador Husam Zomlot joins us.”
In 2018 the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time.
Despite the US plan not having been published at the time this interview was conducted, listeners nevertheless heard from Husam Zomlot (who, as readers may recall, gave a briefing to BBC journalists before the related 2019 economic workshop) that “this is neither a deal nor a plan and it definitely has nothing to do with peace”. Zomlot’s hyperbolic description of the US plan as “the scam of the century” and “fraud on every count” was not challenged by Robinson before Zomlot went on to inadvertently demonstrate the similarity of his talking points to those of the BBC’s Middle East editor.
Zomlot: “It’s fraud on every count as was alluded to by your correspondent Jeremy just now. Today the Israeli Knesset is discussing the criminal charges and the immunity. Today – is that a coincidence? The impeachment process and hearing also today and yesterday. Is that a coincidence?”
Zomlot later went on to state (as he has done in the past) that the two-state solution is a “concession”.
Zomlot: “It was actually a concession we made to accept international legality, international legitimacy that decided that the resolution of this will be on the basis of two-state solution on the 1967 borders, that Israel will end its occupation that began in 1967 and there will be a sovereign independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution to the issue of refugees.”
Robinson made no effort to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” or to ensure that listeners understood the thinking behind Zomlot’s later declaration that the Palestinians will not “further compromise the 22% of Palestine”. He did however later tell listeners that “Trump and Netanyahu” are “obsessed with Hamas” because they “believe that Iran is the greatest threat on the planet, that Hamas is allied to them”.
Zomlot’s later attempt to create equivalence between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, did not prompt any challenge from Robinson.
Zomlot: “…it isn’t about Palestine now. It is about the premise and the heart of international order that was established by Europe, by the United Kingdom, by your legal brains. It’s about the horrors of the Second World War. Only yesterday we remembered the never again of what happened in the Second World War.”
While there is nothing remotely surprising about Zomlot’s talking points there is sadly also nothing surprising about Robinson’s failure to challenge them in a way which would help BBC audiences see past the propaganda and develop a more rounded view of the topic – a view which is likewise noticeably absent from the BBC Middle East editor’s analysis. As we see, half a day before the US administration had released its plan into the public domain, BBC Radio 4 had already framed the topic in overwhelmingly negative terms.