Editor's Notes: London and us
David Horovitz, THE JERUSALEM POST Oct. 21, 2005
LONDON IS part-way through the BBC's Elusive Peace documentary series - jointly made with the American PBS channel and already screened in the US.
It is an enterprise that was plunged into controversy even before the first episode had been broadcast, by a program trailer that casually and fundamentally undercut any aspiration to accuracy with wording that placed all blame for the collapse of the last few years' Middle East peace efforts squarely on Israel. In an unusual, and perhaps unprecedentedly rapid, volte face prompted by the intervention of the BBC's Middle East ombudsman, himself alerted by the indefatigable Anglo-Jewish activist Joy Wolfe, the trailer was hurriedly rewritten and less offensive language substituted.
The series itself is also attracting criticism for a perceived anti-Israeli bias - everything from the striking absence of president Clinton's Middle East envoy Dennis Ross from the ranks of interviewees, to an alleged misrepresentative use of comments from Clinton expressing frustration with Israel, to a flawed and over-simplified emphasis on Ariel Sharon's Temple Mount visit as the cause of the second intifada.
I haven't been able to see the documentary yet, but I have been reading the accompanying book, by the now-British-based, Israeli-born, journalist-academic Ahron Bregman. It seems less problematic in its use of Clinton quotes, but is certainly troubling in its account of the Sharon visit and the initial phase of the current round of conflict.
Entirely riveting, however, is the chapter on secretary of state Colin Powell's spring 2002 visit to our region - barely two weeks after the Netanya Park Hotel Seder night suicide bombing - in what amounted to America's last effort, by Yasser Arafat's last significant Washington defender, to persuade the Palestinian leader to confront terrorism. As a subsequent interview with Powell quoted by Bregman makes plain, the secretary veritably begged Arafat to use his "influence and authority" to prevent more such bombings. If Arafat was not prepared to do that, Powell warned him, "then you're going to find the road ahead very difficult with respect to your relations with the United States."
But even Powell's passionate entreaties got him nowhere, of course, and two months later, President Bush was on the White House lawn telling the Palestinians that their only path to statehood, the only path to Middle East peace, lay via "a new and different Palestinian leadership... new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror." The Palestinians, Bregman stresses, had had no inkling of quite how devastating the president's speech would be for Arafat. Diane Butto, a PLO legal adviser, recalls that she and much of the Palestinian leadership were watching the address together on TV, "and our jaws dropped. We knew it was going to be harsh, but did not expect that harsh."