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Western Press Review: The Mideast Summit--Miscarriage Or New Beginning?

  • Don Hill



Prague, 4 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton's intervention in the rising tension between Israel and the Palestinians left him like -- said the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" -- "a midwife at a miscarriage." Other Western commentary gives this week's emergency Mideast summit in Washington mixed, and wary, reviews.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: If summit success were measured by the length of a handshake, Clinton can be proud

An editorial signed by Josef Joffe in today's edition says: "If success at the Washington summit were measured by the length of the handshake between adversaries Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton could be proud. Otherwise it was a medium-size disaster for the president. Neither of the two gave way; the third -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak -- didn't even honour Clinton with his presence."

The editorial says: "The only plus-point that Clinton can lay claim to is the long handshake between Netanyahu and Arafat. Certainly it was a symbolic gesture."

And concludes: "If he is not blind and deaf, the Israeli premier will have realized that he has run out of cards on the time factor. Arafat has flexed his muscles, but he also had to find out that playing the violence card is no good. (The summit) provided the stage on which the two, far away from home, could extend their hands to each other without risk. Now negotiations can and must seriously get under way."

WASHINGTON POST: The Mideast peace talks were a disaster

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "The Middle East peace talks that President Clinton organized at the White House were a disaster -- no agreement except to open 'continuous' working-level talks on Sunday in the area, starting with the Hebron issue."

The Post contended: "It appears that Clinton stuck to his insistence on trying to bring the parties together but applying no pressure. He does not seem to have offered any strong ideas of his own on how to repair the damage done by Israel's opening of an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem last week and the Palestinians' violent reaction to it. One factor in his airiness was no doubt a belief that the parties should see their own interest in negotiating. It looks like another was not to be seen putting pressure on Israel in an election year."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Clinton has controlled the national agenda for most of the week

Political columnists Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover commented today: "The Republicans may be huffing and puffing about what (opposition presidential candidate) Bob Dole calls President Clinton's 'photo-op foreign policy.' But they are kidding themselves if they think there is any political gold for them in the continued deadlock between the Israelis and Palestinians. The White House clearly oversold the notion that the president was taking some great risk."

The columnists wrote: "The bottom line politically on the Middle East summit (is that) Clinton has controlled the national agenda for most of the week."

They concluded: "(Dole) needs to change the dynamics of (his) campaign (for the U.S. presidency) in a hurry, and he won't do it by taking shots at Clinton on foreign policy. The president didn't score any ten strike with his White House summit, but there's no reason to think the voters care one way or the other."

PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: The peace conference was a well-meaning failure

Washington columnist Sandy Grady commented yesterday: "Bill Clinton was like a sunny kindergarten teacher nudging bashful children to speak up at show-and-tell time. Don't be shy, kids.

"Nobody was talking.

"The three tough, mute men on the stage glowered stonily as if they were accused felons in a police lineup. Their silence bristled from a mix of bad blood, old hatreds and suspicions.

"Nobody trusted nobody.

"Maybe it was a minor triumph that Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestine's Yasser Arafat and Jordan's King Hussein were sitting side by side at the White House on Clinton's therapeutic couch.

"Very minor.

"And sure, when more than 70 people were killed in vicious fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, it's a small bonus if Netanyahu and Arafat can meet without anger exploding.

"Very small.

"So what do you call a quickie Middle East peace conference that produces ritual handshakes but no real peace?

"Bluntly, a well-meaning failure."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: It was in Clinton's best interest to declare the meeting a partial success

The paper said in an editorial: "There was good news and bad news from the hastily called, hastily concluded summit in Washington aimed at (revitalizing) the moribund Middle East peace process. But mostly, there was predictable news. That Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat could not solve the enormous differences between their two peoples in a day and a half of discussions should not have surprised anyone.

"(There was) political risk in calling the leaders to Washington after the violence that claimed 73 Palestinian and Israeli lives in a few frightening days last week. Naturally, it was in (Clinton's) best interest to declare the meeting a partial success. But, in many ways, he was right."

The editorial says: "The focus now rightly shifts back to the Middle East, where the hard work of reconciliation has to replace Palestinian stone-throwing, and the stonewalling that has characterized Netanyahu's first months in office."

LONDON GUARDIAN: One side calls the summit a success, while the other says it has failed

In an editorial today, the paper says: "A summit conference which concludes with one side, Israel, hailing it a success and the other side, the Palestinians, lamenting that it has failed, is founded in ambiguity."

The newspaper contends: "Benjamin Netanyahu rejected all of Yasser Arafat's priority demands from setting a date to withdraw Israeli forces out of Hebron to closing the infamous archeological tunnel in East Jerusalem. It is a sign of Mr. Arafat's weakness that he still gave the Israeli prime minister what he needed -- a commitment to resume negotiations which implies that Palestinian anger will be kept under restraint."

The Guardian says: "One bright (sign) was the huge rally on Tuesday night organized by Peace Now in Tel Aviv, and the sober criticism widely voiced in the Israeli press against the willful immaturity of Mr. Netanyahu. Expectations must now be low -- (merely) getting through to the resumption of talks."
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