Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Mideast Developments, Yugoslav Perspectives

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Prague, 18 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The results of the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, its limitations and prospects, continue to occupy the Western press today. So do political developments in Yugoslavia.


Turning first to the Middle East, a New York Times news analysis by Jane Perlez looks at U.S. President Bill Clinton's role as mediator between the two principle adversaries. She writes: "Seven years after President Clinton presided over a historic handshake between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the [White House] Rose Garden, he tried one more time [to] move the Middle East toward some kind of lasting peace. But [all] he could do was read an agreement that neither Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, nor Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was willing to sign, to read aloud or to answer questions about."

Perlez goes on: "Mr. Clinton flew halfway around the world on short notice to get that agreement, in effect, to provide what one diplomat called 'a mutual climb-down mechanism' after the deadliest eruption of violence in the Middle East since the president helped initiate the Oslo process [in 1993]." She says that this is likely to be the last such role Clinton will play before his successor is elected in three weeks.

"But it was still a pivotal role," she argues. "Mr. Clinton's personality and his ability to connect with Mr. Arafat provided a constant thread through the negotiations. [His] back-to-back, separate sessions with Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat were a crucial bridge between two men no longer able even to meet face to face. "


In a commentary for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Peter Muench says the summit at the Sharm el-Sheikh golf club did at least produce one positive result. He writes: "First, the weapons are supposed to fall silent, than talks are supposed to resume over peace. Or more exactly, there are supposed to be discussions on how the Israelis and the Palestinians can bring themselves to negotiate with each other once again.

"This," he adds, "may be the best result that could be reached given the grim circumstances and the escalation of the violence. But one does not have to be a prophet to see that the agreement in the Sinai is little more than a cry in the wilderness."

Muench goes on to say that there is not much will for peace evident on either side: "On the contrary, there are countess grounds on both sides to continue the conflict, there is new fear, rage and desire for revenge. And basically there is absent from the present situation the necessary main ingredients for peace, namely insight or exhaustion."


By contrast. an editorial in the Irish Times is more optimistic. Under the heading "Good Start at Sharm el-Sheikh," the paper says the agreement reached to calm the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the best that could be expected, and it is based on realistic calculations. It continues: "Israeli and Palestinian leaders have come sufficiently close to the brink of negotiating collapse to think twice about propelling themselves over the precipice of potentially much deeper conflict."

The editorial also says: "They both face dreadfully difficult choices about their future and legitimacy should they fail. They are aware that more radical elements are waiting to take the initiative, capable of driving the Middle East region in more dangerous directions. Other states and quite different priorities would then come into play the "narrow-gauge approach" was inadequate. He writes: "The three parties, with the United States pushing and pulling the Israelis and Palestinians, could not generate the momentum to carry the day. The cast of characters must be expanded by including Syria -- for both positive and negative reasons -- in the same way it was brought into the Madrid conference in 1991. Syria has long been a major player in the region."


Another aspect of the Middle East problem is examined by Richard Hottelet in the U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor. Under the title "Time to Include Syria," Hottelet writes: "Cease-fire agreement or no, the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian peace process is finished. Like Humpty Dumpty, all efforts to put it together again have failed. But this does not mean that all opportunity for Middle East peace has been destroyed. It means that a new attempt must be made in a different way."

Hottelet says that, in retrospect, it seems clear that what he calls the "narrow- gauge approach" was inadequate. He says: "The three parties, with the United States pushing and pulling the Israelis and Palestinians, could not generate the momentum to carry the day. The cast of characters must be expanded by including Syria -- for both positive and negative reasons -- in the same way it was brought into the Madrid conference in 1991. Syria has long been a major player in the region."

He continues: "Bringing Syria into the broader peace process may seem like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. But there is little choice." Then he warns of the dangers of leaving Syria outside: "After generations of bitter hostility, Syria is moving closer to Iraq. It has resumed diplomatic relations with Baghdad, restored railroad services to Iraq, promised to increase trade, and joined the chorus against the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait.


An editorial in the Spanish daily El Mundo is deeply pessimistic about Mideast peace. It says: "The situation has so terribly deteriorated that we don't now even have the unstable situation that prevailed after the [July] Camp David negotiations. This time," the paper adds, "the situation is worse, and nothing tells us that it will improve. The confidence that has been so patiently built up in the past decade was totally destroyed after the last explosion of violence. There will be no detente soon."


On Yugoslavia, a commentary by author and journalist Velimir Curgus Kazimir in the International Herald Tribune asks: "Is [former president Slobodan Milosevic] really finished?" Writing from Belgrade, Kazimir says: "The question lingers in the air. I recall scenes from horror movies, especially 'Halloween,' in which a seemingly dead body rises again and again. I've become superstitious and dare not say 'he's finished' out loud for fear that something might go wrong."

Kazimir goes on to detail his fears: "Perhaps I am a bit afraid of normal life," he writes, "as if everything that has happened over the past 10 years is going to tumble on my head." He adds: "You lose so many years fighting for a normal and decent life and then suddenly become aware that the loss is irremediable. How many things haven't I done in my small, limited life? How many books have I left unwritten?"

Kazimir poses even more questions: "Is it possible to exchange the days and months filled with trepidation and helplessness for serenity and inner satisfaction? How can a person live with those he knows are vicious and cruel without feeling an urge to cry out for revenge? It is not," he concludes, "a happy prospect."

Kazimir says he will probably keep coming back to those questions as long as he lives. "But," he adds, "under the circumstances, perhaps personal happiness is an unnecessary luxury. I will have to pay for the evil deeds of those who will never experience guilt themselves."


The Spanish daily El Pais carries a commentary by Jose Maria Mandidulce, a former United Nations coordinator for ex-Yugoslavia. In it, Mandidulce also looks at the Milosevic legacy, criticizing those scholars and diplomats who try to soften the implications of Milosevic's actions in Yugoslavia. Referring to the NATO bombing of Kosovo, Mandidulce says:

"It is not acceptable to put on the same level the policy of an author of genocide and his crimes, with the mistakes that can be made by the democracies that try to stop [such crimes]. NATO may be what it is, but its mistakes did not express the will to exterminate the Serbs."

The commentary continues: "If somebody did something wrong, or very wrong, it was our European and Western leaders, when they had official doubts about the direct implication of Milosevic in the management of the horrors in Croatia and Bosnia, when they rescued [Milosevic in the 1995 Bosnia peace accords] in Dayton, and waited until the genocide in Kosovo [triggered] steps that were too late and insufficient." He concludes: "That was an attitude that represented a greater wrong than the NATO bombings."