Reviewing the BBC’s ‘annexation’ backgrounder – part two

Earlier we discussed the first section of an unattributed backgrounder titled “Israel, annexation and the West Bank explained” which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on June 16th.

The second section is headed “What is “annexation” and why does it matter here?” and readers are told that:

“Annexation is the term applied when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over other territory. It is forbidden by international law. A recent example was Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.”

Clearly that definition does not adequately inform BBC audiences. As Dr Cynthia Day Wallace recently explained:

“…while the act of “annexation of territory acquired by force” may be universally and rightfully characterized as contrary to international law, what Israel is proposing is not “annexation” – de facto or de jure. This misrepresentation must be countered with the following facts:

1) “Annexation” is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “the incorporation of newly acquired territory into the national domain, as an integral part thereof.” (For nearly 130 years, Black’s Law Dictionary has been the gold standard for the language of law; today, it is the most widely cited law book in the world.)

Neither Judea and Samaria nor the Old City (“east Jerusalem”) could be construed as “newly acquired territory.” This territory was already designated as Israel’s “national home” under international law well before Israel declared statehood in 1948, when Great Britain ended her mandatory power under the Mandate for Palestine, an international legal instrument unanimously approved by the 51 Members of the League of Nations in 1922.

2) The classic and received definition of “occupied territory” in international law is laid out in Article 42 of the Hague Regulations: “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised…. [S]uch “occupation occurs when a belligerent state invades the territory of another state with the intention of holding the territory at least temporarily.”

In the case of the “occupation” of Judea and Samaria, the invading “belligerent state” was Jordan; the “hostile army” was that of Jordan; and the invaded territory was that of the nascent State of Israel. The territory that Israel reclaimed in 1967 was never rightfully “the territory of another state,” nor did Israel obtain it by war of aggression but rather by undisputed self-defense. Indeed, it was territory that had been specifically designated for a Jewish National Home, under the legally binding League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922.”

The BBC’s backgrounder goes on:

“Mr Netanyahu has said the plan is “not annexation”, although it involves applying Israeli sovereignty to the parts of the West Bank which contain Jewish settlements, as well as most of a swathe of land along the West Bank’s boundary with Jordan, known as the Jordan Valley.”

Again, no effort is made to explain to audiences why the Israeli prime minister rejects the use of the term ‘annexation’ and the BBC continues to airbrush the all important fact that the territory concerned did not belong to another state.

The next two paragraphs consist of BBC speculation (not for the first time) in part based on unattributed “reports” about a ‘plan’ which has yet to see the light of day. Readers are then told that:

“…the Palestinians seek the whole of the West Bank – to which they claim an historical right – for a future independent state, along with the Gaza Strip. Any annexation by Israel, they argue, would leave Palestinian areas fragmented and the Palestinian people with considerably less land for a country of their own.”

BBC audiences see no discussion of that claim to “an historical right” and the BBC did not bother to explain to readers why the original PLO charter of 1964 explicitly stated that the organisation “does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”. As we saw in Part 1, the backgrounder’s portrayal of the history of the area is so inadequate that the majority of readers are unlikely to be able to judge that claim for themselves.

Under the sub-heading “Why is this being talked about now?” readers once again find an inaccurate portrayal of “previous US positions”.

“Until recently, Mr Netanyahu would have faced solid opposition among the international community to such a move.

However, Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, unveiled in January, allows for Israel to “incorporate” the settlements – a radical shift from previous US positions.”

As mentioned here previously:

“…the Clinton Parameters of 2000 proposed that “Israel would retain settlement blocs containing 80 percent of the settler population”. 

As noted in a paper published by BICOM:

“Clinton believed that: “The borders should be drawn that result in Israel retaining the settlements blocs close to the border whilst ensuring contiguity of a Palestinian state” adding that: “The line should strike a balance between minimising the amount of land annexed and the number of Palestinians affected.” One principle that guided Clinton was that 80 per cent of the settlement population would not have needed to leave their homes.

The Bush administration also believed some settlement blocs should remain part of Israel. A letter from Bush to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in April 2004 stated that: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949”.”

Under the sub-heading “What would change with annexation?” readers are told that:

“In practice, Israeli laws already apply to settlers, though not to Palestinians, who are subject only to Israeli military orders and Palestinian [sic] laws, so there would be little noticeable change in that respect.”

The situation as it actually exists was described as follows by Pnina Sharvit Baruch in 2018:

“In Judea and Samaria […] there is no applicability of Israeli law. The local law that applies is based on the laws that existed prior to 1967 and security legislation, i.e., orders issued by the IDF GOC in the region. However, the military commander issued municipal orders in relation to all of the Israeli settlements, which adopt many arrangements from Israeli law by way of referral, such as in relation to education, welfare, local government, and so forth, so that there is significant synchronization between the two systems of laws. […] The main material gap relative to settlement residents relates to the laws applying to land and infrastructure.”

It is blatantly obvious that the purpose of this BBC backgrounder is not to provide audiences with the full range of information which would enable them to make up their own minds on the topic of the as yet theoretical proposal to apply Israeli civilian law to certain parts of Area C. Rather, this article merely seeks to preemptively reinforce and amplify the political narrative – and partisan terminology – that the BBC has chosen to adopt.

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