International Papers

End of Empire?


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The French press was indecently jubilant in its response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rebuff to President Clinton in the Middle East negotiations. “Netanyahu Humiliates Clinton,” shrieked the liberal Libération on its front page, picking out the word “humiliates” in red. The headline on Page 2 was “Netanyahu: The Offense Done to Bill Clinton” and on Page 3, “America Struck by Powerlessness.” An editorial said that “the long premeditated snub inflicted on Clinton by Netanyahu is particularly revealing of the inability of the United States to get itself listened to, even by its closest allies.” Libération said “U.S. imperialism” is no longer what it used to be: “The world’s last Superpower” is “forced every day” to recognize “the relativity” of its power. “This phenomenon of insubordination” is exacerbated by “the relative isolation of President Clinton in his own country,” which enabled Netanyahu to “play Congress openly against the White House,” the editorial went on. “Only a president with a clear vision of the world–a president both convinced and convincing–would have had any chance of imposing himself.”

In similar vein, the conservative Paris paper Le Figaro led its front page Monday with the headline “Netanyahu Defies Clinton.” Next to that story was an editorial titled “American Powerlessness.” This declared that the Israeli prime minister ran no risks when he refused to go to Washington to talk peace, because “the White House is incapable of punishing his insolence as, six months before the midterm congressional elections, Clinton is disarmed.” His Democratic friends in Congress know that to appear to be campaigning against Israel is the surest way to lose the elections, Le Figaro said. “Politically weakened by the interminable inquiry into his escapades, Bill Clinton cannot permit himself to open a new front,” it added.

There was a striking contrast between the attention paid in France to the U.S.-Israel problem and the lack of interest in it in the rest of Europe. Spain, which has its own Basque separatist problem, was far more interested in the vote by Sinn Fein and the IRA to support the Ulster peace agreement, and El País of Madrid devoted a front-page story and its main editorial–titled “An End to All or Nothing”–to the subject Monday. Page 8 in El País did, however, carry a piece from its Washington correspondent saying the United States regards Israel’s “intransigence” as a threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Italian newspapers were still dominated by the political fallout from the mudslide tragedy in southern Italy (95 victims were buried Sunday); and Corriere della Sera of Milan found room only on Page 11 for a story about the “U.S.-Israel friendship in crisis.” La Repubblica of Rome’s angle on the story was fear in the Middle East that the peace negotiations are effectively at an end. “For more than a year it has been customary to say that the peace talks are blocked, paralyzed, in grave danger, moribund,” the paper’s Jerusalem correspondent wrote Monday. “Since yesterday there has been a strong temptation to say that they are dead and not worth talking about any more.”

LaRepubblica also discussed a new report on the Middle East situation by the veteran Jewish-Italian journalist Arrigo Levi, who, after conducting high-level interviews throughout the region, concluded that the loss of all hope by Arafat and the Palestinians could lead to a new “catastrophic” war in which biological and chemical weapons might be used. In one of the interviews, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said, “The forces of extremism are destroying the Israeli-Palestinian partnership.” He was quoted as saying that the window of opportunity created by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the results of the Gulf War is now closing. “To the Israeli Left, which asks us to intervene to save Israel from itself, we answer that it is not for us to intervene,” Indyk reportedly added. “If something is close to your heart, then it is for you to do it, not us.”

In Israel, the front-page lead in the conservative English-language Jerusalem Post said a “yet-to-be-detailed compromise” between Netanyahu and U.S. envoy Dennis Ross makes a Washington summit this month among Netanyahu, Arafat, and Clinton a “near certainty.” But the leading Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, in an op-ed piece by Akiva Eldar, said the U.S. administration is debating only “when to set zero hour” for Netanyahu: after his address in Washington next Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention; or earlier–this week–by summoning him to Birmingham, England, where Clinton is attending the G7 economic summit.

The British press has been dominated for several days by the crisis threatening Foreign Secretary Robin Cook over claims the British Foreign Office secretly encouraged a private company to sell arms to help overthrow the military junta in Sierra Leone, in contravention of U.N. sanctions against that west African nation. “Cook’s job on the line in arms row,” said the conservative Daily Telegraph Monday. In an editorial, the same paper complained about the British government’s reluctance to celebrate “the West’s greatest Cold War victory: the breaking of the Berlin blockade,” which President Clinton is marking with a visit to Germany Tuesday. The airlift, it said, had been “conceived, directed and largely carried out by the Royal Air Force.”

In Hong Kong the South China Morning Post reported on its front page that Indonesia’s anti-riot forces have been ordered “to shoot to cripple rather than kill” in clashes with protestors. Quoting a military manual leaked to the Jakarta Post, the paper said platoon leaders have been authorized to use live ammunition “in self-defense to cripple rioters who are clearly threatening to kill others [or to] cause heavy material damage.” If this doesn’t work, it added, a platoon commander has the authority “to proceed with actions he deems appropriate.”