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Western Press Review: Commentators Compare World Leaders

  • Breffni O'Rourke



Prague, 9 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The death of Jordan's King Hussein and its implications for the Middle East and the world still preoccupy the international press today.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Keep your hands off Abdullah and Amman

In a commentary in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung Josef Joffe writes that the astonishing turnout of world leaders for the little king's funeral was meant as a clear sign of support for one of the "pillars" holding up the entire Middle East. This pillar, Joffe says, was always under threat of collapse, and never more so than today.

He writes "How often the 'takeover' (of Jordan) has already been rehearsed. There was the 1970 takeover attempt by Yasser Arafat's PLO, remembered as Black September, which was ended by Jordan's Bedouin army. There was Syria, in the same year, whose armored advance was only stopped by Israel's counter-move. And Hussein survived three dozen assassination attempts, before cancer triumphed over him."

Joffe continues: "Clinton and colleagues, especially Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were in Amman to set a signal to all those interested in a 'takeover,' whether internally in Jordan, or in the Islamic world as far as Iran: namely keep your hands off Abdullah and Amman.

"The logic is clear. If Jordan tips into the camp of those opposed to peace, then the peace, which is anyway unstable, is finished. That's because Jordan is the only Arabic land that has practically become a strategic ally of Israel. The deal has been clear for 30 years: the regional superpower Israel protects Jordan from the desires of its neighbors, while Amman protects Israel's vulnerable east flank along a length of 500 kilometers. If this alliance falls away suddenly, if matters fall into the hands of the Arab ultras, then the Israelis will act even more hard-handedly towards the Palestinians than ever before. "

DAILY TELEGRAPH: King Hussein brought enemies together

In the Daily Telegraph, Alan Philps writes that in death as in life, King Hussein brought enemies together. He writes that if the funeral had taken place in Britain, "the Foreign office would have worked out a precisely-timed running order so that enemies did not meet.

"But it could not have been alphabetical, because that would bring Iraq and Israel together. The Jordanians had to trust in God. They made sure that the Syrian leader, Hafez al Assad, was at the front of the queue, with the Israelis some distance behind.

"But nothing was too closely planned, and anyway, the palace was too small and the timing hopelessly delayed. Yet the unavoidable chance encounters of such occasions can sometimes achieve more than years of posturing.

"And so it was yesterday. One such unscripted moment came when the leader of one of the most radical and implacable Palestinian groups, Nayef Hawatrmeh, of the Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, approached Ezer Weizman, Israel's president. 'We know you as a man of peace. You've been fighting for peace for the past 20 years,' the Palestinian told the Israeli. Mr Weizman took his outstretched hand and told him the time had come to make peace with Syria and Lebanon."

NEW YORK TIMES: Palestinians showed mixed feelings toward the monarch

The outpouring of grief among the Jordanian population during the funeral has been widely described by the world media. But Joel Greenberg writes in the New York Times that not everyone was a fan of King Hussein. He recounts conversations heard among Palestinians on the West Bank, who grumbled that the King had used force against the poor of his own country, and had "sold out" the West Bank to the Israelis in the 1967 war.

Greenberg writes: "Yasser Arafat saluted the king Monday as his body lay in state, but conversations with ordinary Palestinians showed mixed feelings toward the monarch, who had a long and checkered relationship with the Palestinian national movement.

"Jordan lost the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and for decades afterward, Jordan and the PLO competed for influence in the area. For a long while the king cultivated religious and administrative links to the territory. Tracing his descent from the prophet Muhammad, he saw himself as the guardian of the Islamic holy places in East Jerusalem. He paid salaries to religious functionaries there and other civil servants in the West Bank, and supported newspapers and institutions sympathetic to his rule.

"But in 1988", Greenberg continues, "after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising and in recognition of Palestinian claims to the West Bank, King Hussein formally cut administrative and legal ties to the territory, and stopped payments to civil servants.

"Since then, he relinquished his claim to the territory and consistently supported Palestinian demands for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Yet strong links remain between both banks of the Jordan", he writes. "Many people in the West Bank have relatives in Jordan, where Palestinians form the majority of the population. The king financed the re-gilding of the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem's Old City in 1994, and his peace agreement with Israel ensures that Jordan's role as protector of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem will be given 'high priority' in any agreement with the Palestinians on the future of East Jerusalem."

LE MONDE: The threat that matters could spin out of control

In Le Monde Georges Marion writes that French President Jacques Chirac, during his visit for the funeral, guaranteed Jordan his political support, and above all, financial help from Paris. Because, as Marion writes, "more than any other potential menace, the delicate economic situation of the country, which is marked by poverty, joblessness and recession, brings the threat that matters could spin out of control".

"For three days", he writes "promises of economic help (for Jordan) came from all directions. (U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright opened the process with her recent visit to Amman. She was followed by the United Arab Emirates, the World Bank and Israel, whose Prime Minister (Benjamine Netanyahu) announced that, to lighten the economic burden on its neighbor, and to help maintain regional stability, he had ordered the lowering of all import taxes on Jordanian goods. For his part, Mr Chirac announced that he is linking himself, with the European Union, in the 'justfied effort' to support Jordan.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The scarcity of constructive leaders was never more evident

In the Wall Street Journal Europe, George Melloan comments that there is a certain philosophical link between King Hussein and the struggle for peace in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

He writes: "The scarcity elsewhere in the world of constructive leaders of the Hussein stripe was never more evident than on the weekend of his death. In Rambouillet, France, a new attempt began to end Serbia's bloody aggression against the ethnic Albanians of its own Kosovo province."

Melloan notes some initial success at the peace talks, in that both sides seemed to agree that Kosovo would gain some measure of self-rule in the next three years, with independence a possibility after that. "So far so good", he writes. "But (Yugoslav President) Slobodan Milosevic, the unindicted war criminal behind the slaughter in Kosovo and the earlier carnage in Bosnia, was a noteworthy absentee... Europe and the U.S. have allowed Milosevic to get by with his crimes for eight years, so it is of some significance that he is now being threatened with bombing (by NATO). But he has proved himself to be an artful dodger."

Melloan noted that "the peacemakers, after issuing the threats, hardly seem sturdy in their resolve. (U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright said on Sunday that no U.S. troops will be sent until the fighting stops. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is supposed to be the world's ranking peacemaker, shrinks from the use of force against the world's rankest thugs."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Kosovars have some justification for feeling embittered

An editorial in the same paper, the Wall Street Journal Europe, says that unfortunately, the Rambouillet peace effort comes rather late. "After years of abuse at the hands of the Serbs, and a year of bloody fighting to break free of the Serbian yoke, the Kosovo Albanians are embittered. They want not only peace but independence. At this point, the U.S.-designed draft peace agreement aims only at giving them a limited degree of self-governing autonomy.

"If the Kosovars feel further embittered by the Rambouillet exercise, they have some justification. The architects of that meeting have insisted on an even-handed treatment of the two sides even though Serbia is clearly the aggressor."

BOSTON GLOBE: Europeans now have a chance to solve a problem which is on their own dooorstep

Writing in the Boston Globe, Kevin Cullen says that the Europeans now have a chance to solve a problem which is on their own dooorstep. He comments: "Last week, Hubert Vedrine, the French foreign minister known more for his candor than discretion, said that the United States must stop unilaterally imposing its will on the rest of the world. Ensconced at Rambouillet, a chateau 35 miles southwest of Paris, Vedrine now has the opportunity to put his words into action.

"While the framework document for a settlement being circulated among the warring factions in Kosovo is largely a product of US envoy Christopher Hill, the ability to sell the settlement and then police it will be primarily a European challenge."

Cullen says that the Kosovo peace talks are fundamentally different from those that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995. While the Dayton peace deal was led primarily by Americans, the initiative to end the war in Kosovo is being driven by the Europeans - a change that US officials find pleasing. He notes the U.S. would be willing to supply a small number of troops to keep the peace in Kosovo, the bulk of peacekeeping forces would be supplied by the Europeans themselves.

"Since the end of World War II", Cullen writes, "when American troops and money led the reconstruction of Europe, Washington has refused to allow US troops to serve under the command of European generals. But the White House has signaled it is prepared to end this rule to keep the US troop commitment in Kosovo to a minimum."
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