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Western Press Review: Middle East Conflicts

  • Don Hill

Prague, 20 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A number of Western press commentaries focus today on the Middle East amid what one editorialist called "the funerals, rage, and retaliation."


"The New York Times" says in an editorial that both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders have failed and that the only way out is through U.S. action.

The editorial says: "Each side in this struggle is now locked into a position in which it sees any concession as rewarding the misbehavior of the other. Only the United States can affect this stalemate. Despite the rage on both sides, a majority of both populations continue to believe in two states living side by side in peace. The solution remains clear. Only the leaders seem not to understand it. [U.S. President George W.] Bush needs to announce a timeline of moves required of each side -- the abandonment of select settlements by Israel, say, and the imprisonment of terrorist leaders by Palestinians -- in order to break this dynamic. And he must do so soon."


Britain's "The Guardian" rises to the defense of Cherie Blair, the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is receiving widespread criticism for remarks she made this week regarding the Middle East, including the statement: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress."

"The Guardian" says in an editorial: "Consider the futility of these [suicide] attacks. How they render impossible any constructive moves toward peace. How decent Israeli politicians who desperately want to re-engage in a renewed dialogue are weakened and marginalized by each and every bomb. How world opinion -- much of it instinctively sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians -- is repulsed by the tactics currently employed in their name."

The newspaper says, "Hold all these thoughts in your mind, for all of them are -- to a greater or lesser degree -- true."


The "Daily Telegraph" says today that the British government "is digging itself deeper into a moral hole over its approach to terrorism -- especially after another terrorist attack in Jerusalem yesterday [that killed six Israelis]."

The editorial says Tony Blair is a fair-weather friend to Israel. It adds: "When friendship is a cost-free exercise -- such as an unexceptionable Jewish charity event -- he is very supportive. If it is the waning threat of white supremacist anti-Semitism, he is all there. But he is rather less bold when it comes to speaking out against the rising tide of Islamist anti-Semitism at home and abroad. Nor has he been especially strong on the rise of New Left anti-Zionism -- which regards the Israelis as the 'whites' of the region and therefore as 'colonial oppressors.'"


"The Washington Post" editorializes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is pursuing a strategy that, in the editorial's words, "has scant support inside Israel and almost none outside."

The paper says: "As most Israelis painfully learned during the 1970s and '80s, military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza cannot stop Palestinian resistance, only breed more of it."

The editorial says: "Mr. Sharon is usually vague in public about his own long-term aspirations, though he's made clear his opposition to discussing Palestinian statehood or even the curtailment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank any time in the foreseeable future. "There's no doubt that Israeli reoccupations of significant parts of the Palestinian territories would stand in the way of a Bush Administration effort to create a Palestinian state on those lands, provisionally or otherwise. If it is Mr. Sharon's aim to thwart any serious effort by the United States to launch a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process, then Palestinian extremists have once again played into his hands."


Columnist Charles Krauthammer writes in "The Washington Post" that making excuses for Palestinian terrorism amounts to a guarantee of more violence. He writes: "Whenever a massacre occurs in Israel, Palestinian spokesmen rush out to say: 'Yes, this is terrible, but this is what happens when you have a people with no hope for an end to the occupation.' Apologists in the West invariably echo this exculpation-explanation."

"Of all the mendacity that pollutes Middle Eastern discourse, this is the worst. It assumes that the listener is not only stupid but also amnesic. Two years ago at the Camp David summit, in the presence of the president of the United States, the Palestinians were offered an end to the occupation -- a total end, a final end -- by the prime minister of Israel. They said no. They said no because in return, they were asked to make peace."


"The Chicago Tribune" says today in an editorial that a security fence which Israel has begun to build should be considered only a temporary device. The newspaper says: "The fence is a good idea -- as far as it goes. It is likely to achieve its immediate goal, which is to reduce the number of Palestinian terrorists infiltrating from the West Bank to blow themselves up in Israeli buses and markets."

The editorial continues: "But Israelis need to keep their eye on the long-range goal, as well -- a political solution to the century-old conflict with their Palestinian neighbors that will preserve their security while providing self-determination for the Palestinians."

The newspaper says: "The fence, by itself, won't advance that aim. Over the long run, it won't even guarantee Israel's security."


An editorial in "The Washington Times" calls for unequivocal U.S. support for Israel's efforts "to protect its citizens from suicide attacks." The newspaper says: "Mr. Sharon has embarked on a new policy of gradually recapturing areas of the West Bank adjacent to terrorist bases until the terror stops."

The editorial quotes White House spokesman Ari Fleischer as saying: "The president understands Israel's right to self-defense, particularly in the wake of an attack of this severity." But the paper says while that's "a start, [Mr.] Bush needs to go further. That means making it unmistakably clear to Mr. Sharon and our Arab 'allies' that Washington will not hamper Israel's ability to take action, just as America did in Afghanistan, to protect its citizens from suicide attacks."


Columbia University professor Edward Said, writing in Britain's "The Independent" daily, says the best hope for Palestine lies with the Palestinians themselves. He writes: "The Arab order is in total disarray; the U.S. administration is effectively controlled by the Christian right and the Israeli lobby, and our society has been nearly wrecked by poor leadership and the insanity of thinking that suicide bombing will lead directly to an Islamic Palestinian state. There is always hope for the future, but one has to be able to look for it and find it in the right place. It is quite clear that in the absence of any serious Palestinian or Arab information policy in the United States -- especially in Congress -- we cannot for a moment delude ourselves that Powell and Bush are about to set a real agenda for Palestinian rehabilitation. That's why I keep saying that the effort must come from [the Palestinians], by [the Palestinians], for [the Palestinians]."


Several commentaries in the U.S. press examine critically U.S. policies toward Iraq.

Al Hunt comments in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" about reports that President Bush has ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to increase efforts to oust Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. Hunt says a national debate is needed. He writes: "As well as any policy imperative, the president's political manhood is at stake. Having drawn the line in the sand, he can ill afford to run for re-election with Saddam still a threat. The issue now is how and when he'll be overthrown and with what ramifications."

The writer says: "Strangely, this is barely being debated. Top Democrats say Saddam is a menace and we'd be better off without him. No kidding: Only the fringe -- from American Taliban John Walker Lindh to publicist Jude Wanniski -- disagree. But prominent former policy makers -- most of whom favor regime replacement -- say it's a lot more complicated."


"The Boston Globe" says in an editorial that Bush blundered in lumping "the very different cases of Iran and North Korea with Saddam's regime in an 'axis of evil.'"

The editorial says: "[U.S.] officials have been talking up a new Bush doctrine that is said to transcend Cold War models of containment and deterrence, replacing them with a strategy of pre-emptive action that can be applied as readily to Al Qaida as to Saddam Hussein. But President Bush should not confuse one threat with another."

The newspaper concludes: "The particular means for liberating Iraqis will be less important in the long run than the character of the government that comes after Saddam's fall. A decent democratic government that dismantles Saddam's secret police as well as his weapons of mass destruction might set a powerful positive example for all the surrounding states of the region."


Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, writes in a commentary in the "Los Angeles Times" that the reported Bush plan to topple Saddam should be examined with skepticism. He writes: "The leaked CIA covert operations plan effectively kills any chance of inspectors' returning to Iraq, and it closes the door on the last opportunity for shedding light on the true state of affairs regarding any threat in the form of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."

Ritter says: "Bush spoke ominously of an Iraqi ballistic missile threat to Europe. What missile threat is the president talking about? [Such] questions are valid, and if the case for war [against Saddam] is to be made, they must be answered with more than speculative rhetoric."

The former weapons inspector says: "The one roadblock to an all-out U.S. assault would be weapons inspectors reporting on the facts inside Iraq."