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Western Press Review: Comments Reflect Mideast Frustrations

  • Don Hill

Prague, 3 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Politicians' and ordinary people's frustration over elusive peace in the Mideast draw commentary today in the Western press.


In Britain's Guardian daily, Martin Woollacott writes that there still may be a way out of the Middle East impasse. He says in his weekly commentary: "[Former Israeli Prime minister] Shimon Peres is the last big card Israel had to play in the attempt to contain the fighting in the West Bank and Gaza." Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reached an agreement yesterday on measures to quell the violence that has overtaken the Palestinian territories during recent weeks.

Woollacott writes: "Because of [Peres'] advocacy of peace in the past and because he stands above day-to-day polities, he has the weight to act as an envoy of last resort."

The commentary continues: "If there is to be a change now, a shift away from fighting, it will be because lessons have been learned both from the failed diplomacy [and from] the little war of the last six weeks. The lesson of the diplomacy is partly that leaders can confect arrangements that peoples will reject, but more specifically that Israel used its greater strength to try to impose terms too favorable to its interests."


France's regional daily Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace, carries an optimistic commentary by Christiane Vettu. She says that a settlement giving Palestinians a homeland is inevitable, and is hopeful for a conclusion sooner rather than later.

Vettu writes: "The Palestinians know that the day will come when their cause will succeed in the frame of a state. Time is on their side, as it has always been for the victims of history. Israelis, the heirs of the horrible European [persecutions] are now in a difficult situation. They appear to have the greater power in a conflict against a weaker, but uncontrollable enemy." She adds: "We can only hope that from the abyss of the conflict will come a will to quiet partisan interests, a will to share the Palestinian territory that both peoples legitimately claim."


In another regional French daily, Journal du Sud-Ouest, Paul Meunier comments in a more pessimistic tone. He writes: "In the present situation, there is no tactic available other than containing the fire before trying to resume discussions in which nobody has any idea on what premise they could possibly be based. [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and Arafat have been in permanent and direct contact with each other and both willingly are seeking help from the Americans," he goes on. "[But both] are in such a weak situation they seem not able to survive this ordeal without help from outside."


New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman agrees with Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace's Vettu about the inevitability of a Palestinian-Israeli deal. One tends to forget, he says, "how much Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined." He argues that's what makes the current mini-war so inexplicably illogical.

Friedman writes: "Although there is something very real about this latest mini-war, there is also something staged about it -- true guerrilla theater. Yes, [each side] would love it if the other disappeared, but both sides know their economic integration makes total separation impossible and both know there is no military solution, which is what makes this war so perplexing. Everyone knows how it will end -- eventually there must be some deal -- but no one can still tell you the way it began."


Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Bernhard Kueppers marvels today over the speed with which Yugoslavia is accumulating the paraphernalia of Western integration. He writes: "How fast things happen. In the four weeks since the fall of Belgrade's dictator Slobodan Milosevic, his country's integration into the world community is proceeding apace. In the latest development," he adds, "a red, white and blue flag was lowered from its mast at the United Nations and another was hoisted in its place -- same colors, but without the red star. Disappearing along with that symbol of communism was the anachronism of a flag of a state that had long since disintegrated."

The writer goes on: "But giving up his country's claim to being the sole legal successor to the former Yugoslavia was a relatively easy thing for Kostunica to pull off. He will have a harder time bringing himself to extradite accused war criminals like Slobodan Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, or coming up with a solution to the Kosovo dilemma."


The British magazine The Economist examines the same issue from the perspective of Kosovo. In its current edition (November 3-9), the weekly says: "In Kosovo, which is still legally a part of Serbia, the most reasonable of the Kosovo nationalist parties, led by a pacifist, Ibraham Rugova, has just thrashed its less tolerant, gun-toting rivals in local elections under UN aegis. With luck, [this] could prompt a more determined search for a peaceful, negotiated sequel to the bloody wars of the Yugoslav succession. And on this hope hangs the fate of both Montenegro and Kosovo, Serbia's two unhappy captives in what remains of Yugoslavia."


Spain's La Vanguardia daily writes in an editorial that Yugoslavia has a wholly different connotation now than it did decades ago: "The Balkan state that has rejoined the UN has nothing in common with the federation of socialist republics that Tito ruled with an iron hand for 35 years. At [the] ceremony of the hoisting of the Yugoslav flag that took place at the UN in the sunset, the colors of the flag were the same -- red, white and blue -- but the big red star in the middle had disappeared. Beyond the symbols, Kostunica's Yugoslavia born from the elections of September 24 represents hope -- hope for a lasting peace in one of the most conflicted region of the planet."


Writing from Warsaw in the Frankfurter Rundschau, commentator Klaus Bachmann says that the fall of Slobodan Milosevic set a frightening precedent in the mind of Belarus' Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Bachmann writes: "The night the Yugoslav election results were declared is said to have been a horror for Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka."

He continues: "Lukashenka's former spokesman, Alyaksandr Fyedut, put it this way: 'Alyaksandr Lukashenka had visions of his own fate. He understood what awaits him in the 2001 presidential election.' Moscow could sell him down the line as soon as a candidate turned up who suited Russian President Vladimir Putin, Fyedut said." Bachmann concludes: "The Belarus opposition can only hope that the end of Milosevic will have a spin-off effect in its own country."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego assisted with today's press review.)