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Western Press Review: Israel-Palestine Accord Marks A Small Step Forward

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 26 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Today and over the weekend, Western press commentators have been assessing the accord signed late Friday (Oct. 23) by Israeli and Palestinian leaders that, for the moment at least, seems to have revivified the long-moribund Mid-East peace process. The agreement came after nine days and nights of hard negotiations at the Wye Plantation in Maryland, not far Washington, D.C. It was actively encouraged by U.S. President Bill Clinton, who spent many hours at Wye in an effort to bring the two parties together.

FINANCIAL TIMES: It is doubtful that the Wye accord is a blueprint for peace

Britain's Financial Times today says that, while any Arab-Israel progress "is to be welcomed, it is doubtful that the Wye a blueprint for peace." In its editorial, the paper writes: "Nothing agreed at Wye indicates that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and his nationalist colleagues are now persuaded that Israeli's security requires the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, the only basis for an enduring peace."

The FT continues: "The core of the Wye deal gives Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, more land in exchange for intensified (and U.S.-monitored) Palestinian efforts to combat Islamist attacks on Israelis....Under the deal, Mr. Arafat should get full control over some 17 percent (of West Bank land). But Israel refused to commit itself to a further, previously agreed transfer of land before final settlement talks..."

"Nor," the papers adds, "crucially, has Mr. Netanyahu given any undertaking to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank....The deal," it concludes, "has only one chance of leading somewhere: strict monitoring (by the U.S. of) every step of Wye's implementation, as it has promised."

NEW YORK TIMES: The agreements point the way toward a settlement

On Saturday, the New York Times wrote in its editorial: "The body language in the East Room of the White House on Friday was more eloquent than the words that were uttered and the accords that were signed. For the first time since Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister of Israel more than two years ago, he looked at ease with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. The distrust and stiffness between the leaders seemed to be gone, replaced by the kind of respect and partnership that can make a permanent peace possible in the Middle East"

The paper went on to say: "The agreements reached by the Wye River point the way toward a Middle East settlement. But without faith in one another, Netanyahu and Arafat will never reach that destination or work through the spasms of terrorism that are likely to come."

The NYT added: "The Maryland agreements, if fully carried out, should remove many of the tangled issues that have paralyzed the peace effort over the last 19 months....U.S. intelligence officers, who already work with Israeli and Palestinian security officials, will closely monitor Palestinian authorities to insure that they arrest terrorist suspects and confiscate illegal weapons."

WASHINGTON POST: The agreement serves the parties

The same day, the Washington Post wrote: "It was in the cards that Israelis and Palestinians would come to a wall, blame each other and call on President Clinton to save the marathon land-for-security talks on the Wye River. Mr. Clinton, who had prompted these talks, responded with the deepening of his personal mediation, and Friday he made it happen."

The paper's editorial continued: "The Wye deal will be scanned on suspicion that its terms were adversely affected by the coming (U.S.) congressional elections and the shadow of impeachment. But the basic question is whether the agreement serves the parties, and their calculated acceptance of it indicates it does. It seems that bleak the alternative was."

The Washington Post also said: "The Wye (deal's) achievement is to wrap up implementation of the five-year-old Oslo agreement on establishing Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians get further slices, and promises, of West Bank territory, control and access. The Israelis get an ambitious security structure...including CIA verification...."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: One more step on the road to peace has been taken

Also on Saturday, the Los Angeles Times wrote of the Wye accord: "Israeli and Palestinian leaders have slogged their way a little closer to the goal of ending their half-century of conflict. (But) ahead lies the enormously difficult task of dealing with such remaining issues as the status of Jerusalem, water rights, more Israeli withdrawals and final borders."

The LAT continued: "(The agreement) was denounced in advance by both Palestinian and Israeli foes of the peace process. Violence to try to sabotage the interim agreement has to be anticipated. Netanyahu...faces a threatened revolt that could bring on a major political realignment or early elections."

"But," the editorial summed up, "one more arduous step on the long road to peace has been taken. Had it been taken a year or more earlier, as it certainly could have been, the goal of a final settlement between two peoples who desperately need peace would be that much closer."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Mr. Netanyahu has delivered on virtually every promise

In its editorial entitled "The Why Summit," the Wall Street Journal Europe today takes a very different stance. The paper writes: "The next six months will mark the most critical phase yet in the five-year-old Oslo process. If they are to negotiated smoothly, it will have to be on the basis of a sound understanding of why yet another summit was needed to agree to a scheduled Israeli troop withdrawal -- leaving just half a year until the parties are supposed to finish the really contentious 'final status' negotiations."

The WSJ goes on to say: "Conventional wisdom, of course, holds that the long delay was the fault of...Benjamin Netanyahu, who, if not personally 'intransigent,' is at least held hostage by radical elements within his governing coalition. But a glance at the facts shows that, whatever his temperament or political restraints., Mr. Netanyahu has delivered on virtually every promise in a timely fashion."

The paper also says: "Perhaps the most significant development at the Wye conference was the explicit acknowledgment of the de facto Americanization of the (Mid-East) peace process. The CIA will now directly assist Mr. Arafat's forces in the fight against terrorism, a move sure to provoke anti-American sentiment on the Palestinian street....It was no coincidence that Mr. Arafat stopped to address European Union leaders on his way home. He may need their support in the face of future American judgments?

NEW YORK TIMES: Israelis came away with enforcement of reciprocity

New York Times columnist William Safire asks today: "Who gained what at Wye?" His answer: "The Israelis came away with enforcement of reciprocity. Because trust does not exist, CIA monitors will adjudge Chairman Arafat's treatment of terror. If the revolving door on jails does not stop spinning, Palestinians will rightly be blamed for the resulting freeze of negotiations."

Safire continues: "Just as significant, the salami-slice turnover of land is virtually ended. That means a substantial chunk of the West Bank remains as an incentive to Palestinians to reach final settlement. Without that deal-closer of more territory, the argument would be solely over dividing Jerusalem, on which peace hopes would founder."

The columnist goes on: "How did Arafat fare at Wye? He got his 13 percent slice and his security control of a previous slice, concessions both tangible and substantial. He gets several hundred prisoners returned from Israeli jails; at the same time, he resisted sending 30 terrorists to Israel for trial by promising to try them himself. He was able to sell yet again a vow to change the Palestinian charter's vows to destroy Israel, and to inveigle the U.S. president into a statehood-advancing visit in December to bear witness to the doing of what Arafat long insisted was already done."