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
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
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
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
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."