BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. When President Bush made his stunning Middle East policy speech this week calling, among other things, for the ouster of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat, the response in the European press was predictable. The right of center papers mainly lined up behind the president, and the left swooped in for another assault against American unilateralism. Joining us now is Alice Chasan, editor of the World Press Review. Alice I wanted to discuss the Arab response to the Bush speech, but let's just stay in Europe for a moment. We know about the right of center press. How about the leftist press? Usual complaints? Any new wrinkles?
ALICE CHASAN: The left wing German publications and the left wing British publications, The Independent and The Guardian, were appalled at what they saw as "the death of the so-called 'quartet'" --the quartet being the alliance of the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States in a unified position on mediation in the Middle East, and they regarded Bush's speech as a re-- kind of reflexive return to unilateralism. So Liberation in particular was acerbic in its condemnation of what Bush had to say and r--and described his allusions to a Palestinian state some day as akin to biblical promises of a Promised Land, it was so vague and so lacking in any sort of detail.
BOB GARFIELD:In any of the coverage, in any of the editorials, were there-- was there any self-reflection about the -- well, let--let's talk about the quartet -- about the quartet's peculiar inability to set up any gigs and play for anybody who wants to listen.
ALICE CHASAN: Yes. Commentators of, of all ideological stripes conceded that Europe is weak; Europe is unable to hold a candle to the United States in terms of its influence in the Middle East and therefore is in large part to blame for the United States' unilateral action, but the other side of that coin is that many of these commentators quickly move to -- into attack mode -- against the United States' ability to just walk roughshod over its, its allies, even if it ultimately jeopardizes the anti-terror coalition that the Bush administration has worked so assiduously to form and maintain.
BOB GARFIELD:All right. Now if the reaction was negative in the preponderance of the European press, I have to imagine that it was even moreso in the Arab press. What, what have you read?
ALICE CHASAN: In publications from the region itself -- that is Palestinian publications being published in Jerusalem, the 3 main dailies -- Al-Ayyam, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, and Al Quds -- were pretty much parroting the line that Arafat himself took and Arafat's minions -- just as the publications in Egypt that are the so-called "semi-official" publications like Al-Ahram were parroting the position that Mubarak too, namely to stress the positive in the speech. It's interesting. It's not exactly what you might expect. It's a bit counter-intuitive, but just as Mubarak and Arafat themselves claim to have heard in the speech only a call for an improved Palestinian governance and a declaration on the part of Bush of sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people, many other publications throughout the region, in Jordan, in Lebanon, were very, very stinging in, in their criticism of the Bush plan. But surprisingly for Egypt as I said and from the Palestinian Authority itself there wasn't that kind of attack that one might have expected. In fact many of the European critiques were far more extensive and thorough.
BOB GARFIELD:The Palestinian press outside of Palestine have been critical in the past of cronyism, corruption, anti-democratic behavior by the, the Palestinian Authority. How did they react to the call for Arafat's ouster?
ALICE CHASAN: Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the Palestinian nationalist publication based in London endorsed it and said that they had been calling for his ouster for a long time and they welcomed the fact that the rest of the world might now focus on his failings as a leader and his repressive regime. On the other hand, they lash out at what the consider to be the United States' presumption to dictate anything to the Palestinian people, so there is this odd disjunction in their response.
BOB GARFIELD:There was a very cunning turn of phrase in the president's speech in which he described the Palestinians as "pawns," and not pawns of Israeli repression but pawns of their own leadership within Palestine and elsewhere in the a--Arab world. Did anyone in the Arab press comment on that and give a - you know -a grudging nod that - yeah! It's true!
ALICE CHASAN: Depending up on the distance of the publication from leadership in the region itself, i.e., among these expatriate publications, there was a good deal of criticism of Arafat himself, but very little from the Palestinian Authority itself or Egypt or Jordan or Lebanon and of course there is no free press in Syria.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Alice Chasan, thank you very much.
ALICE CHASAN: You're very welcome. Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Alice Chasan is editor of the World Press Review. [MUSIC]
"Mendelssohn's Octet in E flat, Op. 20"
by Academy Chamber Ensemble