BOB GARFIELD: If the Israeli press focus mostly on the plight of the evicted settlers and the future of their state, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that the Arab press has cast its attention elsewhere. Michael Young is an opinion columnist for The Daily Star of Lebanon and has monitored outlets throughout the entire region. He joins us now from Beirut. Michael, welcome to OTM.
MICHAEL YOUNG: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's start with your own paper. You've described Daily Star columnist Rami Khoury as, in your words, "unmoved by the settlers' plight."
MICHAEL YOUNG: Rami, who is incidentally originally Palestinian, so I might as well just quote him, as he put it: "Press depictions of the Gaza settlers' emotional pain at being sent back to Israel lack both credibility and relevance," as he put it, "forcing a thief to stop stealing is not an act that should be depicted as inflicting pain on the criminal, but rather as forcing the criminal to abide by the law." So rather tough words, and in a sense reflective of a widespread view in the Arab press in the Middle East that the settlers who were removed, in a way their fate reflected the fate of the Palestinians half a century ago.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, if the Arab press is not focusing on the emotional drama, what is it focusing on?
MICHAEL YOUNG: By and large, the Arab presses look at the politics of what has happened. And the general consensus in the Arab press has been that this is basically a plan by Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government to pull out of Gaza, to essentially get rid of about 1.5 million Palestinians, to get that demographic headache out of the way and, in a sense, to put the rest of the peace process in deep freeze so that Israel won't have to make any further concessions in the West Bank, or minimal concessions. So that's the general view in the Arab press. And to a certain extent that has also been reflected in Israeli commentary quite a bit, as well.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael, it's easy to understand why the Arab world would be suspicious of Sharon's motives in pulling out of Gaza, but considering the violent display of emotion within Israel and Gaza about the pullout, is there no sentiment reflected in the Arab press that maybe this is actually genuine progress?
MICHAEL YOUNG: Sure. Initially it was essentially regarded as a ploy. In the last few days, the mood in the Arab media has been much more, I think, nuanced than it was a few months ago. And the reason for that suddenly is that the different parties to the conflict realize that there are different stakes involved in the Gaza withdrawal, and that indeed they can take advantage of it for political reasons.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about the pan Arab satellite channels. How have they portrayed the events of the past week?
MICHAEL YOUNG: It's been a satellite story in the sense that even in Lebanon, for example, yesterday the television station of Hizbollah, the Al Manar, made a point of having live feed from there with their correspondents speaking to different people. This is obviously, at least from Hizbollah's angle, a victory that should be taken advantage of. Hizbollah is obviously close to the Hamas movement, and they want to show that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in a way was very similar to the one from South Lebanon in 2000, that this was the fruit of militancy, of resistance. On the other hand, the other satellite stations, I mean, Al-Arabiya, for example, which tends to be much more center of the road, has been less blatant politically in its coverage.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me what the spin is from the Hamas media operation. I think people in the States think of Hamas strictly as a terrorist organization, but obviously it has become a very substantial political institution. And it has an enormous media presence.
MICHAEL YOUNG: Sure. Hamas is a monument to subtlety when it comes to its rhetoric. It always tends to mix very fierce rhetoric with a certain willingness to accept political reality. For example, there was an interview published with the London based Saudi newspaper, Al-Sharq Al Awsat, in which one of the senior Hamas officials said, and I quote, "The resistance must move to the West Bank to drive out the occupation. We will not take the Gaza Strip and flee to a state of calm and tranquility, while the Zionist enemy continues to detain thousands of our sons, and while it occupies the West Bank." So that was a very, very tough statement. On the other hand, there have been indications that Hamas will continue the truce and that it will very probably do so so as to consolidate its power in liberated Gaza. I suspect also because it does not really want at this stage to enter into a conflict with the Palestinian authority. And I think the different Palestinian parties want to avoid entering into effectively a civil war because they feel --and indeed the Israelis to a certain extent made clear that this was their intention --they feel that the Israeli ploy was to let the Palestinian authority and the Islamists fight over Gaza.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Well, Michael, thank you so much.
MICHAEL YOUNG: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael Young is Opinion Page editor and columnist for The Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon. (MUSIC: CHIME-LIKE TONES)