Why Does the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee Pretend That the 1947 Partition Plan is a Thing?
Readers no doubt remember that in the summer of 2012 the BBC’s Sports department produced a profile of Israel on its dedicated Olympics webpage which claimed that Israel has no capital city whilst listing “East Jerusalem” as the capital of “Palestine”.
After much public outcry, changes were made to the webpage and Jerusalem was listed as Israel’s “seat of government“, with “East Jerusalem” becoming the “seat of intended government” for “Palestine” according to the BBC.
Complaints were also made regarding the amended version of the webpage and in March 2013 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its January 2013 findings regarding appeals made (but not upheld) following those complaints (see page 34 onwards here).
A year later, in March 2014, the ESC published its January 2014 findings regarding yet another request for appeal on the same topic (see page 49 onwards here).
But the story does not end there. Via the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem (who was recently featured – in one case without identification of her PSC ties as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines – in several BBC reports) writing at Electronic Intifada, we learn that two Hamas-linked anti-Israel lobbying groups are still pursuing the issue of Israel’s capital city.
At the end of 2013, PSC [Palestine Solidarity Campaign] and FoA [Friends of Al Aqsa] made a direct request to the BBC asking that it release these documents under a Freedom of Information request. The aim was to find out how and why the BBC Trust had made a decision that referencing Jerusalem as Israeli was not in breach of its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, and what had influenced the Trust’s decision.
In the appeal, both organizations set out the background to the request. PSC had challenged the BBC in 2012 and 2013 over reporting on its online pages and radio broadcasting, where Jerusalem was called an “Israeli city,” and no distinction was made between East Jerusalem — which is considered by the United Nations to be occupied Palestinian territory — and West Jerusalem.
…East Jerusalem is considered to be occupied Palestinian territory by the UN and the international community, including the UK government. West Jerusalem is considered to be under de facto Israeli control only, but not under Israeli sovereignty.
The fact that this is a transparently political campaign being run by two Hamas-linked organisations which have no other raisond’etre than professional anti-Israel campaigning and have taken part in delegitimisation projects such as the 2010 flotilla and the 2012 ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ (see here and here) is patently obvious – and predictable.
Whilst the BBC has so far not succumbed to this pressure to take a political stance from what Jeremy Bowen is unlikely to describe in future interviews to British papers as ‘full-time anti-Israeli lobbyists’, one particular section of the ESC’s two publications regarding the complaints is especially worthy of note.
The [BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory.
Yes, you read that correctly: the highest BBC body charged with ensuring the corporation’s adherence to editorial standards (including those of accuracy and impartiality) claims that the 1947 UN Partition Plan – aka UN GA resolution 181– has some sort of relevance or validity and based upon that gross misinterpretation, presumes to dictate that a city in which there has been a Jewish majority since the nineteenth century “is not Israeli sovereign territory”.
Despite what the members of the BBC Trust’s ESC may choose to believe, like most UN General Assembly resolutions, 181 was non-binding and in fact it was no more than a recommendation – the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. As is well known (although apparently not in the higher corridors of the BBC) the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan en masse and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses – including the corpus separatum proposal – irrelevant.
Resolution 181 has no legal ramifications – that is, Resolution 181 recognized the Jewish right to statehood, but its validity as a potentially legal and binding document was never consummated. Like the proposals that preceded it, Resolution 181″²s validity hinged on acceptance by both parties of the General Assembly’s recommendation.
Cambridge Professor, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice, a renowned expert on international law, clarified that from a legal standpoint, the 1947 UN Partition Resolution had no legislative character to vest territorial rights in either Jews or Arabs. In a monograph relating to one of the most complex aspects of the territorial issue, the status of Jerusalem, Judge, Sir Lauterpacht wrote that any binding force the Partition Plan would have had to arise from the principle pacta sunt servanda, [In Latin: treaties must be honored – the first principle of international law] that is, from agreement of the parties at variance to the proposed plan.
In any case, the corpus separatum proposal had a sell-by date: the proposal was only intended to last for ten years, after which a referendum of the city’s residents was to be held to determine its status. As Sir Elihu Lauterpacht pointed out in the monograph mentioned above: [emphasis added]
The role of the U.N. in relation to the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places is limited. In particular, the General Assembly has no power of disposition over Jerusalem and no right to lay down regulations for the Holy Places. The Security Council, of course, retains its powers under Chapter VII of the Charter in relation to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression, but these powers do not extend to the adoption of any general position regarding the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places.
Further, as Dr Dore Gold points out in his book “The Fight for Jerusalem“ (p. 134): [emphasis added]
The UN took upon itself certain commitments with respect to Jerusalem as a result of the passage of Resolution 181. It pledged “to ensure that peace and order reign in Jerusalem” and that it would “promote the security, well-being and any constructive measures of development for the residents.” It empowered the newly created UN Trusteeship Council to draft and approve a detailed statute for UN administration of the Holy City. This was a necessary legal step for the UN to assume the responsibilities of the British Mandate after its termination.
But no Jerusalem statute was adopted. On May 14, 1948, the UN General Assembly convened in a special session to determine whether to assume formal responsibility for Jerusalem as the Partition Plan had proposed. The UN determined that it would have to take action before the Mandate expired on May 15. But the UN failed to adopt any proposal giving it legal responsibility for Jerusalem that would enable it to become the effective successor to the British Mandate as the General Assembly had envisioned.
The issue of the BBC’s stubborn refusal to list Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city is one which comes up with tedious regularity on these pages and others. At least now we have gained some insight into the type of historic illiteracy which lies behind that misconstrued thinking. Perhaps fewer cosy chats between “senior BBC executives“ and members of the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel lobby in the UK would help the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee to get a better grip of the historical and geographical facts.