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BICOM and the peace process façade: On the views of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre

By Hilary Aked, Tom Mills, David Miller and Tom Griffin | MEMO | November 4, 2013

Renewed ‘peace talks’ between Israeli and the Palestinian Authority officials have quietly been going on behind closed doors and a U.S.-imposed media blackout for three months now. Like all previous such exercises they will almost certainly break down without delivering justice or bringing peace.

Even though the Palestine Papers made it clear that the leaders of the PA, a creation of the Oslo process, have offered huge concessions in past rounds of talks, pro-Israel commentators are nonetheless pre-emptively rehearsing their arguments to blame the Palestinian side and obfuscate the fundamental longstanding issue: Israeli intransigence. A key – though little known – organisation engaged in this activity in British political circles is BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

‘BICOM: Giving peace a chance?’, a new report published by Spinwatch, subjects this organisation to detailed scrutiny for the first time. It concludes that BICOM, like Israel itself, seeks to maintain the façade of progress towards peace, but in practice exhibits deep disdain for international law.

BICOM was established in 2001 in the wake of the Second Intifada and increasing international exasperation with Israel. Looking back a decade later, its primary funder, the billionaire businessman Poju Zabludowicz, neatly articulated its raison d’etre: ‘We have learnt over the last 10 years… that the key to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain is convincing people in this country that Israel seeks a lasting peace… As long as this argument remains credible then people will generally forgive mistakes and difficulties even if peace continues to be elusive’, he wrote.

So BICOM’s aim is not to contribute to peace, but to convince people that peace is what Israel wants. The professions of support for a two state solution BICOM issues seem to be little more than a rhetorical device to foster, in Zabludowicz’s words, a ‘supportive environment’ in which people will ‘forgive’ Israel for its ‘mistakes’.

The existence of a broad international consensus in support of Palestinian statehood is enough to explain why BICOM judges it must pay lip service to the abstract idea of a Palestinian state. But the devil is in the detail. Though BICOM poses as the voice of sensible centrism, its political positions, when subjected to scrutiny, are far from moderate. In practice BICOM opposes key tenets of international law that serve as the framework for implementing the recognised prerequisites of a Palestinian state. It echoes Israeli exceptionalism on the four key issues of the conflict: borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees. The following is based on an analysis of BICOM’s own statements.

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the UN Security Council passed resolution 242 which called for Israel to end its occupation of territories captured during the war. Following the Israeli government’s unique interpretation, however, BICOM argues that the absence of either the word ‘the’ or ‘all’ from the English language version of resolution 242 when referring to ‘territories captured’, means that Israel need not withdraw to pre-67 borders. This, despite the resolution’s preamble clearly asserting the ‘inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’.

On settlements too, despite international consensus on their illegality as articulated in UN Security Council resolutions and reiterated in 2004 by the International Court of Justice, BICOM stands by the Israeli government’s position which is, again, at odds with the international community. Israel disputes the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention which outlaws the transfer of civilians into the occupied territories. Indeed, whilst engaging in talks supposedly intended to demonstrate its commitment to achieving peace, Israel yet again announced more settlement construction and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter of solidarity to Israeli settlers in Hebron.

While BICOM, for obvious reasons, generally tries to avoid spelling out the extent to which its positions contradict with the requirements of international law, Luke Akehurst, who manages the BICOM spin-off group We Believe in Israel, has explicitly challenged the internationally accepted interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. But more frequently, since Israel is in violation of so many laws and UN resolutions, BICOM simply dispenses with international legal principles as an explanatory framework. Instead its stances are frequently premised upon – and justified by way of reference to – what Israelis are ‘willing to contemplate’ or the ‘broad consensus in Israel’.

On Jerusalem, for example, BICOM asserts that ‘most Israelis would not be willing to contemplate’ Israeli ‘loss of Israeli sovereignty’ over the city. Thus it endorses the Israeli government’s unilateral rejection of the international political and legal consensus. BICOM’s attitude is illustrated in its use of language too. It euphemistically refers to settlements as ‘communities’ or ‘neighbourhoods’, to the West Bank as ‘disputed’ rather than occupied territory and calls the Jerusalem ‘the capital of Israel’ – though even the United States does not recognise this and therefore maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.

On the thorny issue of the Palestinian refugees BICOM claims that in the 1948 war ‘there was no deliberate, co-ordinated Jewish policy to expel the Arabs’. This Zionist myth has long been disproved by Israel’s so-called New Historians, such as Ilan Pappe, who have shown convincingly that the contrary is in fact true. At any rate, the right of the approximately 700,000 refugees – and their descendants – to return to their homes is upheld in UN resolution 194. Yet BICOM’s take on the refugee issue appears, once more to ignore international law and UN resolutions. Instead it offers the legally insubstantial argument that ‘Israel does not believe it is responsible for resettling the refugees, believing their plight to be the responsibility of the Arab states that rejected the 1947 Partition Plan [and] started the war’.

Cutting to the heart of the situation is BICOM’s statement (again couched in terms of Israeli desires, not legality) that ‘no Israeli government will accept a solution that would allow millions of Palestinians to settle in Israel [as] this would effectively spell the end of the Jewish majority’. Even without reference to the return of refugees, BICOM’s research director, Toby Greene, writing in BICOM’s recently launched glossy publication ‘Fathom‘, speaks of a ‘demographic threat’ posed to Israel – and its self-definition as a Jewish state – by natural Palestinian population growth alone. This illuminates the underlying ethnic exclusivism in BICOM’s vision of ‘two states for two peoples’.

Just as the ‘peace process’ functions as a fig leaf for continuation of the status quo, BICOM’s lobbying activities – which focus on encouraging the British media to take what it paradoxically refers to as ‘the most objectively favourable line‘ – serve to ward off condemnation of Israel. This seems to be true amongst the strategically vital political elite at least, though grassroots trends show increasing pro-Palestinian feeling.

Ultimately it is symptomatic of the tenuous nature of democracy in the UK that by maintaining close relationships at the top – with the likes of the influential Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel groups – BICOM is able to inculcate in the political class the idea that Israel is a benign and reasonable actor in search of peace, while its underlying arguments and Israel’s actions, belie this narrative.

The report BICOM: Giving peace a chance? will be launched on the 7th of November. Register to attend the launch event here.

November 4, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment