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Western Press Review: Lebanon Rises To Top Of Commentary Issues

  • Don Hill

Prague, 23 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary almost unanimously paints Israel's departure this week from what it long has called its "security zone" in Lebanon in shades of gray -- for sadness and ambiguity.

INDEPENDENT: Is the war really over?

From London, The Independent carries a commentary by Robert Fisk in Beirut under a dual headline. One half declares: "In the End, They Just Skulked Away," and the other questions: "But Can the War Really Be Over?"

Fisk writes: "So what was it all for? The almost quarter century of occupation, the two decades of guerrilla war, the dispossession and the thousands of deaths? In just 24 hours, the whole history of southern Lebanon has been shown up as a fraud."

Fisk says that after the Israeli army withdrew, "those [Israel-allied guerillas] who tried to flee into Israel met a familiar response: go home."

In his words: "Oddly for such a Lebanese war, there was a kind of tolerance about it all. No SLA [guerillas] were murdered. No Hezbollah army moved en masse into the Shia villages liberated from the Israelis. The guerrillas were there, of course, often with their guns."

And the writer closes his commentary with a skeptical question: "By last night, almost every Shia Muslim village in southern Lebanon had been liberated from Israel's occupation. Only the Christian villages remained. And there lies the rub. Will they be freed as easily as the Muslim hamlets? Will their Christian SLA men be so keen to give themselves up? Is the war really over?"

Following are excerpts from other commentators' views on Lebanon:

NEW YORK TIMES: Syria jeopardizes Lebanon's chances for future peace

An editorial in The New York Times: "For years, the Arab world demanded that Israel withdraw from Lebanon, as provided under the terms of a United Nations resolution. But now that Israel has begun doing so, the Syrian and Lebanese governments are undermining a smooth transition. Syria ought to be arranging for Lebanese army units to move into areas vacated by Israel and its militia allies. By instead permitting Hezbollah guerrillas to move up to the Israeli border, Syria jeopardizes Lebanon's chances for future peace and adds a dangerous new element of instability to the Middle East."

GUARDIAN: Israel no longer dictated the terms of its unilateral withdrawal

Commentary from Jerusalem by Suzane Goldenberg in the Guardian, London: "Israel's 22-year occupation of south Lebanon was marching towards a chaotic and inglorious end yesterday, with its proxy army fleeing in disarray, and Hezbollah guerrillas sweeping towards its border. As Hezbollah moved into villages abandoned by the South Lebanese Army, taking control of a third of the territory occupied by Israel and its allies and slicing the so-called security zone in two, it was impossible to escape the conclusion that Israel was no longer dictating the terms of its unilateral withdrawal."

NEW YORK TIMES: Everyone talks about compromise, but nobody makes any

Other commentary examines neighboring strife. Columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes in the New York Times of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the midst of difficult peace negotiations. The problem, he says, is that everyone talks about compromise, but nobody does any.

Friedman: "After all these years of Israelis and Palestinians talking about the core issues -- Jerusalem, refugees, prisoners, territory -- you'd think there would be no surprises left now that we have reached the endgame. But in fact, the final peace talks are turning out to be more explosive and shocking than either anticipated. Why?"

He answers: "Because for three decades, whenever issues such as Jerusalem, territory or Palestinian refugees returning to Israel were raised, Israelis and Palestinians had their stock answers ready: 'The other side is simply going to have to accept our demand for -- fill in the blank -- because we can't possibly compromise on that issue.'"

The writer concludes: "The paradox of peace is that the more separated you want to be, the more cooperation and cutting of slack is required to get a deal. That is why the endgame is going to require a whole new set of compromises, a whole new politics really, for both Palestinians and Israelis. But when will they tell the kids?"

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Only a sovereign, viable and livable Palestine can be a stable neighbor of Israel

Palestinian author and journalist Marwan Bishara in Paris writes in the International Herald Tribune that the Israelis need to learn about win-win negotiating. Bishara writes: "The [U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton] might advise [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak on the difference between dispensable deadlines and historical opportunities. It also needs to reverse Mr. Barak's erroneous perception that the final status negotiations are a zero-sum game where the less the Palestinians benefit the more Israel gains, as it did in the interim negotiations. Indeed, Palestinians and Israelis could both profit from a final comprehensive agreement. Washington surely understands that, from this point on, only a sovereign, viable and livable Palestine can be a stable neighbor of Israel."

WALL STREET JOURNAL The U.S. must take responsibility for meeting the aspirations of small European countries

Away from the Mideast, foreign affairs columnist George Melloan in the Wall Street Journal takes up the cause of what he calls "small, young democracies." He writes: "In Taipei, Chen Shui-bian said in his presidential inauguration speech that the people of Taiwan had "stood up," as indeed they had, in opting for his Democratic Progressive Party over the Kuomintang, which had dominated the island's politics since Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT followers fled the mainland a half a century ago."

And, Melloan says, "A world away, in Vilnius, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas had a similar message. Under his leadership, nine small European nations had agreed to bid jointly for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."

The columnist says that when President Bill Clinton journeys to Russia early in June, as Melloan puts it, "The Baltic states will [watch] with some anxiety. They will remember, as Mr. Chen certainly does, how Mr. Clinton almost deeded Taiwan to China during a speech in Shanghai in 1998."

Melloan concludes: "It thus falls on the U.S., as the leader of NATO, to take responsibility for meeting the aspirations of small European countries concerned about their security, not to mention Asian states worried about the danger of reactionaries regaining ascendancy in China. Today's political circumstances offer a long-delayed historical opportunity to respond to such aspirations, particularly for the Europeans who were swallowed up by tyrannies before and after World War II. They know what they want and it would cost little to let them have it. The best way to deal with the world's troublemakers is to forge strong alliances with like-minded friends, states large or small that share respect for those values that Mr. Saudargas endorsed. Good government should never go unrewarded."