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Western Press Review: Washington Hosts High-Risk Mideast Summit

  • Don Hill



Prague, 1 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton stage manages today an emergency summit on the Middle East seeking to counter a rash of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has broken out in recent days. Western press commentary concentrates on today's meeting and on events in Palestine.

WASHINGTON POST: Summit success would bring a renewed political dialogue

In a news analysis published today, Michael Dobbs and John F. Harris write: "After brushing aside last-minute Arab appeals for a delay, President Clinton (today) convenes an emergency summit meeting of Arab and Israeli leaders designed to break a new cycle of violence that threatens to wreck five years of tortuous Middle East peace negotiations."

The writers say: "With Arab and Israeli leaders digging themselves into mutually exclusive diplomatic positions, Clinton Administration spokesmen attempted to lower expectations for the meeting here. They said they would consider the summit a success if it halted the drift toward further violence and renewed the political dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The trampling of symbols of Arab identity was calculated

The paper yesterday published a commentary by Katharina Sperber. She wrote: "No one wants to be dealt the bad card, but it is being passed around the Middle East. The card was deliberately introduced into this bitter game by Israel's nationalist-religious Likud government, and in the last few days it has been in Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's hands. But no one knows who will be left holding the bad card or how this fight over life and death will end, probably not even the players themselves.

"Yet it would be wrong to believe that Israel's Premier Benjamin Netanyahu simply acted like a bull in a china shop by deciding to open the tunnel in Jerusalem's old town. The trampling of religious feelings and symbols of Arab identity was calculated. It was a test of how far he could push the Palestinians without their defending themselves."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Cooperation has been mowed down by reciprocal crossfire

In an editorial today signed by Josef Joffe, the paper says: "Yasser Arafat instigated the three-day war; Benjamin Netanyahu gave him reasons aplenty for it. So it is logical that the two principals want to meet at last. For it is up to them to rescue what is left of the peace process after the first trial of strength, and that is not much. What functioned so well for months -- with cooperation between the security services which could almost be called miraculous -- has been mown down in reciprocal crossfire."

The editorial says: "This is the hour of truth. Both sides must measure carefully just how far they have slid into the abyss already. It is doubtful that Arafat, who has made his own decisions high-handedly for decades, is going to listen to his wisest advisers. It is public knowledge now that Netanyahu scorns such advice."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Palestinian war option has expired

Columnist A. M. Rosenthal comments today: "Palestinians can choose between war against Israel or peace talks with Israel. They no longer can have both. Unless they learn that at the Washington conference called by President Clinton, the meeting will be simply a step toward one more Mideast disaster.

"For the Palestinians, the use of the war option was a great success -- this time. They got immediate international support for their attacks on Israelis plus instant international condemnation of Israel for being in the way of Palestinian police bullets.

"The Clinton administration did not lead the pack but sent signals of displeasure with Israel. Clinton has called an Arab-Israeli conference in Washington for (today). Now it is his chance and responsibility to make the meeting worthwhile by clarifying reality for Palestinians -- Their war option has expired."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Netanyahu should meet frequently with Arafat

American magazine writer Amy Wilentz, who lives in Jerusalem, comments today: "Force is the one thing Israel thinks it knows how to respond to... So it is not easy to put the squeeze on the Israelis by attacking -- especially if you are the notoriously short-staffed, ill-trained Palestinian Authority security forces, an army with no country, supplied with weapons by the Israelis themselves and platooned -- no, marooned -- in little islands of autonomy created and surrounded by Israel. There are no Gandhian philosophers in the Israel Defense Forces, no cheek turners."

She writes: "Although Netanyahu talks with the voice of the ultras, he ought not to forget he is the prime minister of all Israelis," and goes on: "If Netanyahu really wants to end the violence, there are a few simple steps he can take. He should redeploy from Hebron, in accord with the Oslo agreements signed by the Israelis. He should ease the closure of the borders. He should stop new construction of settlements. He should publicly consider closing up the tunnel opening that ostensibly caused the uproar -- even if everyone agrees privately that it's not the real problem. And he should meet frequently with Arafat and reconvene the team he has set up to continue the peace talks. Or he should do at least one of these things."

NEW YORK TIMES: This crisis could be a springboard to peace

An editorial in yesterday's edition says: "Given Benjamin Netanyahu's uneasy relationship with the Clinton administration, traveling to Washington this week was probably not the Israeli prime minister's preferred method of dealing with the crisis in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. That he agreed to join Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, King Hussein of Jordan and possibly President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (Mubarak has since declined, sending his foreign minister instead) in Washington suggests that Netanyahu appreciates the need for intense diplomacy and some flexibility to save a tattered peace.

The editorial concludes: "Both sides need to come away from Washington assured that firefights like last week's will not happen again. Some understanding on how Israel intends to thin out its military presence in the West Bank city of Hebron should also be worked out. The agreement to come to Washington is a good sign. Now Netanyahu and Arafat must make something of the opportunity. It is not too late to use this crisis as a springboard to peace."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The Clinton administration was caught without a plan

Columnist George Melloan comments today: "While Bill Clinton was in Boston Saturday boasting of his strong presidency, his United Nations ambassador was providing a more realistic display of administration decisiveness. On an important Security Council vote chastising Israel for the bloodshed in Palestine, Madeleine K. Albright abstained. Mr. Clinton either was too busy campaigning to make up his mind or was unable to, or was too weak a leader to buck the usual anti-Israeli tide."

Melloan concludes, "The Clinton Administration once more was caught without any organized plan for rallying its allies around a principled stand on the rights and wrongs of a difficult situation."
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