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Western Press Review: A U.S. Hand in the Mideast

  • Don Hill

PRAGUE, 8 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary this week turns toward renewed tensions in the Mideast and renewed attention to the region by the U.S. government.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The U.S. shifts course to more involvement

David Cloud wrote in a news analysis yesterday that a U.S. initiative is a change in course for President Bill Clinton. Cloud said: "A week after the bloody suicide bombings in Jerusalem, President Clinton has switched course and approved a U.S. initiative that attempts to speed up negotiations on a permanent peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians." The analysis says: "The United States is asking for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to begin talks on some of the most contentious issues, such as the status of Jerusalem and the self-rule arrangements for the Palestinian-controlled territories.

"Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has avoided the shuttle diplomacy that so frustrated her predecessors, said Wednesday she would make her first Mideast mission later this month if U.S. envoy Dennis Ross makes headway on security issues when he visits the region this week."

Cloud went on: "But U.S. officials caution that acceleration of the so-called final-status talks can occur only if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat takes concrete steps in coming days to contain terrorists and cooperate with Israeli security forces." He wrote: "The difficulty of the U.S. approach is that Albright will have to decide, based only on Arafat's actions in the next few weeks, whether to go forward with her trip to the region."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Has Albright's hesitation been worth it?

Kurt Kister, commenting today says Albright has been waiting for the right moment to intervene in the Mideast. This must be it, he suggests, because it may well be the last moment. He writes: "The announcement by (Albright) that she wanted to travel to the Middle East at the end of August comes just at the right time. Since the bomb attack in Jerusalem last week, communication between Israelis and Palestinians has consisted merely of accusations and threats."

Kister says: "Albright has been waiting for the 'right moment' before setting off for her first Middle East trip. She has been hoping that her mission would result in significant progress -- such as the real beginning of negotiations over the status of Jerusalem and the placing of borders.

"But those hopes have been dashed. The 'right moment' either has been blown to smithereens or has been flattened under the tracks of bulldozers. Now the hope is that the strongest mediator, the United States, will be able to pull something out of the wreckage."

WASHINGTON POST: Albright falters in policy breakthrough attempt

An editorial yesterday says that Albright, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, almost -- but not quite -- offered an effective advance in U.S. Mideast policy. The Post said: "Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state, came up to the brink of a policy breakthrough in her first major speech on the Middle East Wednesday, and faltered. As a result, the prospects of escaping the current mutual 'crisis of confidence' between Israelis and Palestinians remain more clouded than they have to be.

"The secretary was on the mark in demanding, with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat put 100 percent effort into deterring and punishing terrorism. She repudiated the cynical Palestinian tactic of conditioning security cooperation with the Israelis on Israeli political concessions. Mrs. Albright went on to make the necessary and now-familiar American follow-on demand that Israel stop acting unilaterally to preempt issues meant to be bargained."

"At this point in her Press Club speech, Mrs. Albright seemed to be reaching for new ground." The editorial said: "But she stopped there, leaving unfilled and unexamined a longtime void in American policy: the reluctance of the United States to state its own view of what the object of the negotiation ought to be. Everyone knows the Israeli goal: It's a secure peace, and of course the United States supports it. Everyone also knows the Palestinian goal: It's statehood, and the United States hesitates to support it."

It concluded: "For the United States not to recognize this Palestinian claim is to encourage the Israeli government to stick to an annexationist, no-state position. Instead, the State Department's most frequent Middle East flyer, Dennis Ross, is to go out to the region this week to deal primarily with security issues. With 'some progress' on these issues, Mrs. Albright herself may go by the end of the month. But what further policy will she take with her?"

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Identity of the suicide bombers remains a mystery

Barbara Demick writes toady in a news analysis that the difficulty in identifying the perpetrators of the latest bombing in a Jerusalem marketplace could indicate that the terrorist came from outside Palestine. She says: "Eight days after they blew themselves up in a crowded Jerusalem market, the identity of the two suicide bombers remained a mystery (yesterday), increasingly raising the possibility that they came to Israel from abroad. If so, it could signal a switch by terrorists to more sophisticated tactics in their attacks against Israel. In the past, the successful suicide bombings here were attributed to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza."

She says: "It is unusual, although not unprecedented, for Israeli authorities to have so little information on the perpetrators so many days after a major attack. It is in the Palestinians' interest to claim the bombers were from abroad -- not from Gaza or the West Bank, where Palestinians bear a large responsibility for maintaining security."

NEW YORK TIMES: Israel should ease imposed siege on the Palestinian Authority

A news analysis by Douglas Jehl said that international pressure was mounting on Israel to ease up on its punitive reaction to the bombing. Jehl wrote: "Israel came under international pressure on Tuesday to ease the siege it has imposed on the Palestinian Authority in the six days since a suicide bombing attack reinforced Israeli concerns that the Palestinians have done too little to root out terrorism. As world leaders began a quest for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, top Arab and Western officials joined in suggesting that Israel may have demanded too much of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. His government is reeling from the harsh measures that Israel has ordered."