Accessibility links

Western Press Review: France's Political 'Earthquake,' Investigating Jenin

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 24 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at the aftershocks of France's political "earthquake," the limitations of the so-called "Bush doctrine" on terrorism, discovering what took place at the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin, and Russian economic reform.


An editorial in "The New York Times" today, reprinted in the "International Herald Tribune," calls France's presidential election outcome "a reproach to the political establishment and a national humiliation." Far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen came out ahead of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and will now face President Jacques Chirac in a runoff on 5 May. "Weary of the erosion of their country as a cultural and political power, French voters stayed home in record numbers.... [President] Chirac's 20 percent was the lowest tally ever recorded in the Fifth Republic by a first-round winner."

The paper says Le Pen has "long peddled an odiously xenophobic message, laced with anti-Semitic overtones." His National Front party's "surprising showing [suggests] that there is a firmer core of hard-right sentiment than was previously suspected." The political right "capitalized on voters' insecurity about immigration, mostly Arab, and the loss of French sovereignty at the hands of American popular culture and Europe's economic integration."

"The New York Times" says it can only be hoped that the presidential election results "will serve to rouse French voters from their apathy and prod the country's mainstream political parties to find ways to reconnect with voters."


In the "International Herald Tribune," Yale professor David Bromwich discusses the so-called "Bush doctrine" -- the assertion, made by U.S. President George W. Bush, that if one commits terrorist acts, or harbors, assists, or funds terrorists, he will be considered a terrorist and an enemy in the war on terrorism. But Bromwich says this doctrine's sweeping generalization of the world into either "enemies" or "allies" fails to adequately distinguish the ambiguities at work in the world.

"Suppose I am a Palestinian today in one of the refugee camps. I live in the shadow of a well-known faction that is taken to represent me. I have reason to fear the members of this faction. Against them, I see nothing but an invading army reducing to rubble the entire structure of my society. [If] I neither say nor do anything about terrorism, am I to be accounted morally identical with the most savage of the terrorists?"

Bromwich says the Bush doctrine's characterization of all enemies with one word -- "evil" -- illustrates its deficiency. What of those "who look on and say nothing?" Bromwich asks. Such people may be aware of what is going on around them but do not risk their lives to stop it. "These are ordinary people, with an ordinary mixture of weakness and self-protectiveness," he says. "You cannot call them evil without dismissing at a single stroke a large portion of the human race."


Stefan Kornelius, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," looks at the propaganda factor of the emerging evidence of human rights abuses by Israeli forces at the West Bank refugee camp at Jenin. He says there have been plenty of terrible images in the media, but it is still "questionable whether these reports are actually true."

Kornelius goes on to say Israel has lost considerable international sympathy as a result of the Jenin allegations, and thus the Israelis have permitted a UN fact-finding mission -- the term "investigation" has been purposefully avoided, as some feel it implies wrongdoing. This in itself, says the commentary, "is remarkable." For the first time, the Israeli government is allowing a neutral party to look into the matter, although the Israelis immediately condemned the UN and its premature criticisms of Israeli actions.

Kornelius says even the mediation of a third party will not clarify which side is to blame -- be it Israel, considered a democratic state, or the Palestinians, whose cause is often overshadowed by suicide attacks by radicals on innocent civilians. Kornelius says sympathies and emotions are being cynically exploited in this conflict, and there are few possibilities to appease the public in Europe and the U.S., where emotions are running high.

However, it is gratifying to see that the investigation into the incidents in Jenin and at the Bethlehem Nativity Church are leading to a phase of de-escalation. He says high-minded mediators should make the most of this opportunity to move toward calming the situation in the Middle East.


In Britain's "The Guardian," the daily's Brian Whitaker looks at allegations concerning what took place at the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin. He says there are two "very disturbing allegations" about the operation in Jenin. The first, he says, is that Israel failed to take "reasonable steps to protect civilians at the refugee camp." The Israeli army "were perfectly aware that they were attacking a densely populated area containing thousands of civilians" in its search for a few dozen terrorists. Whitaker says it was therefore up to the army to take steps to protect civilians, "but preliminary evidence indicates that they failed to do so."

The second allegations is of "systematic criminality," Whitaker says. Even after the battle at Jenin, Israel "willfully prevented humanitarian access to the camp, including attempts to save the injured and dying," according to both the Red Cross and Amnesty International.

Whitaker notes that a UN Security Council resolution will now allow a fact-finding mission into the camp. But he says the UN team will be trying to uncover the facts "without any legal powers whatsoever. It cannot subpoena witnesses or order anyone to hand over evidence." He says there is nothing in the UN resolution to suggest that whatever it discovers will necessarily be made public. "The Israeli government, meanwhile, insists that it has nothing to hide. If that is the case, then why try to prevent the world from discovering its innocence?"


In France's daily "Le Monde," an editorial comment titled "Humiliation" discusses the surprise upset in the French presidential elections last Sunday (21 April). "Le Monde" says that "rarely has the discredit which now affects France been so universal." Rarely, too, "has the image of France abroad been so dishonored," it says. The election results also will have diplomatic and economic consequences, says the paper, noting that French stocks took a dive on Wall Street on 22 April.

"Le Monde" says the international condemnations of the surprisingly strong showing of Jean-Marie Le Pen's right-wing National Front are all the more vehement because France has criticized other nations along the same lines. France condemned the entrance of hard-right politician Joerg Haider's Freedom Party into the Austrian government, France similarly invoked the "fascist dangers" of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Italy, and referred to U.S. President George W. Bush as "simplistic."

"Reality is cruel," says "Le Monde." Faced with the fear of immigration and globalization, and perceptions of rising crime, the paper says, "There was no French model." The French voted just as those who voted in Austria for Haider or in Italy for Berlusconi. "There is no French exception," the paper laments.

"Le Monde" says the presidential vote confirms one aspect of the French image abroad: the image "of an arrogance that produces a disparity between French speech and French reality."


In an editorial in "The Washington Post," columnist Masha Lipman says that while Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for speeding up the pace of Russian reforms, he has not acknowledged the degree to which his own policies have contributed to the problem.

"Russia's government bureaucracy is indeed badly organized and lacking in initiative and commitment," she says. But it was Putin who staffed his government with what Lipman calls "mediocrities," people without a record of achievement whose only "merit" was their loyalty and their St. Petersburg origins. Putin himself hails from St. Petersburg.

Lipman says Putin also "condemns corruption and rightly attributes it to the restriction of economic freedoms. [Yet] it was Putin who inspired the use of the prosecutor's office for intimidation rather than regular prosecution...."

Lipman goes on to say that, ironically, Putin criticized his own administration for not being "transparent," for being closed to the public. But he is responsible for much of the Kremlin's secrecy today. Putin's government "put an end to the practice of public press briefings in the Kremlin."

Lipman says Russia's decades of communism "established the idea that nothing depends on the individual, and so all effort is meaningless. Putin may pride himself on his sky-high popularity, but he must also take the blame for lulling his nation further into passivity and inaction. And without active public involvement, no reform course will ever succeed," she says.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" discusses European immigration policy, in light of the rise of right-wing candidates throughout Europe whose popularity, many feel, is bolstered by fears of rising immigration.

"From Denmark in the north to Italy in the south, populist parties have been winning parliamentary representation, playing on fears of unregulated immigration and rising crime. Their success challenges traditional parties of the center-right and center-left to find new ways of confronting social strains without pandering to the prejudices of the extremists."

The paper says that, in fact, "Europe desperately needs immigrants. The European Union is short of skilled workers and -- in some countries -- unskilled workers. The population is aging and is set to drop, leaving a gap between rising pension bills and falling tax takes. Immigrants could help plug the gap." The paper says "a proper immigration policy, such as those of the U.S., Canada, and other countries eager to attract new talent, is needed to provide a legitimate entry point.... [With] the EU's internal borders vanishing, that policy can be decided only at the European level."

It will then be up to the member states to integrate these new arrivals into their national cultures. The paper says mainstream political parties must address the immigration issue seriously, "if European values are not to be eroded by growing intolerance."


In "The Washington Post," staff writer Walter Pincus discusses videotapes allegedly released by suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, including one that aired earlier this week (22 April). Pincus says analysts seem to agree that the tapes were shot sometime before December.

Pincus suggests that bin Laden's failure to appear on videotapes recorded since then "may indicate the Al-Qaeda leader is dead, sick, or on the run, but senior intelligence analysts [also] suggested it also could be part of a strategy to make his reappearance more dramatic when timed to another terrorist attack."

But the intelligence community "is also weighing other possible reasons [why] bin Laden has failed to make and distribute a new videotape," he says. Pincus cites a senior U.S. administration official as saying that intelligence analysts believe the tapes were released "in an effort to boost morale among his [bin Laden's] followers and to capitalize on the Palestine-Israeli crisis." But he added that the videotapes have provided little information and no insight into bin Laden's recent whereabouts.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)