By Grant Podelco/Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba
Prague, 26 February 2002 (RFE/RL) --Western press commentary today focuses on a wide variety of issues -- from the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza to the ramifications of Pope John Paul II's meetings earlier this week with American cardinals over predatory Catholic priests. The French press continues to be fixated on Jean-Marie Le Pen's surprising showing in the 21 April first round of presidential elections. The 16th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster and the grim conditions inside the Shebergan prison in Afghanistan are also noted.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" criticizes what it calls Israel's "dispiriting" attitude toward the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The paper says senior Israeli army officers called last week for uprooting several dozen isolated Jewish settlements because of the military burden involved in protecting them. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "angrily dismissed" the idea, saying that as long as he is in power, there will be no discussion of removing a single settlement.
"It is hard to imagine," "The New York Times" says, "a more dispiriting statement for those hoping for a negotiated land-for-peace end to hostilities in the Middle East. If Mr. Sharon sticks to this view he will leave little hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.... Just as terror is the greatest Palestinian threat to Middle East peace, so are settlements on territory captured in the 1967 war the greatest Israeli obstacle to peace."
In the year that Sharon has been prime minister, the "Times" says 35 new settlement outposts have been established, while opinion polls show strong Israeli public support for removal of some settlements in exchange for peace. The "Times" says Sharon's comment undermines "the possibility that following [Israel's] military action, a meaningful political dialogue can begin."
"The Israeli public and the American government must not turn away from this painful reality," the "Times" concludes. "The Palestinian and Arab leadership must also realize that the longer the Palestinians rely on terrorism and fail to return to negotiation, the harder it will be to remove these 'facts on the ground.'"
French editorial opinion today remains focused on internal politics five days after far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly won enough votes to enable him to face incumbent conservative Jacques Chirac in the 5 May presidential runoff vote.
The left-of-center daily "Le Monde" commends Chirac for his decision this week not to participate in the traditional television debate between the two runoff candidates, calling it "a symbolic act that joins politics and morality."
The editorial notes that the paper has never hesitated to criticize Chirac on both political and ethical grounds in the past. But, it says, "not to approve his principled refusal to debate [with a man who speaks] for racism, antihumanism, and the negation of the universality of the human condition [would be to confuse] the unimportant with the essential."
Le Pen's ideas, it adds, "are to be combated, not debated."
In the left-of-center "Liberation," director Serge July says the increasing numbers of French youths who have taken to the streets of tens of cities across the country since the 21 April vote are providing a "lesson in civic behavior" for the country.
"In all these cities, mostly high-school students but also university students are gathering to combat Le Pen. In France, it's through street protests that each new generation undergoes its political baptism."
July goes on to say that it is "shame [about the results of the election's first round] that has brought young people into the streets. [These] spring demonstrations each day sound the democratic bell."
The conservative daily "Le Figaro" carries a piece by British commentator Ian Davidson, who writes that "the most disquieting element [of the campaign for the first-round vote] was to see how little each leader (that is, Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin) had to say about the Europe of tomorrow.
"After all," he continues, "the European Union has begun a long process that will probably be completed at the end of next year with a new constitutional treaty. Shortly afterwards, the union will take in at least 10 new members from Eastern Europe."
Davidson then asks: "And what did Chirac and Jospin have to say on the subject? Not a word. Why? Because they feared the crises that they were sure to be presented with [if they spoke of the EU's future publicly]."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" examines the fallout from this week's meeting at the Vatican of American cardinals summoned because of the scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests. Pope John Paul II declared there is "no place in the priesthood and religious life" for those who would harm the young.
"After nearly three months of daily headlines," the newspaper writes, "no one needs reminding that the scandal of sexually predatory priests is in good part of the church's own making.... There is outrage in the pews, and it is genuine."
But the "Journal" notes that, in a letter released on 24 April, the bishops take the blame for their own "pastoral laxity and moral fuzziness," saying that priests must promote the correct moral teachings of the church. And it says some reforms are already under way, including independent review boards that will try to prevent sexual-abuse cases from being ignored.
The "Journal" calls the Catholic Church one of America's "great assets" and says it does not believe the actions of a few ought to invalidate the work of the majority of priests who "teach our children" and "care for our sick."
It says the current scandal will serve a purpose if it forces America's bishops to take accusations against misbehaving priests more seriously. But it says it will not join those whose real agenda is to leave the church "crushed and humiliated."
The 16th anniversary of the nuclear power catastrophe at Ukraine's Chornobyl prompts a commentary in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," which considers the future use of atomic energy in Germany, in particular.
Today's anniversary also happens to coincide with the adoption of a bill by German lawmakers to gradually phase out the use of nuclear power in the country because of fear over its safety.
But the commentary goes on to say that there is no denying the existence of atomic energy in the world, and that many arguments prevail for its use. Economists' considerations, it says, are far stronger than the protests of anti-nuclear-power protesters. The paper says it will take some time to educate new specialists and introduce alternative energy sources.
Nevertheless, the paper says, Germans are lucky. They can afford to phase out the use of atomic energy, whereas the governments of Ukraine and Russia believe they can only afford to build new reactors, reactors which the paper says are more dangerous than the German ones.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Mark Lenzi, a Fulbright scholar based in Lithuania, writes in today's "The Wall Street Journal Europe" that Belarus has become the leading supplier of military equipment to the Islamic radical world.
Lenzi cites Eastern European intelligence sources and "Jane's Defence International" as saying Belarus has secretly delivered more than $500 million worth of weapons to Palestinian militants and countries that harbor terrorists, including Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has also made recent foreign visits to what Lenzi calls a "who's who of international bad guys" such as Libya and Cuba.
"In light of today's tensions in the Middle East and Iraq, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush needs to develop a strategy to counter what this European rogue state is doing right under NATO's nose."
Lenzi says Lukashenka seems to relish his role of international outlaw and that the problem represents a unique challenge. Lenzi says the Bush administration must recognize Moscow's special influence over Belarus and develop a strategy to deal with Minsk that incorporates Washington's own new relationship with Russia.
He says Bush -- during his upcoming visit to Moscow -- must persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to use the Kremlin's "overwhelming leverage" on Lukashenka to end covert weapons sales to rogue states and terrorist groups. Lenzi calls this "perhaps the most important (and most overlooked) area in which Moscow can help Washington in its fight against terrorism."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In an editorial, "The Washington Post" expresses concern about what it calls "the signs of growing disorder and lawlessness in Afghanistan." "There are the gangs of thugs who swagger through the streets of Khost, openly brandishing their Kalashnikovs and grenade-launchers. There are the rival militias that continue to fight for control of the north of the country, making a mockery of the central government's authority. And then there is the prison in Shebergan, 60 miles west of Mazar-i-Sharif, where conditions for the 2,700 inmates -- all men who were captured by U.S.-backed forces in last year's military campaign -- are so bad that the International Red Cross was forced to step in last week to avert mass starvation."
The editorial focuses on Shebergan: "Some may think," it says, "this shameful and inhumane treatment is the just deserts of fighters who joined with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. And yet most of those held at Shebergan had little or nothing to do with either Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization or its Afghan allies. Prisoners who did have such connections were long ago singled out by teams of U.S. interrogators -- they are now in the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, where conditions are positively luxurious compared with Shebergan's."
The paper blames the Bush administration, and particularly the Pentagon, for "washing its hands" of the Shebergan affair.
"But," it concludes, "it also raises a question about President Bush's renewed pledge not to walk away from Afghanistan's problems, delivered even as the men of Shebergan starved. Was he serious?"
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
"The Wall Street Journal Europe" finds an unusual common factor in many recent West European elections in which the right has triumphed.
"Four years ago in Europe," the paper writes in an editorial, "only Spain and Ireland were led by right-of-center political parties. But by the end of this year Sweden, Belgium, and Greece may be the only left-wing governments remaining of 15 in the European Union. We'd like to offer a two-word explanation for this remarkable swing: the euro."
The paper calls this notion "heresy in Europe, where both the right and left have predicted that a common currency would produce a new socialist era." But, it argues: "The most important economic fact about the euro is that in 3 1/2 years it has united the continent around a single monetary policy."
"This," it says, "has taken away the inflation alternative for individual countries, meaning they can't stage short-term monetary booms at election time. Now and then a government still beseeches the European Central Bank, low poll ratings in hand, for an inflation bailout. But ECB President Wim Duisenberg has always refused, to his credit."
The editorial says the end of the inflation evasion has forced the left and the voters to face economic reality. "Instead of manipulating their currencies, countries must implement policies that make themselves attractive to investors. This," the paper points out, "has proven to be a boon for the likes of Ireland, which has a 12.5 percent corporate tax rate that is the lowest in the EU. That once-impoverished land of emigrants today boasts a GDP per capita of $28,500, the highest in the EU after Luxembourg."
NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:
The Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" leads its editorial on the Middle East conflict by saying, "The Jenin refugee camp has become a myth, but the form of the myth has not been clarified as yet."
The Israelis are presenting the image of the camp as a terrorist stronghold which for months served as a refuge for suicide terrorists intent on murdering Israelis. On the other hand, the Palestinians first declared Jenin to be a symbol of resistance to Israeli aggression after the deaths of numerous Israeli soldiers. Only after the fall of the camp did the Palestinians accuse Israel of murdering defenseless civilians.
Now the world is faced with the problem of discovering the truth of what actually happened in Jenin. The world is now focusing on this issue for several reasons. It is shocked by the "earthquake" image of Jenin. The destruction in the camp has become a symbol for hundreds of incidents of Israeli brutality toward the Palestinians in past weeks.
The events in Jenin are all the more suspect since aid organizations and the media were prevented access. "The Israelis obviously have something to hide," says the commentary.
What is more, Jenin points not only to the dire conflict between Israel and Palestine, but also to the strong role of the media and public opinion. In the past 20 years, a victory for the Israelis on the battlefield has always resulted in a defeat with regard to public opinion. No public relations efforts can now reverse the prevailing impression of atrocities committed by Israel.
The ruins of Jenin, in addition, demonstrate the absolute destruction of a 10-year peace process. The conflict today is being conducted on a military and propaganda level. Instead, a way to the negotiating table should be found as fast as possible. Unfortunately, none of the recent missions by high-ranking diplomats has found a recipe to bring this about.