Border-line Improvement at BBC “Obstacles” Series

Of all the installments of Martin Asser’s BBC series “Obstacles to Peace,” the May 25, 2007 section entitled “Borders and Settlements” is the most balanced. To be sure, the report has serious shortcomings, but on the whole the language does not share the same extremist, vitriolic quality as that of the water, Jerusalem and refugees reports.

Factual Errors

Asser is mistaken when he writes:

Jordan and Egypt signed treaties with Israel turning 1949 ceasefire lines into state borders.

The 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty did not set the border not on 1949 ceasefire line, but significantly east of the 1949 ceasefire line, in middle of the Jordan River. (The 1949 ceasefire line between Jordan and Israel, also known as the Green Line, delineates the West Bank.) According to the Jordan-Israel peace treaty (Annex 1(a)):

The boundary Line shall follow the middle of the main course of the flow of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers.

The Jordan River (the Yarmouk is one of its tributaries) is in some places up to 30 miles east of the Green Line.

Asser later on contradicts himself about the Jordan-Israel border, correctly identifying its route as following the rivers:

Jordan became the second treaty holder with Israel, agreeing river borders in the north and a demarcated desert border south of the Dead Sea.

In a separate factual error, a sidebar about West Bank settlements inaccurately states that “There are about 100 settlements not authorised by the Israeli government in the West Bank.” Here, the BBC is confusing settlements and illegal outposts. According to a June 2006 report by Peace Now, the anti-settlement group, there are 102 “unauthorized outposts.”

The BBC should correct these two factual errors.

Bright Spots

To his credit, Asser is careful not to mislabel the pre-1967 Green Line between Israel and the West Bank a border, a common error among journalists. In addition, he points out Israel’s territorial vulnerability under the 1949 – 1967 period, stating:

Parts of Israel’s central region were just 15 km (9 miles) wide, and strategic Jordanian-held territory overlooked the whole coastal region.

Elsewhere, he reiterates the territorial dangers facing tiny Israel, noting that for Israeli politicians, land-for-peace deals are risky, especially “after the 2006 war over Lebanon, when Hezbollah militants showed the effectiveness of rocket attacks as a terror weapon from the north, given Israel’s vunlerability at the centre.”

Obscuring Arab Belligerence, Intransigence

He also points out that Hamas does not accept Israel within any boundaries, but he wrongly suggests that Hamas would achieve the elimination of Israel through purely demographic means:

Hamas, which won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, wants at all costs to avoid a peace deal with Israel that involves drawing permanent borders, because its wider aim is to establish a single, Islamic state within the borders of pre-1948 Palestine.

They argue that such a state, with the return of the 1948 refugees, would have an impregnable and growing Arab, Muslim majority, spelling the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

But Hamas is very open about how it plans to achieve the elimination of the Jewish state, and its plans are not restricted to natural growth and the “return of the 1948 refugees.” As the Hamas Charter states:

. . . the Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said:

The time will not come about until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him! (Article Seven) . . .

In the face of the Jewish occupation of Palestine, it is necessary to raise the banner of jihad. This requires the propagation of Islamic consciousness among the masses, locally [in Palestine], in the Arab world and in the Islamic world. It is necessary to instill the spirit of jihad in the nation, engage the enemies and join the ranks of the jihad fighters. (Article 15)


Asser fails to note that Mandate Palestine itself had evolving borders. In 1922, the British severed Mandate Palestine so that nearly 80 percent of it became Transjordan (now Jordan), from which Jewish immigration was barred. (Palestinian Arabs, however, were not restricted from settling in Transjordan or what was left of Palestine.) In 1947, the United Nations partitioned the 20 percent of what remained of Palestine, offering Israel only about half. Thus, in the wake of the 1948 war, the new state of Israel held less than 20 percent of the original Palestine Mandate land. (The remainder constituted the West Bank, which was held by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, occupied by Egypt.)

Asser, however, ignores the Mandate’s altered borders, stating that “Israel came into being on 78% of the former Palestine . . . ”

Elsewhere, he uses the deceptive figure to suggest Palestinian flexibility when the historical record shows consistent Palestinian rejection of territorial compromise:

Further territorial compromises by the Palestinians (having already been squeezed into 22% of pre-1948 Palestine) could be a bitter pill for their leadership to swallow as well.

What Palestinian “territorial compromises?” Palestinian Arabs rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan which would, for the first time in history, have established a Palestinian state. Likewise, in the wake of the 1948 war, Palestinians rejected the possibility of territorial compromise at the 1949 Lausanne Conference, at which the Arabs refused to even meet and neg otiate with the Israelis. After the 1967 war, Palestinian leadership again rejected territorial compromise at the infamous Khartoum conference, declaring “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” At Camp David and Taba in 2000, at which attempts were made to resolve Israel’s West Bank border, Yasir Arafat flat out rejected Israeli offers to withdraw from over 95 percent of the West Bank plus territory from within the Green Line.

International Law Misrepresented

Distorting international law, Asser suggests that Israel alone does not consider West Bank settlements as illegal:

The settlements are illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this. . . .

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, Asser’s editor, Jeremy Bowen, explicitly falsely stated that Israel is alone in its interpretation of the law. Yet, as CAMERA’s Gilead Ini notes:

Non-Israeli experts in international law, including Julius Stone and former U.S. Undersecretary of State Eugene Rostow, have argued that Israel’s settlements are legal. Moreover, successive American governments (with the exception of the Carter administration) have not declared that Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law, and Reagan explicitly asserted that they are “not illegal.”

Euphemistic Language

As in his earlier “Obstacles to Peace” features, Asser obscures Arab responsibility for war and violence, euphemistically writing:

In 1948, when British rule of Palestine ended, Israel forces managed to push most of the Arab forces that joined the war to the former Mandate boundaries . . . .

Five Arab nations attacked the nascent Jewish state, but Asser’s wording is not clear on this point.

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