As we saw earlier, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme supplied its listeners with preemptive framing of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan which was based primarily on speculation and promoted the unchallenged talking points of the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, Husam Zomlot.
BBC World Service radio adopted a similar editorial line and the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ on January 28th included an eleven-minute section (from 30:05 here) about a document that at the time of broadcast had not been made public which likewise provided Zomlot with a friendly platform.
Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item with the unsupported assertion that the US president “claims he is close to establishing it [peace] for good” and with amplification of the BBC Middle East editor’s speculations concerning the ‘weighting’ of the plan.
Iqbal: “Peace in the Middle East has been as elusive as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or the search for the Holy Grail. But President Trump claims he is close to establishing it for good. He is of course…he has of course always got a view and others are likely to contest it. Mr Trump is expected to announce his peace proposal later today, the groundwork having been done by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Although we don’t know exactly what’s in it, rumours and leaks suggest it is heavily weighted towards Israel in comparison to previous initiatives. The optics as he made the announcement about today’s impending announcement at the White House also offer a clue. Flanked by two Israeli politicians, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz: both invited to be briefed on the plan. […]”
Netanyahu and Gantz in fact met Trump separately and so the “optics” described by Iqbal are inaccurate. She went on to promote another talking point in the BBC’s cross-platform framing of the story:
Iqbal: “Some further political context for you: President Trump faces an impeachment trial of course and back in Israel president…err…prime minister Netanyahu has been formally indicted on three corruption cases. Far away from all of that Mr Netanyahu thanked President Trump for what he has done for Israel. […] Well we haven’t seen a full plan but according to Israeli media it could see the US formally back Israeli control of Jerusalem’s Old City which contains most of the city’s sensitive holy sites. The Old City lies in East Jerusalem, annexed decades ago by Israel in a move not internationally recognised, which Palestinians want as their future capital. Let’s speak first to Husam Zomlot who is the Palestinian ambassador to London. […] What do you know about what’s in this plan?”
As mentioned in relation to Zomlot’s earlier interview with the ‘Today’ programme, 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.
Zomlot: “Like you we know nothing. Nobody knows anything except President Trump and the Israeli side, be it the prime minister Netanyahu or the head of the opposition and for that matter actually there are all the heads and the leaders of the illegal settler movement in the occupied territories joining the discussion in Washington.”
Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the four local council heads who travelled to Washington did not ‘join’ the discussions with the US president or that – in stark contrast to the impression given by Zomlot – some described themselves as “very troubled” by the plan.
Neither did she bother to challenge Zomlot’s subsequent baseless assertion that the publication of the plan would enable Trump and Netanyahu to “dodge charges”.
Zomlot: “So this is an Israeli-Israeli negotiation endorsed by President Trump and it’s really a sad piece of political circus. Really the political circus and you know the timing is very telling. This is not about peace. This is about dodging criminal charges against the two involved, Trump Netanyahu, given what is happening today in the Congress and what is happening today also in the Israeli Knesset. And they think that they can dodge all these charges and face the coming elections by actually pressuring the Palestinians to give up our rights.”
Iqbal: “OK, pressuring the Palestinians to give up your rights. Let’s just go back a little bit. When President Trump was first elected the relationship between the US president and the Palestinians was pretty good. In fact Mahmoud Abbas did meet with the president several times. Declaring Jerusalem the capital obviously shifted things. How much involvement has there been, if any, between the Palestinians and Jared Kushner?”
Zomlot: “As you said we started with a very good process. Our president Mahmoud Abbas met President Trump several times – four times in a few weeks actually – in 2017. We met the team of President Trump – Kushner and Greenblatt – more than thirty times and while we were at it I receive a phone call from the State Department because I was the head of Palestinian mission in Washington telling me that our mission in Washington is to be closed and shut us down, right at the height of the discussions. So right from the beginning this process was never about a deal or a plan or even peace or consulting the Palestinians. This whole thing was about bullying the Palestinians, coercing the Palestinian people into some sort of a submission. And today is just the theatre for that announcement of the final submission of the Palestinian people. Now…”
Iqbal made no attempt to question that blatant distortion of the reasons behind the closure of the PLO mission in Washington DC in 2018. She did however go on to amplify his narrative.
Iqbal [interrupts]: “And how will…how will, Ambassador, how will the Palestinians respond to this because everything you’re saying suggests that this is not a peace process, this is not a plan that will in any way benefit the Palestinians. How will you react?”
Zomlot: “Well first of all the first reaction must come from the international community because the two-state solution that is about to be dismantled, destroyed in a few hours’ time by President Trump and his ally Netanyahu, the two-state solution was and is an international demand – international consensus, including the United Kingdom by the way – and therefore what is at stake here is not just the rights of the Palestinians. We are capable to defend our rights. We are a very rooted society. We have been there for a long time. We have seen many empires come and go but we remain. What we are really concerned about is the ability of the international system, order, legitimacy to withstand this sheer onslaught on the very premise of internationalism, which is our cooperation, which is the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by force and annexing territory by force.”
Razia Iqbal made no effort to remind listeners that when Jordan acquired the territory now claimed by the Palestinians by force, the PLO had no objections and that it specifically stated that it had no claims “over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or the Himmah Area”.
Neither did she challenge Zomlot’s cynical attempt to suggest equivalence – as he did earlier on Radio 4 – between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust.
Zomlot: “What we will witness in a couple of hours in Washington is the slaughtering of what we built together as a human family after the horrors of the Second World War including the horrors and the evil of the Holocaust that we remembered only yesterday, the 75 years of the Holocaust and the never again. And so we built together a system to protect us, all the humanity. What is at stake is that.”
Zomlot: “We Palestinians have a lot to do to make sure that our rights are not for sale and we remain on our land.”
Iqbal: “Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to London. Thank you for joining us.”
While Radio 4 listeners at least got to hear one Israeli voice (out of three) in the ‘Today’ programme’s preemptive framing of the US proposal, listeners to BBC World Service radio then heard yet another negative opinion from a “former negotiator” of failed peace plans, Aaron David Miller.
Clearly this long item was entirely one-sided and made no attempt whatsoever to provide ‘Newshour’ listeners around the world with the “range and depth of analysis” stipulated by the BBC’s public purposes.