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Western Press Review: The Mideast, Abdullah's Uncertain Political Future, U.S. Foreign Policy

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 9 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary today in the Western press once again focuses on the Middle East, as a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Washington was cut short following a suicide bombing outside Tel Aviv. Other issues discussed include the uncertain political future of Afghan interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, celebrating Europe Day, and whether U.S. foreign policy has once again adopted the ruthlessly pragmatic methods of the Cold War.


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" says the latest Israeli suicide bombing -- in a billiard hall in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv -- further undermines the position of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. While his recent words against such suicide bombings have been tougher, "his power to carry out his words is weaker than ever."

This situation, says the editorial, is partly because Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "did much to degrade and incapacitate the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus and infrastructure during Israel's military invasion of the West Bank cities and camps last month." But the paper says it is also because the extremists of Hamas and other groups "pay no heed" to Arafat. "Opposed to any form of accommodation with Israel," the paper says, "they have long regarded Mr. Arafat's involvement in the peace process with suspicion and contempt."

"The Guardian" says this latest bombing is a disaster for the Palestinian leader. "Politically, it revealed the feebleness of his position. [Arafat] appears to have very little control over day-to-day events. To claim the opposite would, of course, be to admit complicity in the resuming suicide attacks."

Even assuming an eventual "two-state" solution, the paper asks, "how does [Arafat] imagine ordinary Israelis and Palestinians co-existing peacefully when their lives are daily punctuated by vicious, random acts of blood? The same question applies to Mr. Sharon, except that he, in his heart, opposes a Palestinian state altogether."


Today is Europe Day, which celebrates the beginning of the creation of what is now known as the European Union in 1950. In a contribution to the German paper "Die Welt," former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl calls Europe "an incredible success." Kohl traces the history of the European Union from a post-World War II vision conceived by Great Britain and France through the first courageous steps taken toward establishing a European Community to the present form of the EU.

As of the beginning of the year, 300 million Europeans in 12 European states have adopted the euro as a common currency. "Europe has thus become a piece of our daily life and the euro an important mark of identification," Kohl writes. The euro now constitutes a landmark which denotes no return, he says. Present-day Europe "has proved that visionaries in history are frequently the true realists."

But there are still immense tasks ahead of us, Kohl says. Several countries are set to join the EU in the next round of enlargement. The EU will continue to grow, but at the same time requires reorganization and a rethinking of its procedures and institutions. It must go through the difficult process of adopting a new constitution.

But there is no need for resignation in the face of these difficulties, says Kohl. These challenges should not deter Europe from a further expansion of the European Union. As Kohl puts it, there is no alternative.


In "Eurasia View," journalist and Afghan affairs analyst Camelia Enkhetabi-Fard says that Afghan interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is facing an uncertain political future ahead of the upcoming Loya Jirga, the grand council meeting that will decide the specifics of Afghanistan's future government.

Abdullah and the officials that work for him at the Foreign Ministry in Kabul are set apart from many Afghans by their cosmopolitanism, and much behind-the-scenes maneuvering -- and growing criticism of Abdullah -- has begun ahead of the Loya Jirga. Abdullah and his people refuse to publicly campaign for positions in the government, says Enkhetabi-Fard, but are nevertheless becoming anxious over the Loya Jirga's outcome.

Enkhetabi-Fard says the separation between Abdullah's circle and other Afghans "has become a political liability." In Afghanistan, ethnic, tribal, and other divisions "make loyalties as important as competence for political legitimacy." Abdullah has reason to be proud of his record, she says, despite being faced with "a near-empty treasury and legions of inherited problems."

However, Enkhetabi-Fard says the question of his political future remains very much open.


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" says that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "has failed to offer his people either the hope that might dissuade them, or the force that might prevent them, from turning to war. The paper says since Israelis have no guarantee that the terrorist violence will end, "they feel they have no choice but to try to secure themselves in the short term as best they can." However, it adds, the way the Israeli Defense Force has gone about trying to provide this security will ultimately "only make the underlying situation worse."

"The Independent" suggests two policy shifts for Israel that it says would make an eventual peace more likely. The first is to internationalize the conflict, providing a larger role for the international community to mediate and, perhaps, police the situation in the contested territory. The other is to rethink the Israeli settlements.

"Of all the injustices suffered by the Palestinians, the seizure of land and the building of new Israeli towns in occupied territory is the most grievous. Much of the occupied land will have to be returned to the Palestinians if there is to be any hope of healing the national trauma of which suicide bombing is the most extreme manifestation."


A "Financial Times" editorial says that the latest suicide-bombing attack in a billiard hall near Tel Aviv "cast a shadow" over renewed U.S. attempts to play a more prominent role in settling the conflict. In two days of talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington (7-8 May), the Israeli delegation focused on persuading the Bush administration that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was himself involved in terrorism and should not be dealt with. Sharon's visit was cut short upon hearing reports of the bombing.

But the "Financial Times" says: "Such atrocities [should] not be allowed to shatter diplomatic moves to overcome nearly 19 months of violence. Predictably, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, has pledged to retaliate harshly. But what would another military operation accomplish?" the paper asks. The latest attack "undermines Israeli claims that the 'infrastructure of terror' has been destroyed," the editorial says. "It also reinforces international warnings that the pursuit of a military solution could at best provide a temporary respite to Israel while it risks deepening Palestinian despair and creating new suicide bombers."

The paper says the U.S. "would serve Israel's best interests today by telling Mr. Sharon to show restraint while it increases pressure on Yasser Arafat [to] do all he can to stop attacks. The continued violence underlines the need to redouble the search for a political settlement."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush broadly agreed on the need for reforming the Palestinian Authority during their meeting earlier this week in Washington. This reform must begin with the Palestinian police and security forces of Yasser Arafat, "which have proved unwilling or unable to stop the horrific slaughter of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks, such as the one that occurred even as Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon were meeting." The paper says these forces, "some of which themselves have been complicit in terrorist attacks, must be unified and placed under a command that is open to outside scrutiny, accountable and committed to ending terrorism."

But the "Post" says this reform "will only succeed if it is part of a larger process that includes a political agenda explicitly aimed at the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. That is where the critical differences between Mr. Sharon's government and all the other parties to the Middle East crisis begin. Americans, Europeans, and Arabs all want to build effective and democratic Palestinian institutions so that they can make possible not only an end to the violence but also the creation of a viable state. But Mr. Sharon seems to see the reform mainly as a way of displacing Mr. Arafat and postponing any serious peace process."

The paper concludes that the U.S. must press Sharon "to face the political decisions Israel must make about Palestinian statehood."


An article in Belgium's Daily "Le Soir" discusses the European Commission's proposal earlier this week (7 May) to create a common European border patrol to reinforce Europe's outside borders and address the public's increasing concerns over immigration. EU Commission President Romano Prodi has said that the plan reflects what EU citizens want -- to protect the EU against any outside threat from terrorism, organized crime, or uncontrolled immigration. The public is convinced of the necessity of maintaining, or even increasing, the level of internal security, the paper notes. The European Commission has supported the creation of such a body since the 11 September attacks, and had already called for its creation by mid-November. Italy will present a feasibility study on the creation of the new security body to EU justice ministers at the end of the month.

By setting up the frontier patrol, "Le Soir" says the European executive is proposing the creation of a common authority that will be better able to coordinate actions on the ground -- notably in crisis situations -- and which will allow increased information sharing between EU members.


An analysis in "Jane's Foreign Report" says that during the Cold War, "the United States was prepared to ally itself with almost any government that was anticommunist," which sometimes meant supporting the regimes of "brutal and corrupt strongmen." Now, it asks: Is the Bush administration resorting to similar, unabashedly pragmatist methods in its war on terrorism and its search for secure supplies of oil?

American and European oil companies have allegedly gone along with authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Africa and elsewhere around the globe, and in some cases may have "helped these despots stay in power." American politics are becoming "increasingly dominated by the country's growing dependence on imported oil," says "Jane's." And the tiny state of Equatorial Guinea "is emerging as the next big hotspot on the world's energy map." Ruled for 23 years by a dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has "turned his country into a dungeon for critics of his regime."

"Jane's" says "Despite this, he is currently being courted, not to say whitewashed, by the Bush administration, encouraged by the oil majors -- ExxonMobil, Chevron, Marathon, and others. They have invested some $5 billion in Equatorial Guinea, which is expected to become the third-biggest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa."

"Jane's" calls U.S. policy in the country a "cynical and politically expedient process of rehabilitation," which is also taking the U.S. into military-run Algeria, totalitarian Central Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere.

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