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Western Press Review: Conflicts In Macedonia And The Middle East

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 23 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press continues to be dominated by NATO troop deployment to Macedonia following the alliance's decision yesterday (22 August) to move forward with Operation Essential Harvest. Western commentary largely supports NATO intervention in the region, with some saying international involvement is necessary to prevent another Bosnian war. Comments also look at the situation in the Middle East, as charges of Israel carrying out torture and assassinations -- and counter-charges of Palestinian terrorism -- further limit the chances for peace.


Today's "The Washington Post" carries an editorial approving of NATO's decision to deploy troops, describing it as "the right thing to do." Left unchecked, the paper says, "trouble in Macedonia could spill beyond its borders, including into next-door Kosovo. [The] relative smoothness with which this latest mission is being launched shows that NATO has learned some lessons from its earlier Balkan mistakes, in Bosnia and Kosovo. But the narrowness with which the mission has been defined and its foolish self-imposed limit of 30 days show that some lessons remain unlearned."

The paper goes on to say: "The decision to circumscribe the mission so narrowly reflects an understandable desire to avoid another open-ended commitment such as Bosnia and Kosovo have become. But the effect is to give extremists on both sides the incentive and the means to disrupt the mission."

The paper notes that Macedonia has tried harder to achieve ethnic peace than other components of the former Yugoslavia, and has met with more success -- but it still has a long way to go. "NATO's goal should be not just to collect weapons but to provide some stability to the small republic and to help both sides rebuild trust."


In the French daily "Le Monde," Rafaele Rivais writes from Brussels that NATO's decision to deploy troops indicates "the ambassadors deem that the opportune moment has come, and the level of risk likely to be incurred by the soldiers of the alliance has, for the moment, been judged acceptable." Rivais says that to wait any longer would risk further provocation or a deterioration of the situation, which had improved since the signing of the peace agreement on 13 August. The writer adds that the upcoming collection of weapons, currently set to take place at about 15 designated areas, will allow for a restoration of confidence.


A related piece in "Le Monde" notes that on 21 August, demonstrators answering to the appeal of the World Congress of Macedonians blocked a railway axis connecting Skopje to the Blace border post, used by NATO forces in Kosovo and its base in Macedonia. Since 18 August, other demonstrators had blocked traffic on the parallel road. "Le Monde" writes that the demonstrators believe that NATO serves the interests of the ethnic Albanian guerillas by freezing their positions, which were conquered by force.


Even as NATO troops are on their way to Skopje to collect arms, the Germans are still debating whether to send troops. Stefan Kornelius, in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," comments on how the German government is dealing with the problem. Today the last round of discussions is taking place in the German parliament, the Bundestag, where the parties are mightily divided over the "sense or nonsense of the mandate." There is no broad consensus among politicians in support of sending German troops, which poses a mighty risk for the government and a cheap opportunity for the opposition, which, "if it is clever, will not exploit this," he says.

Kornelius remarks that other countries such as Great Britain and France do not have such problems, whereas the Germans are extremely sensitive about their mandate. "[The] mandate is the Bible and 669 commanders in the Bundestag oversee strict adherence to this."

Kornelius concludes that there is no need to abolish the parliamentary proviso, but since they do have this controversial mandate, the government demonstrates that it alone is responsible for foreign policy. "However, a consensus in the Bundestag is not to be expected," he says.


The Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" says in an editorial that Operation Essential Harvest is typical of Western thinking on the Balkans -- knowing that something has to be done but not being prepared to carry out an effective mission. As to why NATO has focused its energies on the collection of weapons, it writes, "There is no other alternative at present that would achieve a political consensus." NATO's "no losses" strategy, it adds, has made the alliance a hostage to its own policy. "Maybe all will go well," the paper concludes. "If not, then we hope they will create a more convincing Plan B."


An editorial in "The Washington Times" notes that the Israeli government is now seriously considering severe military retaliation against the Palestinian Authority immediately following the next major suicide bombing.

It writes: "Air raids would start the onslaught against the [Palestinian Authority] installations and the whole operation would last up to a month. [Israeli] generals are not afraid of an armed response on the part of Syria, Jordan and Egypt, and are sure that they could destroy the Iraqis should they choose to respond."

But the paper warns that this type of "lightning-strike" response could precipitate a regional war. "Lebanon's Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which has the backing of Syria and Iran, could be energized by Israel's onslaught. Israel's peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt would go down the drain. [In] addition, the generals must consider whether the aims of the offensive -- to stop terrorist attacks and put the PA where it belongs once and for all -- would be accomplished."

The paper concludes: "Before Israel moves to a military solution, the consequences have to be weighed. The peace process may be dead, but is another Middle East war really to be preferred?"


In a contribution to "The Christian Science Monitor," ABC News correspondent John Cooley writes that despite the conviction of most Middle East analysts that a wider Israeli-Arab war is unlikely, there is a growing danger of a smaller war. He says two possible scenarios, both involving Iraq, could create such a conflict. One involves the recent pledge by the chief of the Hezbollah guerrilla movement in Lebanon that his troops must prepare to join the Palestinian struggle at "the opportune moment."

Cooley writes: "The Israeli government has threatened that it would settle scores with Hezbollah -- and its Lebanese hosts and Syrian helpers -- with a vigorous response to any new Hezbollah operations. This would involve hitting the Syrian military in Lebanon, and perhaps in Syria itself. In the latter case, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might find it difficult to refuse [Iraqi leader Saddam] Hussein's probable offer of Iraqi troops to the rescue."

A second, though less likely, potential war scenario involves the "transfer" -- whether voluntary or forced -- of Palestinians into Jordan. Cooley writes: "[Saddam] would jump at a chance to move his armies into Jordan to 'defend Arabism.' And since every Israeli leader since 1948 has regarded and acted on such Iraqi moves as a strategic threat, the result could again be war."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee president Ziad Asali writes that both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should "worry less about who threw the last stone and get back to the [negotiating] table before more innocent lives are lost."

He says that over the long term, only one thing is certain: "Making peace is vital to the survival of Israel. It cannot exist forever as an enclave on the edge of the Middle East surrounded by hostile neighbors. It must make peace and integrate itself. There is no military solution to this problem, and Israel's current military superiority will not guarantee its survival. History teaches us that military superiority is ephemeral. [Israel] will never make peace with its hostile neighbors until it makes peace with the Palestinians. Without peace with the Palestinians, Israelis will never truly be safe."

Asali suggests a solid compromise as the only path away from bloodshed: "The only lasting solution is for there to be two states, Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of each. [Israeli and Palestinian leaders] should come to the table and hammer out a solution along these lines. If they fail, let them step aside. There are Israeli and Palestinian children who will not live to be adults if an agreement is not reached."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" examines the charges of torture leveled against authorities by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. The paper writes: "Last month the group documented beatings and other mistreatment of Palestinian youths in the Gush Etzion police station in the West Bank. According to the report, youths aged 14 to 17 were hit, kicked and doused with freezing or hot water, their heads were pushed into toilets and they were made to stand for long periods of time in painful positions."

It quotes the B'Tselem report as saying, "these are not isolated cases or uncommon conduct by certain police officers, but methods of torture adopted at the police station and used against dozens of detainees, with many police officers at the station cooperating and aware of what was taking place."

The editorial concludes: "Israel is functioning under extreme pressure, but this sort of brutality has little to do with fighting terrorism. The confessions coerced from teenagers at the Gush Etzion police station are related not to prospective suicide bombings but to rock-throwing incidents. Such behavior is unacceptable on its own terms and counter-productive, as it cultivates a hatred of Israelis among Palestinian youth that hardly needs assistance."


In the "Los Angeles Times," UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl writes that the belief that terrorism, at some level, is justified, is "at odds" with Islamic law. He says, "The Islamic juristic tradition, which is similar to the Jewish rabbinical tradition, has exhibited unmitigated hostility toward terror as a means of political resistance."

He adds: "Even if one assumes that countries such as the U.S. and Israel wage indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian casualties, from the theological point of view this would still not justify acts of terrorism. It is a well-established Koranic precept that the injustice of others does not excuse one's own injustice."

There is also another aspect to this problem, he says. "Modern Muslim terrorist groups are more rooted in national liberation ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries than they are in the Islamic tradition. Although these terrorist groups adopt various theological justifications for their behavior, their ideologies, symbolism, language and organizational structure reflect the influence of the anti-colonial struggle of the developing world. [In] short, modern Muslim terrorism is part of the historical legacy of colonialism and not the legacy of Islamic law. According to the Islamic juristic tradition, terrorists would have no quarter."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)