On July 15th a report from Yolande Knell in Bethlehem was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline ‘Biden offers Palestinians warm words but deep rift remains’.
In addition to gems such as the portrayal of the Mount of Olives – the site of a 3,000-year-old Jewish cemetery – as “part of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem”, that report also promotes framing on the topic of the two-state solution.
In the opening paragraphs readers are told that:
“At a longer than expected meeting with the Palestinian president in the occupied West Bank, he [US President Joe Biden] restated his long-time commitment to the idea of creating an independent state of Palestine.
But he said that the ground was “not right at this moment” to restart peace talks.
In response, the 86-year-old Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas said the chance for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict “may not remain for a long time.””
Later in the report readers are told that:
“A two-state solution – with the creation of an independent Palestine, alongside the existing state of Israel – has long been the formula for peace favoured by the international community.
But it has appeared increasingly unlikely in recent years and the US assesses that neither side is ready for the high stakes talks that would be needed to solve outstanding thorny issues.
The Palestinian leadership is split between the PA, controlling parts of the West Bank, and the militant group, Hamas which governs Gaza.”
Knell refrains from informing her readers that the issue is not only that the Palestinians cannot present a united leadership to negotiate with Israel, but that the more popular faction is a widely-designated terrorist organisation that opposes existing agreements, dismisses the idea of a two-state solution and rejects Israel’s very right to exist.
Knell goes on:
“At the same time there has been a right-wing drift in Israeli politics and the country has been locked in a series of inconclusive elections for the past three years, meaning it has not had a stable government.
“When we hear the American administration, including the president saying ‘two-state solution’, everybody makes, you know, kind of a smile,” Times of Israel political correspondent, Tal Scheider, tells me.
“What two-state solution? It’s completely off the table here in Israel.””
The phrase ‘off the table’ of course means that a proposal has been withdrawn and so readers would be likely to conclude that, in contrast to the Palestinians, Israel is no longer interested in a two-state solution.
However when Knell interviewed Tal Schneider for an audio report aired on July 13th on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 30:05 here), it was obvious that Schneider was referring to the two-state solution as a factor in Israeli elections.
Schneider: “But I think when the Israeli people see the American presidents say two-state solution they’re like ‘is this still a thing?’. Really, in Israel’s politics, in Israel’s – you know – five election cycles, the Palestinians and the two-state solution is completely off the table to be frank.”
In December 2016 the BBC began telling its audiences that the two-state solution is “the declared goal” of the Palestinian leadership, ignoring the fact that it has rejected such offers in the past, that Hamas has no such goal and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.
In this report the two-state solution is presented as “the formula for peace favoured by the international community” (without any serious examination of whether or not that “formula” is realistic) which is “off the table” in Israel.
In addition to the blows dealt by the second Intifada to Israeli belief in the possibility of a negotiated peace and their bitter experiences following withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israelis are very conscious of the fact that fifteen years of political chaos on the Palestinian side has severely hampered the possibility for a positive result to such a process.
However, while polls show a decline in support for a two-state solution among both Palestinians and Israelis, it is only the latter who are portrayed by Knell as having experienced “a right-wing drift” and political turmoil which has supposedly led to the issue being “off the table”.
All too often BBC framing of the ‘peace process’ ignores the Palestinian factor, presenting that side of the equation as entirely lacking agency or responsibility. Yolande Knell’s report on the US president’s visit to Bethlehem adheres to that chosen narrative.