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Western Press Review: Powell's Mideast Challenge, EU Diplomacy, And The ICC

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today is dominated by speculation over the outcome of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Colin is also to meet tomorrow with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who remains under siege at the remains of his Ramallah headquarters. Other issues considered today include the final ratification yesterday of the International Criminal Court, European diplomatic "feebleness," and the situation in Afghanistan.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" today says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will have to "lean forcefully" on both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "The difficulty of Powell's task is that he cannot oblige one [leader] to do what Washington is asking without being able simultaneously to elicit cooperation from the other. If Arafat does not halt the demented cruelty of suicide bombing, how can Powell expect to demand that Sharon cut short Israel's military [campaign]? And if Sharon does not offer the Palestinians a political path to [ending] Israeli military occupation, then how can Powell hope to persuade Arafat [to] ask his people to cease all forms of violence?"

Sharon's military tactics cannot bring Israel security, says the paper. Palestinians must have a reason to reject violence and, ultimately, "a truly viable state." But this state will remain unattainable unless Arafat can stop the violence from extremists.

The "Globe" says Powell must cope with two "harsh realities." One is that the past 18 months of violence have pushed moderates on both sides -- people whom the paper calls "those Israeli and Palestinian majorities that were enthusiastic for peace in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords" -- more toward the extremists. The second reality is that what Sharon and Arafat are willing to cede to the other side appears to be "an unbridgeable chasm."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says the latest suicide bombing in Haifa has "underlined the futility of Israel's military campaign in the Palestinian territories. Yet despite growing international concern over killings and destruction in Palestinian towns, [Israeli] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused to heed Washington's calls for an end to his offensive."

But leaders in the Arab world have also not been helpful, says the paper. They refuse to condemn Palestinian suicide attacks because they believe Arab public opinion will not allow it. The editorial says "the delicate balance" Arab rulers have tried to strike "between maintaining close U.S. ties and responding to popular resentment of Washington has been shattered."

The paper says these leaders "must resist the emotions of the streets and condemn suicide bombings." If they are going to remain credible in the eyes of their people, the editorial says, "the U.S. must help them by showing even-handedness in its actions, as well as its statements. That means willingness to apply pressure to Israel as it does on the Palestinians."

The "Financial Times" goes on to say that "a cease-fire will be meaningless unless nurtured and protected by a constant U.S. commitment. A robust international observer presence that separates the two sides and monitors compliance with a cease-fire is essential," it says.


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Nikolas Busse calls the European Union's recent diplomatic efforts "feeble." He notes that prior to his attempt to mediate a settlement in the Middle East, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana declared that both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should retire. Solana then seemed surprised Sharon would not let him meet with Arafat. Busse remarks that at the same time, European Commission President Romano Prodi increased financial aid to the Palestinians and Spain threatened to impose sanctions on Israel -- "and the entire EU was indignant at not being accepted as a mediator in the region."

Busse says this "immaturity reflects a stunted foreign and security policy." Most European capitals, he says, believe every conflict can be settled with goodwill, money, and treaties. "This results in a foreign policy [that] usually follows a single pattern: First, EU foreign ministers express their 'concern' at the latest source of trouble. Then they call on the United States to act because something bad has happened. Finally, after Washington has cleared away the debris, the relieved Europeans write a few checks for peacekeeping troops and other presents supposedly meant to civilize the evildoers."

Busse says this type of diplomacy is no longer suited to international politics: "The real challenges to Western security lie [in] a handful of Third World countries whose leaders are not impressed by the furrowed brows of European politicians."


An editorial in "The New York Times" today says one tragic consequence of the Israeli military offensive in the West Bank has been "the heavy blow it inflicted on a Palestinian economy and civil society that had begun to show signs of life." The paper says if Palestinians and Israelis "are ever to live side by side in peace and cooperation, one obvious prerequisite will be a Palestinian economy that generates jobs and prosperity for its people and civil institutions that can broaden debate and begin to supplant the paramilitary secular and Islamist groups that now monopolize Palestinian political activity."

The editorial says "Israel's long-term interest lies in nurturing Palestinian development, not demolishing it." While it calls Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's desire to uproot terrorist cells and suicide bombers "understandable," it says Israel's "destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses, and public utilities is not. Knocking down houses, destroying electricity pylons and interfering with health care, as Israeli forces have done across the West Bank, cannot be justified by any compelling military need," the paper says.


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is on a mission "that should never have been undertaken." Israel, it says, is engaged in "a struggle for its survival as intense as any since [its] foundation." The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is right to seek out terrorists, although "[foolproof] protection against attacks by fanatics is an illusion. But military action can considerably reduce their likelihood. What [U.S. President George W.] Bush is trying to do on a global scale, Ariel Sharon is seeking on the more limited stage of the West Bank," says the paper.

The "Daily Telegraph" goes on to say that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is no longer a credible negotiator for a peaceful settlement: "Since launching the second intifada, the [Palestinian] Authority has not been a serious partner for peace," it writes. The Palestinian Authority has "abdicated responsibility for controlling violence, indeed [has] chosen it as an alternative to negotiation."

The paper concludes that: "Most fair-minded people hope that the Palestinians achieve some sort of state that they can call their own. But it will not be done with the PA's present configuration. [Yasser] Arafat has deservedly forfeited Israeli trust [and] does not have an important role in bringing peace to the Middle East. One of the worst results of the secretary of state's ill-advised mission would be the resuscitation of this obstacle to peace as an interlocutor."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" says claims by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel is engaged in a struggle for its survival are not true. However ignoble and monstrous the Palestinian suicide attacks may be, the paper says, "the survival of Israel is not at stake in the current conflict." Sharon's choice of words is the mark of extremism, it says, for "if the 'survival' of the country is at stake, then anything is justified."

"Le Monde" says this "semantic drift" is being accompanied by a political drift to the right in Jerusalem. "Supported, for the moment, by a large majority of his compatriots, Ariel Sharon has just admitted some of the most extremist elements of the Israeli far right to his government." In the territories, the Israeli Army leaves a "landscape of devastation" in its wake, and those rare eye-witness accounts attest to Israel's policy of not allowing ambulances in to help the wounded. Hundreds of Palestinian deaths have occurred and are mounting, as does the humiliation of the Palestinian civilian population. "Le Monde" suggests that Prime Minister Sharon believes in a purely military solution to the crisis. But it says in the ruins left behind, Sharon also "leaves thousands of young Palestinians who will have only one obsession: revenge."


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" says the U.S. secretary of state's meeting with the Israeli leadership is "a critical test of the balance of forces within and between the U.S. and Israeli governments." But the limitations of the U.S. administration's policies are becoming more apparent. President George W. Bush's calls for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories have gone unheeded, the paper notes. "Bush's departure from uncritical support for everything the Israeli government does was welcome, but it is becoming clearer that it was forced on a reluctant president rather than representing a genuine change of heart," the paper writes. "The Israeli incursion into the Palestinian territories threatened to provoke a regional crisis," which forced a shift in U.S. policy. The paper says Bush's demand for an Israeli withdrawal "was more an attempt to limit the damage from a failed Middle East policy than part of a considered strategy."

"The Independent" goes on to note that there is little opposition within the Israeli government to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies. Nor is he losing support among the Israeli people. And Secretary of State Colin Powell will probably not be authorized to impose sanctions on Israel for its failure to comply with U.S. demands. The editorial concludes that, "Until the U.S. is prepared to bring material pressure to bear on Israel, the prospects for Mr. Powell's mission in the Middle East remain bleak."


In an editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Stefan Ulrich discusses the establishment of the world's first permanent international court. The International Criminal Court, or ICC, received the final ratifications necessary for creation yesterday at the United Nations. Ulrich says the ratification of the tribunal was a blow for the United States, which has claimed a permanent international court would encroach on national sovereignty. But Ulrich says the ratification arose from the reasonable conviction that such a court "is overdue, that it is necessary to provide the world with a stable structure" for justice.

Ulrich says the new court will not ensure peace on earth, but it will promote justice. Despots accused of the crimes against humanity may lose their support base, for they will be isolated and treated as outlaws. The tribunal will also force many states to raise the level of their national legal and justice systems to an international human-rights standard, since the tribunal will only have jurisdiction when a state does not have the will or ability to persecute its own criminals. Ulrich predicts that the very existence of the tribunal "will exert far more influence than the often inconsequential pacts proclaiming support for peace, freedom, and human rights."


The Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" also looks at the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which it regards as a qualitative leap in international justice. However, the commentary points out, there have been international tribunals in the past -- in Nueremberg and Tokyo after World War II, and today at The Hague -- yet they have not deterred war criminals. A permanent international court should not be overestimated, says the paper: The dynamics of war and hate cannot be restrained by human-rights proclamations. In addition, it says, without the will to apprehend war criminals, justice cannot be dispensed.

The "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" says ratification remains an issue. The U.S., China, and Russia have not yet agreed to the Rome Treaty establishing the court. States and governments that are accustomed to asserting their interests with their global power are naturally reluctant to have their freedom of action limited, says the editorial. But the "rights of might" are not going to be eclipsed by the court overnight. The tribunal signifies a positive beginning, and the paper says it will establish justice "wherever it is legally necessary and politically possible."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. envoy to Bosnia Daniel Serwer says while U.S. forces have scored victories against Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan, "a war is being lost in the rest of the country. The security situation is deteriorating."

Serwer says many of the problems in Afghanistan "are familiar from experience in the Balkans -- lengthy warfare, massive population displacements, collapsed states, bombing followed by international intervention on the ground, massive humanitarian needs, and large-scale reconstruction requirements." But he says the primary lesson for the West from Bosnia is that if the international community wants to determine outcomes, it must have "forces on the ground, not just in Kabul. [They] should be deployed throughout the country, as both the United Nations and the Afghan government are asking." He says peacekeeping forces must "establish military superiority over armed factions. [Only] in a secure environment can a serious, peaceful political process begin."

Serwer says when "security is established and people are fed, rule of law becomes the pressing need." Creating a police force, courts, and prisons is a priority, as is ensuring that life and property are protected, "violators arrested, tried, and punished, and the confidence of ordinary people in the fairness and transparency of judicial institutions established." To allow post-conflict chaos to reign, he says, is a recipe for disaster.

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