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Western Press Review: Small Progress in Mideast

  • Don Hill

PRAGUE, 12 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Some Western press commentary examines the tangled politics of the Mideast and the sparse success of a U.S.-led peace mission there.

WASHINGTON POST: US should take a broader approach the Middle East

Columnist Jim Hoagland worried in the Sunday edition that the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton takes an oversimplified view of the region. Hoagland wrote: "President Clinton works the Middle East as a binary problem of Israelis and Palestinians. But the Middle East is a treacherous mixture of algebra and geometry, not arithmetic: Hidden factors, tenebrous (murky) equations and whiplash angles thwart the best of intentions. The August crisis in the region shows the administration falling behind the curve of events after four years of sure-footed if uncommanding performance in the peace process. The Arab-Israeli front is not the Middle East's only front. To forget or ignore the region's murderous nexus is to invite punishment."

He said: "For example, Albright rightly condemned Yasser Arafat for turning Palestinian security cooperation on and off to blackmail Netanyahu into further movement on peace. But the administration did not seem to understand or react decisively to Arafat's perfidy as the sign of desperation and the new ascendancy of Arab radicalism that it was as it was happening.

"Is it Arafat's nature, or the desperation of his circumstances, that drives him to undermine the peace process by putting Israeli lives at risk as a form of diplomatic blackmail? It is both -- just as Netanyahu is compelled by temperament and by the Hamas bombs in Jerusalem's market to stop taking risks and crack the whip instead."

Hoagland concluded: "Middle Easterners have to play all the angles all the time. So does Clinton if he is to establish and protect a positive legacy in the region."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: All sides have overplayed their hands.

An editorial today says everyone involved in the present Mideast crisis appears to have overreached. The U.S. newspaper says: "At present, it appears that all sides have overplayed their hands. Netanyahu permits settlement building because (1) he believes in it, (2) it helps his shaky political position, (3) it creates a new bargaining chip. Diplomat Ross appears to take Netanyahu's side by pressing Arafat to crack down on Hamas before talks about stopping Israeli settlements can go forward. He may be giving Netanyahu cover so he (and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright) can privately squeeze Netanyahu on settlements. Arafat, for his part, uses Ross's public tilt toward Israel as an excuse not to return to the table until Ms. Albright arrives later this month.

In a major Mideast speech last week, she pointedly asked Israel to abstain from provocative acts, like settlements on Arab land, and pressed Arafat to keep his commitment to crack down on terrorists. We will shortly see whether the blunt Ms. Albright can get both sides to back off their overplayed hands. Both Palestinians and Israelis deserve as much from their leaders."

DIE WELT: Syrians play an important role in Middle East negotiations

Lothar Ruhl, commenting today, describes another Mideast complication, the new leadership of Syrian President Hafez Assad and Assad's relationship to PLO Chairman Arafat. Ruhl writes: "As the rhetorical confrontation between the PLO leadership in Gaza and the Israeli government escalated after the bomb attack in Jerusalem and the United States moved in to mediate, Syria's head of state Hafez Assad grasped the initiative.

"His invitation to 17 Arab politicians -- including seven members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament -- is a thump in the back of Yasser Arafat, PLO chairman and president of the Palestinian autonomy authority. But the maneuver was also aimed at the exposed Arab flank of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel itself. Assad appealed to the Arab lobby in Israel in an attempt to recommend himself as its protector.

"Regardless of possible success at sometime in the future, this salvo is not entirely without risk for Syria. Assad has become entrenched in a state of war with Israel behind the cease-fire line set in 1993 on the Golan Heights -- a line which has not been internationally recognized as Israel's border with Syria."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Israel maintains good tied with Turkey and Jordan

Daniel Pipes, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, writes today Israel has some surprising friends in the Mideast. They are Jordan and Turkey. Pipes says: "As diplomats struggle to get Arab-Israeli negotiations back on track after last month's bombings in Jerusalem, Israel seems more isolated than in many years, especially in the Middle East. A closer look, however, shows that Israel actually has two regional friends, Jordan and Turkey. Ties with Jordan have been much in the news due to high profile visits. But the quiet development of relations with Turkey make it Israel's most important ally in the region."

Pipes says: "Washington knows that closer Turkish-Israeli relations will help bring stability to the region. Most ambitiously, it could provide the nucleus of a Western-oriented regional partnership made up of democratic allies -- as opposed to the authoritarian rulers that Washington has relied upon for the past five decades."

He writes: "The final result could be the most elusive of all goals -- a more peaceable Middle East."

TIMES OF LONDON: U.S. envoy makes headway with intelligence chiefs

Correspondent Ross Dunn analyzes today the work of a U.S. peace mission to Israel and the Palestinians. Dunn writes: "American efforts to revive the Middle East peace process made headway yesterday as Israeli and Palestinian intelligence chiefs met amid shuttle diplomacy by President Clinton's envoy, Dennis Ross. But thousands of Palestinians, including supporters of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, rallied in Gaza City and the West Bank town of Ramallah against Israel's policies." Dunn says: "Nevertheless, Mr. Ross continued to emphasize the need for the two sides to restore security co-operation after the suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem two weeks ago."

He writes: "Mr. Ross's plea was in line with statements by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and President Clinton." He concludes: "The U.S. envoy was sent to the region to repair the breakdown in relations between Israel and the Palestinians after the devastating suicide bombings. The severity of his task was emphasized last night when a bomb went off near an army club in the northern Israeli city of Afula. There were, however, no casualties."