Israel's self-imposed ten-month long moratorium on construction in Judea and Samaria expired on Sunday. If its purpose was to encourage the Palestinian Authority leadership to join discussions with Israel on a peace process, it was no great success. For most of those ten months, Mr Abbas the head of Fatah and of the PA flatly refused; then agreed to indirect talks where the Israelis would not be permitted to be in the same room at the same time as the Palestinian Authority delegates; and then - just a few weeks ago - consented to actual face-to-face talks which started earlier in September.
Large parts of the Israeli public never understood why we would be expected to stop constructing houses, schools and communities in towns that we regard as our home. And having nevertheless agreed to do exactly that, many of us never understood why the other side's refusal to then sit down and talk was accepted at large (by the media, by international agencies, by most countries' diplomats) with almost complete equanimity. But that's how it was.
Now the parties are talking, and every rational person hopes they will find a way to reach common ground and a basis for peace.
Which brings us to the BBC.
The unilateral construction moratorium has ended, and life goes on, as normally as it ever is here. But the BBC, arguably the most important source in the world for information about current events, has the facts quite wrong and you have to ask yourself how and why.
On yesterday's 8.30am report, BBC presenter John Humphries said:
‘At midnight last night the moratorium on Israelis building new settlements in the West Bank came to an end. It had lasted ten months.’New settlements?
He passed the mike to Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, who surely knows, to provide background. Bowen said:
‘They began the moratorium because there had been a great deal of American pressure for them to stop building settlements anywhere, in east Jerusalem or in the West Bank.’Stop building settlements?
On the BBC World website, accompanying text for this segment reads:
‘Israel has urged the Palestinians not to abandon peace talks despite the fact that the moratorium on new settlements in the West Bank has expired.’Moratorium on new settlements?
That's three substantial mis-statements, and it's not a small point. The tug of war over Israeli settlements is emotive, even explosive, and misrepresentation of the facts is a large part of why this is.
The voluntary, one-sided Israeli moratorium was always on construction within existing settlements. Jeremy Bowen (at least) certainly knows this. Why then would the BBC's expert on the ground deliver such misleading and factually wrong analysis?
Bowen surely knows, as an Israeli spokesman said today, that existing communities in Judea and Samaria (settlements, if you prefer - though the word itself is inaccurate and prejudicial) have not expanded. New communities in the area have not been authorized by the government of Israel since the early 1990's. The moratorium was of construction within Israeli communities. Its end means that Israelis can go back to constructing their communities, subject to getting the needed permits, within existing communities (or settlements).
Do you see the BBC correcting itself? Neither do we.
Being accurate about the facts, and drawing a line between history and propaganda, are critical to the pursuit of peace in our troubled times. Defeating the terrorists absolutely demands that people know to distinguish between politics and polemics.
And for the record, the obsessive focus on so-called settlements is not and never was what the conflict here is about, though large swathes of the news media would mischievously try to have you believe they are at the heart of the conflict. When Arafat and the PLO got started in 1964 with their campaign of wiping Israel and Israelis off the map, the total number of "settlements" and "occupied" "territories" was zero.