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Western Press Review: Israel Nudges Out Kosovo In Press Comments

  • Don Hill

Prague, 19 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Ehud Barak's strong victory over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's elections Monday continued to edge Kosovo -- not out but over -- in the limelight of Western press commentary Wednesday.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Netanyahu's character brought about his defeat

Israel newspaper columnist Gideon Samet says the world should see the outcome not as a clear defeat for Netanyahu's policies but as a clear victory for Barak's character. Samet writes in an essay contributed to the International Herald Tribune: "The crushing fall of Binyanim Netanyahu tells an amazing Israeli story of a bright man who changed the rules of the local political game and became his own victim. It was not his policies, though they did set Israel back, that brought about his resonant, pathetic defeat. It was his character":

"(A) popular slogan referring to his nickname -- 'Just Not Bibi' -- ended the three-year dominance of a flawed politician over the Israeli scene," the writer said, and continued: "Opposite Mr. Netanyahu, in a meticulous Tony Blair-like campaign, Ehud Barak smartly grasped the popular urge for reconciliation, stability and basic common sense. At times, as his understated tone made some of his TV appearances seem disasters, his supporters despaired. But as Mr. Netanyahu was intensifying his populist, distorted attacks on the leftist elites and on the media, he isolated himself in an increasingly paranoid campaign."

DIE WELT: Palestinians did not repeat their error of 1996

The Arab world favored Barak over Netanyahu, or more precisely, disfavored Netanyahu more than Barak, Evangelos Antonaros writes in the German newspaper, Die Welt. The commentator says the Palestinians helped Barak by stifling public display of their preferences. Antonaros comments from Jerusalem: "The election of Ehud Barak as Israel's new prime minister has brought a huge if somewhat skeptical sigh of relief across the Arab world." Evangelos writes: "Perhaps the most important reason behind the results is that the Arabs, and above all the Palestinians, did not repeat their error of 1996, when they made their preference for Labour candidate Shimon Peres loud and clear and then found themselves confronted with conservative Likud leader Netanyahu. This time, Arafat ordered his subordinates to keep a public posture of strict neutrality, avoiding any actions or comments which could be portrayed as pro-Barak."

Die Welt's commentator says: "For Arabs, the question is now whether Barak, who has taken part in countless negotiating rounds, can shake off the restraints of powerful groups inside Israel which are opposed to the peace process. Commentaries made clear that no less is expected than a relatively prompt implementation of all the peace agreements which Israel has already signed."

TIMES: There is much in Barak's platform for Yassir Arafat to explore

From London, The Times says editorially that Israel's election demeanor provides a symbolic boost for democracy in the region. The newspaper says: "The Middle East peace process has been in suspension for more than six months while Benjamin Netanyahu struggled to retain office. Ehud Barak's dramatic victory has been warmly welcomed by Israel's neighbours and the Clinton Administration. One election result, in the only nation in this region where democracy determines who holds power, has already made a notable symbolic difference in the Middle East."

The Times says: "There is much in (Barak's) platform for Yassir Arafat to explore. What Mr Barak has called a state-minus would give the Palestinians the vast majority of the once occupied territories and virtually all the trappings of sovereignty. They would be obliged to decommission terrorist organizations such as Hamas, accept some limits on their military capacity and renounce the right to invite foreign armies on to their soil. These are not unreasonable conditions. Mr Arafat must now decide how to respond."

WASHINGTON POST: Barak's victory was a distinctly nonideological one

In The Washington Post, Middle East specialist Milton Viorst commented yesterday: "The defeat of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the Labor Party candidate, Ehud Barak, will surely advance the peace process, as well as promote the separation of synagogue and state. Both were issues in the election. But it is not clear that either result was what the Israel electorate voted for."

Viorst wrote: "Mr. Barak is not a dove, and Israelis know it. He is a hawk in the tradition of Yitzhak Rabin, the martyred prime minister who turned to peace-making because it made good common sense. On the peace issue, Mr. Barak is not far from Mr. Netanyahu. So why not, Israelis reason, vote for the more capable man? By that measure, a distinctly nonideological one, Mr. Barak won in Monday's vote."

SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: Netanyahu's defeat was a stroke of bad luck for the Palestinians

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Heiko Flottau presents a contraire Arab view. The German writer says: "In Palestinian eyes, Barak's first test will be the implementation of the Wye peace accord, in which Israel committed itself to clear out of a small percentage of Palestinian territory," and adds: "Not that many people believe that a real change of direction will transpire from the change of power in Jerusalem. The view shared by many is that Barak's political biography, while glamorous, even brilliant, does not show much in-depth political experience."

Flatter says: "One Jordanian Palestinian who did not wish to be named, (put it this way): ... Netanyahu's defeat, he said, was a stroke of bad luck for the Palestinians because now the West would force Aright and his negotiators into unfavorable compromises. Netanyahu's continuation in office would automatically have raised the West's support for the Palestinian cause, this official claimed."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Milosevic may be searching for an end to his war with NATO

Much commentary on Kosovo now dwells on whether a negotiated solution is likely. In the Chicago Tribune, Tom Hundley writes from Belgrade that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may be yielding to increasing pressures. Hundley says in an analysis: "On the eve of Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin's scheduled return to Belgrade, consensus is growing among Yugoslav analysts and foreign diplomats in this long-defiant capital that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may be searching for an end to his war with NATO."

The analysis goes on: "War casualties are mounting, and NATO apparently has had some success in targeting Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. Antiwar sentiment is growing here, albeit below the surface."

Hundley writes: "Ironically, the turning point for NATO may have come May 7, when it inadvertently bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. That caused Chernomyrdin to postpone a visit to Belgrade and go to Beijing instead. The embassy strike also appears to have caused NATO to redirect its bombing campaign away from high-profile but somewhat risky leadership targets in Belgrade and focus instead on crushing Yugoslavia's 3rd Army in Kosovo."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Mr. Clinton either is badly mistaken or baldly lying

But the Wall Street Journal Europe says the hope is ephemeral, not real. It says: "The Balkan atmosphere now is clogged with helium-filled balloons of various would-be peacebrokers. With so many so eager for an exit strategy, Belgrade has begun making obliging noises." The editorial says, however, that a compromise "peace" using Bosnia as a model, as U.S. President Bill Clinton seemed to suggest earlier this month, would be a sellout. It says: "(Sending refugees home) was also the promise of the Dayton agreement that ended the previous fighting in Bosnia, which preceded Kosovo on the Milosevic ethnic cleansing agenda. But Mr. Clinton either is badly mistaken or baldly lying when he suggests that the Dayton agreement or an international peacekeeping force has redressed ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. It has done no such thing."

The editorial says: "With a settlement along those lines, (NATO commander General Wesley K. Clark) shortly would be using American troops to protect Milosevic's gains from the Kosovo Liberation Army."