Two ma­jor ‘head­line news’ items that are re­ally much ado about very lit­tle

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work)’.

As Bri­tish news­pa­per mag­nate Vis­count North­cliffe said: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, be­cause it hap­pens so of­ten. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”

Men don’t bite dogs ev­ery day, how­ever, and the news me­dia need ‘con­tent’ ev­ery day just to hold the ads apart. So of­ten they do cover ‘dog bites man’ sto­ries, for lack of any­thing bet­ter.

To­day’s lead ‘dog bites man’ story is the White House an­nounce­ment that the United States no longer views Jewish set­tle­ments in the oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory of the West Bank as ‘in­con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional law’. This will come as a vast sur­prise to prac­ti­cally no­body.

The West Bank, first seized by Is­rael dur­ing the 1967 Mid­dle East war and oc­cu­pied mil­i­tar­ily for the past 52 years, was en­tirely Pales­tinian in pop­u­la­tion when the Is­raeli army ar­rived. There has been ex­ten­sive Jewish set­tle­ment there since then, but those set­tle­ments have al­ways been seen as il­le­gal un­der in­ter­na­tional law.

How­ever, the U.S. po­si­tion on this has been erod­ing for a long time. The Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion in 1978 said clearly that the set­tle­ments, then just get­ting un­der­way, were “in­con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional law,” but in 1982 the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion backed off a bit: it con­tin­ued to call them ‘il­le­git­i­mate’, but wouldn’t call them ‘il­le­gal’.

Sub­se­quent U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions have ve­toed UN Se­cu­rity Res­o­lu­tions that con­demned the set­tle­ments, while never ac­tu­ally claim­ing that they were le­gal. But it has been ‘game over’ since the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion took of­fice.

First he moved the Amer­i­can em­bassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, con­firm­ing U.S. ac­cep­tance of Is­rael’s an­nex­a­tion of East Jerusalem con­trary to in­ter­na­tional law. Then he rec­og­nized Is­raeli sovereignt­y over the Golan Heights (an­other oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory, seized from Syria in 1967), although no other coun­try ac­cepts such a bor­der change in de­fi­ance of in­ter­na­tional law.

So by the time Trump got around to declar­ing the Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank le­gal last week­end, it wasn’t news at all. The com­men­ta­tors did their best to make it news­wor­thy, ask­ing if this will end the ‘peace process’ (as if it hadn’t been dead al­ready for at least 10 years). There’s noth­ing the Pales­tini­ans can do about it, and no­body else re­ally cares, not even other Arab states.

That was a ‘dog bites man’ story if there ever was one — and here’s an­other. Prince An­drew, third son of Queen El­iz­a­beth, has been hav­ing a public re­la­tions prob­lem re­cently. He was much too close to dis­graced Amer­i­can fi­nancier and sex of­fender Jef­frey Ep­stein, who com­mit­ted sui­cide in jail in Au­gust while fac­ing new sex charges.

An­drew has been fac­ing claims of sex­ual mis­be­haviour him­self. An Amer­i­can woman, Vir­ginia Gi­uf­fre, has been claim­ing she was forced to have sex with the prince three times while he was vis­it­ing var­i­ous of Ep­stein’s prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing at least once when she was un­der­age.

The prince de­nies it, but there is a pho­to­graph that shows them to­gether.

There’s noth­ing the Pales­tini­ans can do about it, and no­body else re­ally cares, not even other Arab states.

He de­nies any me­mory of the photo (in which he had his hand around her naked waist), but he never ac­tu­ally says it was doc­tored. He doesn’t deny meet­ing her, ei­ther, although he says there was never any sex­ual con­tact.

It was all a bit like that in his car-crash in­ter­view last week on the BBC, in which he was go­ing to ‘clear his name’. The best you could say about it is that he didn’t dig the hole he was al­ready in any deeper. And yet it was head­line ‘news’ not only in the UK but else­where. There just wasn’t much else go­ing on over the week­end.

But here’s what could make it a real head­line. There’s a spe­cific date at­tached to one of the oc­ca­sions when Gi­uf­fre says they had sex. The prince says that couldn’t be true, be­cause he took his daugh­ter out to eat at Pizza Ex­press in Wok­ing, in south­ern Eng­land, that evening. (He re­mem­bers it so well be­cause princes of the blood like him don’t nor­mally go to Pizza Ex­press.)

Well, we know that royal princes have 24-hour pro­tec­tion when trav­el­ling, and the se­cu­rity de­tail will have records for where he was, even down to which build­ing, at all times. So if he re­ally wants to clear his name, all he has to do is to pub­lish the se­cu­rity de­tail’s records for that date. That re­ally would be a head­line story — if still a pretty petty one.

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