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Western Press Review: The Mideast, Hungarian Politics, And Trouble In Moldova

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 5 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press continues to discuss events in the Middle East, as Israeli offensives in the West Bank persist following a failed diplomatic effort yesterday by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, who were not allowed to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Increased U.S. involvement is now signaled by the announcement that Secretary of State Colin Powell will head to the region. Other topics today include the lingering challenges to Afghan unity, Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orban, and simmering troubles in Moldova.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "reliance on military force and oppression has not brought the security he promised, but has exacerbated the despondency and bitterness felt throughout Israeli society." But on the other hand, he says, the Islamic extremist suicide bombings are not merely acts of despair, committed by those who ultimately want peace, but actions that ultimately seek "to destroy Israel."

"The political and cultural incompatibility of the parties to the current conflict is proving an insuperable barrier." Many observers now believe "that outside involvement is pointless as long as the violence, fanaticism, and terrorism are not exhausted." Yet he says that to stand by and watch until "one huge cathartic event" finally brings both sides "to their senses" would mean "to disregard both the lives of innocent victims as well as those for whom the search for a just settlement" was always a goal.

Frankenberger says the Palestinians "have a right to a state of their own." But ultimately, he says, Arab states throughout the region "will have to develop. Only by modernizing will they eventually be able to live at peace with Israel, whose legitimacy they would then no longer have to acknowledge from a position of helplessness. Then, they would also no longer feel the need for a cult of martyrdom and victimization."


In "Eurasia View," journalist and Afghan affairs analyst Camelia Entekhabi-Fard discusses the Afghan interim defense minister's trip to Kandahar this week, and says General Mohammad Qasim Fahim's trip highlighted some of the divisions that persist among Afghans. Fahim sought to integrate local military forces into the developing Afghan national army. But in Kandahar, the legitimacy of Fahim and his fellow Northern Alliance veterans in the interim government is suspect.

"Before and since Taliban rule, the ethnic Pashtuns who dominate Kandahar have mistrusted ethnic Tajiks like Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Though interim government chairman Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun, his cabinet includes many Tajiks. As such, the Kabul administration has very little leverage other than the backing of the international community."

Fahim requested Kandahar's reining warlord, Gul Agha Shirzai, to contribute some of his reported 30,000 troops to the national army in Kabul. While Shirzai "publicly praised the Karzai government and added that this was a time for reconstruction and cooperation among all the nationalities of Afghanistan, [from] there the two leaders' views diverged." Kandahar's Pashtuns are "unabashedly royalist," Entekhabi-Fard says, and support the return of former King Zahir Shah to power.

"Fahim's trip ended without much resolved," says Entekhabi-Fard. Shirzai will send a symbolic contribution of 100 troops to the national forces, and perhaps more. She concludes that "significant splits" between local warlords and the central government remain that may prove challenges to Afghan unity.


An editorial in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict taking place directly on historic and sacred territory -- in Bethlehem -- and its religious connotations. As so often, says the commentator, it is difficult to distinguish between "wishful thinking and truth." The propaganda machines on both sides are trying to win over international public opinion in this "symbolically sensitive" situation. The Palestinians present their predicament as that of hostages seeking asylum in holy places, while the Israelis claim they are dealing with armed men abusing "God's house."

The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" expresses the view that even though the Israelis may have the grounds for defensive operations, they have already lost by permitting themselves to be embroiled in a battle in Bethlehem. But similarly, it says, if the Palestinians abuse this religious symbol then they will also discredit themselves in the eyes of the world.


An analysis in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by editorial page editor Therese Raphael discusses Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orban, ahead of this Sunday's (7 April) elections. She says Orban is a "European conservative whose economic views are inclined toward corporatism." He has set out to build a strong center-right movement in Hungary, and is seeking to become the first prime minister in postcommunist Hungary to win a second mandate. This, he believes, "will force the Socialists to purge the remaining old apparatchiks and overhaul party structures," says Raphael. "Orban's uncompromising style, nationalist language -- more patriotism than anything sinister, as is sometimes implied -- and preference for the fait accompli has angered just about every constituency that is not entitled to go to the polls on Sunday to cast a vote."

While she says that "there is very little difference in economic policy, or even foreign policy objectives, between the Socialists and Mr. Orban's Young Democrats' Alliance, known as FIDESZ, the styles -- one consensual, the other adversarial -- are worlds apart. The Socialist Party emphasizes its experience and institutional foundation. FIDESZ plays up its independence, youthfulness and willingness to take on sacred cows in order to defend Hungarian interests." The difference between the two parties competing in Sunday's elections, she says, "reflects the broader battle taking place in Europe between center-left politicians [and] those on the right."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" says that U.S. President George W. Bush has been more critical of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat than of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Bush's statements "endorsed, at least as a temporary measure, what Mr. Sharon has been doing in the West Bank following the suicide bombing in Netanya." It adds that the U.S. president "said the current situation was largely of Mr. Arafat's own making; by missing opportunities for peace, he had betrayed his own people; he should focus on Palestinians' needs, rather than feeding their resentments." The "Telegraph" says Bush virtually rejected Arafat "as a valid interlocutor."

From these observations, the paper says Israel need not fear that its U.S. ally will turn its back. While Washington realizes "that Israeli military action could undermine its efforts to build a regional coalition for the overthrow of [Iraq's] Saddam Hussein, [if] the cost of that coalition is acquiescing in Arab terror, it will go ahead without its backing."

The "Telegraph" says that "unless there is a radical change of heart among the Palestinians, Washington would be wise [to] keep at arm's length a conflict that will suck it fruitlessly into interminable negotiation. [The] Palestinians may at present be unable to conceive of any other leader. But Mr. Arafat is not the man to lead them towards the promise of peace and prosperity."


An editorial in the French daily "Liberation" says that Europe is welcoming America's re-engagement in the Middle East peace process. U.S. President George W. Bush's call for an Israeli retreat from the occupied territories as a prelude to a cease-fire and negotiations did not go over so well in Israel, but it was welcomed "unconditionally" by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Both French President Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine welcomed Bush's move, and Vedrine proposed the immediate cooperation of the EU's 15 members.

Bush's speech came "just at the right moment," says the editorial, to counteract the "Europeans' diplomatic fiasco in the region. They made fools of themselves by sending a badly prepared mission to Israel," it says. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana returned to Europe the same day they left, without having been able to meet either Yasser Arafat or Israel's Prime Minister Sharon.

Things had begun badly earlier in the week, says "Liberation," when the EU's foreign secretaries met urgently in Luxembourg. Very quickly, it was apparent that there was no consensus among the 15, says the paper. Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Spain, and Ireland maintained that it was necessary to let the Americans act. The UN Security Council resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal, supported by Washington, was deemed sufficient for the moment. But fortunately, "Liberation" says, Bush's speech and America's re-engagement has changed all of this.


Christian Ultsch, writing in "Die Welt," looks at the ineffectualness of EU diplomacy in its attempt to ease tensions in the Middle East. An indication of how "disunited and toothless" the EU is was clearly demonstrated yesterday by how easily Israel prevented the delegation, led by foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, from meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on their emergency visit to the region.

In theory, says Ultsch, the EU has the power to exert economic pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians. But Europe does not really dare to do this -- at least not the Germans, he says -- because that would mean divesting it of the mediating role that it believes itself to occupy. And so, Ultsch says, the EU contents itself with "stereotyped admonitions."

Ultsch suggests that only U.S. President George W. Bush can exert influence on Israel at a time when all else has failed and Israel is becoming more and more isolated. In fact, he says, the only way Israel can regain the diplomatic advantage is to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories. "Any reasonable person would consider this act as one of strength, not of weakness," he says.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at political troubles in Moldova as thousands of demonstrators continue to take to the streets in Chisinau, calling for the ouster of Communist President Vladimir Voronin and new elections. The paper says: "no doubt about it, this fight is over Moldova's very soul. In one corner are nationalists who favor closer ties, possibly even reunification, with Romania; two-thirds of Moldovans are ethnically and linguistically Romanians. In the other is a significant Russian minority, plus a handful of Moldovans, favoring closer ties to Russia." Voronin's government blames Moldova's "serious economic problems -- guns and prostitutes are now chief exports -- on the loosening of old Soviet economic links."

Two recent governmental decrees on education -- one mandating Russian-language instruction and the other providing a new, revised history curriculum -- sparked the ongoing protests. For many Moldovans, the editorial says, these decisions were uncomfortable reminders of the russification that characterized Moldova's past. Now, the anti-Communist Popular Party Christian Democratic "has tapped into a potentially virulent strand of nationalism to try to topple an elected government. Clearly what passes for democracy in Moldova isn't faring well," says the paper.

The editorial goes on to suggest that perhaps EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana "should turn his sights to Moldova." It says the EU has "a clear interest and a clear role to play. Moldova has already been neglected by Europe for too long with potentially serious consequences for all."

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