BBC WS radio promotes US peace plan commentary from partisan lobbying group

Newshour listeners were told that the US plan is "an act of geo-political arson".

As we saw previously the January 28th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Tim Franks – had the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, which had been launched a few hours earlier, as its “main story”.

Listeners had already heard from a BBC correspondent in Washington and from one of the authors of the initiative, Jason Greenblatt, at the beginning of the programme and subsequently they heard over four minutes of diatribe from the Palestinian Authority’s Husam Zomlot.

Later on in the programme (from 45:07 here) Franks brought in another negative commentator, using the well-worn but absurd BBC claim that resolution of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel would mean “Middle East peace”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “And back to our main story this hour: President Trump unveiling what he calls his ultimate deal for Middle East peace and saying he hasn’t just won the unequivocal support of the Israeli prime minister but also of the man who wants to take over from Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister, the leader of the main opposition party in Israel, Benny Gantz. What about the view elsewhere in Washington? Logan Bayroff is communications director for J Street which describes itself as the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. What’s his reaction to Donald Trump’s plan?”

No effort was made to adhere to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by providing information beyond that self-composed definition of J Street and so listeners heard no objective description of the lobbying group’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” which would have helped them put later claims from Logan Bayroff into perspective.

Bayroff: “Well it may be a plan, it’s certainly not a peace plan. It’s really a sham to even call it that. What it is is an act of geo-political arson where President Trump is working together with Prime Minister Netanyahu to make a bad conflict even worse. A peace plan would require a good faith effort by the United States to engage with the positions of both Israelis and Palestinians, bring them together and encourage and facilitate compromise. Instead what you have here is the unilateral adoption, essentially, by the current US administration of the traditional positions of Israel’s Right-wing government, unilaterally adopting them as United States policy and seeking to dictate those terms to the Palestinians. So that’s not peace. That’s, you know, that’s something very, very different and much, much [laughs] more dangerous.”

Although he failed to point out that it was the choice of the Palestinians not to be party to the drafting of this US plan and that they scuppered the last round of negotiations by declaring their intention to form a ‘unity government’ with the terror group Hamas, Franks did at least offer some challenge to Bayroff’s theory.

Franks: “Except what the proponents of this plan say is what’s being…what’s on offer for the first time are the hard outlines of a Palestinian state. So it’s not all that the Right in Israel would want.”

Bayroff: “I would really dispute their framing on that. They’re saying that they’re offering the Palestinians a state but what they’re actually talking about is a quasi-state – a state-minus as the prime minister likes to describe it – that has no security control over its own territory, that is not being allowed to negotiate for which portions of the West Bank it’s allowed to keep but is being told that a very small portion of occupied Palestinian territory would get to form the basis of this so-called state; non-contiguous enclaves policed by Israeli forces. It’s basically taking the current reality of occupation for the Palestinians and saying that the small number of areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority currently would get to form some kind of state.”

Franks made no effort to inform listeners that the plan actually proposes that more land than is currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority in Judea & Samaria would become part of a Palestinian state, along with the Gaza Strip (over which the PA currently has no control) and additional areas of what is today Israeli territory.

Bayroff: “Ehm…that’s not a position that any Palestinian leader could ever accept and it’s not even really being put forward as the basis for negotiation. It’s being put forward as sort of a terms of surrender document that the Palestinians have to adhere to without any previous consultation or involvement in the process. So to call this diplomacy or a peace plan, it’s really farcical and what it’s actually trying to do is to provide a green light to the Israeli government to carry out actions that they’ve been talking about for months now, namely the unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank that is illegally occupied by Israel. The prime minister’s already talking about moving forward with that now…”

Franks: “But it’s not just the Israeli government, is it? We also have the man who wants to take over from Binyamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, saying that he approves this plan and I just wonder – I mean I can hear all your objections to this – but what constituency you speak for if the mainstream of Israeli politics is saying we’re delighted with this.”

Listeners then found themselves being lectured on Israeli politics by an American history graduate.

Bayroff: “Well first of all I would say that, you know, Benny Gantz is put in a difficult spot in an election campaign which is why it’s so inappropriate for the US to be doing this right now. He doesn’t…neither he nor Netanyahu speak for the entirety of Israeli public opinion. But who I represent, who J Street represents first of all is pro-Israel, pro-peace American Jews and a broader constituency of Americans who want to see a safe, secure, peaceful future for Israel and understand that the only way that that is going to happen is with a serious fair two-state solution that grants real independence…ah…to Palestinians alongside Israel in their own state and it brings an end to the occupation.”

Franks did not bother to point out to either his listeners or his interviewee that the Palestinians have refused precisely such offers on several occasions in the past.

Bayroff: “That’s not only the position of my organisation and the majority of American Jews, it’s the traditional position of the United States government of both parties and it’s certainly the position of the Democratic party right now. It’s the position that was passed by the House of Representatives here in the US just a few weeks ago, saying no to annexation, no to settlement expansion, no to a plan that isn’t a real two-state solution. So in the long run, whatever the Israelis are being given to understand, this Trump plan is not going to stand as the position of the United States and it’s quite bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the United States.”

Making no effort to inform listeners that the resolution described by Bayroff is non-binding or to remind them that whatever “position” American Jews and the US House of Representatives support, it is not they who have to live with the results, Franks closed the interview there.

While informed listeners may well have been asking themselves at that point precisely what over four minutes of one-sided commentary from a representative of a partisan American lobbying group (with opinions remarkably similar to those of the Palestinian Authority representative they had heard earlier) had actually contributed to their understanding of this story, ‘Newshour’ producers undoubtedly knew why that commentator was invited to appear on the programme.

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