Prague, 18 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses on the options for deploying an international peacekeeping force to Afghanistan and the situation in the Middle East, among other issues. While pressure mounts on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to rein in extremists that target civilians, commentators also call on Israel to end its policies of assassinating Palestinian leaders and of occupying Palestinian territories.
An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" considers the deployment of a British-led peacekeeping force to Afghanistan. The paper says that "it is politically essential that a visible part of the force be in Kabul by Saturday," 22 December -- the day on which the Bonn agreement for an interim administration, headed by Hamid Karzai, is to come into effect.
"The Independent" says the acceptance of a multinational force was "a crucial aspect" of the agreement in Bonn. Without some sort of international armed presence in Kabul, representatives from groups other than the Northern Alliance said they would not take part. "Diehards in the Northern Alliance wanted a mere token presence, little more than personal security guards for the interim administration." The initial force, it says, will probably be big enough "to protect the administration and discourage interethnic reprisals in Kabul but small enough to be acceptable to all parties."
The paper goes on to say that the troops' responsibility to "stabilize" the situation in Afghanistan "places the obligations of the force somewhere between peacekeeping and peace-making." The paper says that hopefully, it will soon give way to "a larger, longer-term and more multinational force whose mission is only to keep and not forge the peace."
A "Financial Times" editorial looks at the situation in the Middle East. It says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's call over the weekend for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians was "long overdue. The uncontrolled recent upsurge in killings of Jewish civilians has terrorized Israel and damaged the Palestinian cause."
But now that Arafat has made this move, the paper says Israel should respond "by easing military pressure on the Palestinian Authority." It adds: "True, Mr. Arafat's words do not automatically translate into an end to attacks. [But] it is in Israel's interest to bolster Mr. Arafat's ability to carry out a crackdown. [Israel's] actions such as bombing security buildings, assassinating militants, and invading Palestinian-controlled territory undermine Mr. Arafat's authority and provoke violent reactions from extremists."
The policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have served to isolate Arafat internationally and erode his credibility within the region; Sharon seems to have concluded that Israel would be better off without Arafat. "But it is difficult to see the wisdom of a policy that seeks to replace Mr. Arafat, a leader who has been elected by Palestinians," the paper writes. "Any successor viewed as credible is likely to prove less accommodating towards Israel. Imposing a leadership that blindly follows Israeli orders could provoke a civil war, with dangerous consequences for Palestinians and for Israel's security."
A "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" editorial says that the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan lacks leadership. The talks aimed at creating a multinational peacekeeping force for Afghanistan are now facing a difficult challenge.
The editorial notes that British forces are to be in command, but says they lack leadership structures. And now, it says, "in desperation, they are playing with the idea of charging the U.S. with the responsibility for this operation -- and are thus connecting the current war with the future peace mission."
The commentary says this situation shows "the shameful confusion caused by a failure to institute a genuine coordination center for military planning. NATO has not completed the necessary paperwork and the EU is filling this void, but is 'operational' only as a figment of the Belgian foreign minister's imagination" -- a reference to Louis Michel's recommendation at the EU summit last weekend that the EU rapid-reaction force should be declared operational, whether it had operational capabilities or not.
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
In "The Boston Globe," Charles Stith says that tackling suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is not enough -- the West must also tackle bin Ladenism. He says crucial to this aim is that the developed world makes "good on its promises at the UN Millennium Summit to hit the seven targets in the fight against poverty. Those commitments were made in New York almost a year to the day before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," he notes.
European nations have expressed the belief that the world "will only be safe from terrorism when we deal with the conditions that feed fanaticism," says Stith. He urges the United States to also "unequivocally declare" itself "intent on leading the way financially to fight the twin evils of terrorism and poverty."
Doing so, he says, "will give the United States the moral standing to set out conditionalities for aid that will result in this effort being more than simply throwing money at the problem [or] throwing good money after bad." Stith continues: "Other world leaders have tried to make the point that to capture or kill bin Laden is not enough to end the threat we face. If we are ultimately going to secure our way of life, we must put to death the lie that bin Laden's way is the way for the world's poor to find hope and opportunity."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee says: "The Israeli rhetoric about [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat has become increasingly incoherent in recent weeks. One day, he is solely responsible for the conflict, the very incarnation of evil. The next day, he is declared 'irrelevant.' The day after that, everything depends on his security forces suppressing Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a task Israel could never accomplish even with far more military power."
Ibish says the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "came to power declaring that a military victory was possible and that sufficient force would compel the Palestinians to end their uprising and give up their dream of independence." Thus, he says, "there is no reason to believe that Sharon wants the violence to end, except in terms of a Palestinian capitulation."
Rather than playing a constructive role, Ibish says the U.S. administration has "blocked efforts by the international community to help curb the violence." He notes that on 15 December, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that sought the creation of an international monitoring mission for the region, and which "condemned all terrorist acts, executions without trial, excessive use of force, and the destruction of property."
Ibish says Washington thus "pours fuel on the fire by funding, arming and supporting one side and preventing even the most tentative international action to douse the flames."
In the "Chicago Tribune," "In These Times" senior editor Salim Muwakkil proposes that the UN could become the world's greatest tool to fight terrorism. "Utilize the UN to establish a permanent International Criminal Court with jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity -- such as the 11 September attacks. This new court would be granted the police powers needed to enforce its edicts. It would be empowered to pursue terrorists across all borders and force the accountability of governments that protect them. With a commitment to the civilizing force of law and impartial justice, this new international court would present a tangible alternative to the logic of terror."
By contrast, he says, "the current U.S. strategy of fighting terrorism -- military ostentation, imperialist swagger, secret military tribunals, et cetera -- makes the point that power is the only law worth respecting."
Muwakkil says the UN already has the authority to act against international terrorism. "But it has no power to enforce that authority," he writes. An international criminal court with supra-jurisdictional police powers, he says, "would mark a shift away from the patterns of violence that enflame the passions of war. The carnage that characterizes the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is an example of how violence and vengeance reproduce each other in endless progression."
In French daily "Le Monde," Patrick Jarreau says the United States is attempting to keep a delicate balance between its support for the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon and its interest in maintaining the support of Arab governments.
The paper says the United States will undoubtedly place most of the blame for the failure of the mission of Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni -- who was recalled to Washington for consultations over the weekend -- squarely on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But even so, says Jarreau, the U.S. does not exempt the Israeli government from all responsibility.
The author notes that while the White House considers Arafat's statements over the weekend to be "constructive," it has also said they must be followed by "concrete actions." Jarreau says, "Thus, once again, the comments of the White House parallel those of the Israeli government."
But the Americans have not accepted the Israeli claim that Arafat is "irrelevant," he says. Arafat was chosen by the Palestinian people, and as long as he has their support, the U.S. has said it will continue to negotiate with him, says Jarreau.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says it seems ever more unlikely that the UN Security Council will adopt a clear-cut resolution on Afghanistan. A session with this item on its agenda has been postponed three times, it says, and such procrastination is far from beneficial for Kabul.
The deadlock seems to be coming from two directions. First, from Afghanistan itself, where the hard-won agreement from Bonn is being torn apart again as interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah demands a say in the composition of the proposed peacekeeping force. Second, the British are also creating problems by insisting on U.S. involvement in commanding the multinational security force.
The war and peace operations, bearing in mind a future UN force, were supposed to be clearly separated. The commentary advocates a speedy settlement of this issue -- the sooner a Security Council resolution is adopted, the better, it says.
In Britain's "The Guardian," George Monbiot expresses concern that the West's war on terrorism threatens to undermine the very values it claims to serve and protect. He says the suspension of certain civil liberties by governments backing the war in Afghanistan is a disturbing development.
"The new antiterror acts approved in Britain and the U.S. have, like the reinstatement of the CIA's license to kill, been widely reported. The measures introduced by some other allied governments are less well-known...."
The rapid development of surveillance technology also poses a threat to liberty, he says. "Unmanned spy planes which could follow the Taliban's cars and detect the presence of humans behind 100 feet of rock are both awesome and terrifying," he says. "Technologies like this, combined with [closed-circuit television], face-recognition software, e-mail and phone surveillance, microbugs, forensic science, the monitoring of financial transactions and the pooling of government databases, ensure that governments now have the means, if they choose to deploy them, of following almost every move we make, every word we utter," Monbiot writes.
As he puts it, "While those who seek to deny our liberties claim to defend individualism, in truth they gently engineer a conformity of belief and action, which is drifting towards a new fundamentalism."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Also in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger lauds the success, thus far, of the campaign in Afghanistan. But he adds that the West is "a long way from being able to announce a victory over terrorism, and a similar distance from being able to call Afghanistan a land at peace. Consolidating the situation, forging alliances among former rivals and creating a legitimate state apparatus will be the task that falls to the new transitional government under the designated prime minister, Hamid Karzai. He will not really be able to accomplish this without international help. He will not succeed unless society functions at a minimum level."
For that reason, says Frankenberger, "the presence of an international security force is vital. These troops cannot guarantee that the transition to a postwar society will run smoothly, but they can provide forceful proof that the international community will not stand idly by and watch the country slide again into political anarchy and a terrorism so unbridled that it does not recoil even from mass murder."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)