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Press Review: Gorbachev, Mid-East Terror

  • Michael Gallant

Prague, March 4 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary focuses today on Mikhail Gorbachev's intention to run in the June presidential elections in Russia and yesterday's suicide bombing in Israel and its effects on the peace process with the PLO.

The New York Times says today in an editorial that Gorbachev "in a bout of pride, is prepared to run for president if democrats cannot unite behind another candidate. That is a venture that could end disastrously for Gorbachev. His popularity is painfully low, and the prospects for an election surge seem remote. Humility has never been one of Gorbachev's strong suits, and his arrogance would not play well in a campaign."

The New York Times editorial continues: "A Gorbachev candidacy could not help but further divide the democratic vote, making it all the easier for Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist, to face one another in a runoff election. Gorbachev's place in world history is secure. If he runs for president, he is only likely to suffer humiliation and give Russia another nudge away from reform. It is hard to see why he would want to risk either result."

Sophie Shihab writes today in a news analysis in the French newspaper Le Monde that Gorbachev "is going against all the polls that give him less than one percent (of support in public opinion polls). He lost the support of Russian democrats long before he lost his place as head of the USSR and he never recovered the support of the nostalgics who reproached him for the collapse of the Soviet Union. For people in general his image is associated with reminders of empty stores at the end of his mandate."

Shihab continues: "It is terrible to see how a man who is used to a place where everyone is looking at him has lost the understanding of the political reality in his country."

Neela Banerjee says today in a news analysis in the Wall Street Journal Europe that "people close to him (Gorbachev) say he thinks winning the presidency is a long shot. All he really wants, they say, is to be heard. A presidential campaign would give Mr. Gorbachev a second chance to convince his countrymen that he isn't the evil incarnate that they remember him as."

Banerjee continues: "No one gives Mr. Gorbachev even a slim chance of winning, and the latest public opinion polls show that only 0.5 percent to one percent of those surveyed support him....Mr. Gorbachev claims polls are misleading and that in many Russian cities he has visited lately, he has spoken to packed auditoriums. But on the streets of Moscow, arguably Russia's most-forward looking city, few want to go back to another Gorbachev era...Despite the odds, Mr. Gorbachev will run because, his friends said, he feels "a moral obligation."

Inga Saffron, writing Saturday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, said Gorbachev's "chances of winning are put at zero. Some even doubt he can collect the million signatures needed to get on the ballot....Gorbachev has been relegated to the dustheap of history in his native land. Only a single Moscow newspaper --a weekly at that -- even mentioned Friday that Gorbachev would be making a near-declaration of his candidacy."

A news commentary today in the German economic newspaper Handelsblatt says "the image of a tragic figure follows the man who had to quit the political arena after the collapse of the USSR. He feels it is unfair to say that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the crisis of Russia is his fault. He thinks he should be respected for his historic role in breaking down the Soviet Communist system. He doesn't want to give up the moral credit. That is why he wants to run in June. But his bitterness is a bad consoler."

The Handelsblatt commentary continues: "Without any program potential electors do not know what he is fighting for today. He just wants to stay on the scene and try to attract the interest of the media. He doesn't want to accept just staying a legend."

Anthony Lewis of the New York Times writes a news commentary today after a suicide bomb attack killed 19 people yesterday in Jerusalem. The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

Lewis says, "the bombs of Hamas on successive Sundays have erased the lead of Prime Minister Shimon Peres and the Labor Party in the polls. . . . But the bombs did more than boost the prospects of the right-wing opposition. They sapped the belief of Israelis who supported the peace process: the belief that, in Arafat and his Palestinian authority, Israel had a partner on whom it could rely in constructing a secure coexistence."

Lewis continues: "Arafat has temporized in his dealings with Hamas because he fears polarizing his society. He has hoped to move Hamas from terror to the politics of the new Palestinian entity. But he has no choice now. If he does not act to demonstrate that he is a reliable partner, the Likud will probably form the next government of Israel. Instead of moving ahead with negotiations that were leading toward a Palestinian state, Arafat will be frozen in his role as the ruler of Gaza and some isolated Palestinian towns dotting the West Bank."

An editorial in today's British newspaper the Guardian says that "whether or not there are more bombs, both the peace process and the chance of Labour's reelection are now in grave risk. . . . Yasser Arafat is now caught between the hammer of Hamas and the Israeli anvil - a position he has desperately tried to avoid. Whether he could have done more is a matter for debate: in all probability, if he had adopted tougher measures before towards Hamas, they would simply have raised the stakes earlier."

The editorial continues: "In fact, Israel never delegated complete responsibility for dealing with Hamas and the other militant groups to Mr. Arafat, only asking him to 'do his part.' The situation is now made worse by the Israeli cabinet's decision to authorize the army to engage 'sources of Hamas activity' wherever it may think fit. This implies free license to take reprisal action in towns already under the control of Mr. Arafat's Palestinian authority -- providing fresh ammunition for Hamas."

In a commentary in Saturday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Josef Joffe writes that "the Israelis cannot talk to people prepared to commit mass murder. Particularly not when Yasser Arafat, for whom Hamas is a bothersome political rival, would suffer as a result. Arafat is still the man with whom Israel has to build peace. Hamas is a disruptive factor trying to achieve with terror what it lacks in political weight. But this will not stop the Israelis from increasing the pressure on Arafat: if he fails to neutralize the terror, the .... this threat does not have to be issued twice."

The British newspaper The Independent writes in an editorial today: "it is not easy to take a long-term view when confronted with the evidence of three suicide bombs in Israel in one week. But that is exactly what the Israelis and Palestinians need to do if they are to avoid destroying the achievements of peace so far....But both sides must take care in their response to avoid allowing the militants to derail the peace process altogether. "The Independent continues: "Arafat's first response from the West Bank and Gaza Strip is also welcome. For the first time, the Palestinian president has outlawed the military wings of Islamic movements in the areas he controls. He needs now to convince the Israelis that he is serious in his promise to take tough action against Islamic militants. Attempting to marginalize the extremists within Hamas --as he has done in the past --is no longer sufficient.

The editorial concludes: "In three months' time, Israelis go to the polls. The chances of victory by Mr. Peres, who has kept the peace process going after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, now look increasingly slim. If the Likud party were to win, it would do much to damage the fragile achievements of peace so far....The sensible strategy for the Israeli government is to continue with the Oslo accord. But progress in the course of this year will depend first on whether the Israeli people have the strength and maturity to avoid voting for revenge."