Prague, 28 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the major Western dailies today are U.S-Russian relations; the chances of success for the "road map" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace; U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming trip through Europe and the Middle East; and the corruption of democratic ideals in the West.
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
The "Los Angeles Times" says the 25 May vote in the Israeli Cabinet "made history by accepting the eventuality of a Palestinian state." The next day, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated that Israeli-Palestinian hostilities must end in order for the Israeli economy to recover. These developments create reason "for more optimism than has been warranted for months."
The paper says Sharon was correct in warning Israel's "right-wing Cabinet ministers" who opposed negotiations with the Palestinians "that continued violence would further weaken Israel's already battered economy." The resumption of Palestinian attacks over two years ago led to Israel's reoccupation of Palestinian territories and the establishment of roadblocks imposing strict controls on Palestinian movement. This has undermined Israeli and other businesses that rely on Palestinian labor. "Israeli army crackdowns that barred Palestinians from getting to work have contributed to increased poverty in the West Bank and Gaza as well," the paper says. According to a Sharon statement on 26 May, international charities are now providing food for over 2 million Palestinians.
The "LA Times" says "Relaxing the roadblocks would be a gesture of Israeli seriousness about following the road map and would improve the economies of both Israel and the territories." Relaxing border controls would also "improve the atmosphere" for the upcoming second meeting between Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), as well as for the anticipated meeting of both leaders next week with U.S. President George W. Bush in Jordan.
Writing in the London-based "Times," Amir Taheri says the chances of success for the Mideast "road map" "appear slim. The belief that the United States can impose peace is based on a dangerous illusion," he says. "No road map will lead anywhere unless both the Israelis and Palestinians make a strategic choice for peace." And the commitment to a peaceful solution on both sides seems "ambiguous."
The road map "is a patchwork, written by many hands -- including those of France, Russia and the United Nations -- and thus full of contradictions," Taheri writes. "It sets fanciful deadlines for goals that have remained elusive for half a century." It does not map out a straight path but is full of mazes and dead-ends, he says. "Anyone trying to drive by it would either hit a wall or get lost."
Taheri compares the plan to a bikini "that shows everything except the essentials." The road map thus "avoids such issues as Jerusalem, the size of the Palestinian state, the right of return, and the Jewish settlements."
Taheri says a real first step to peace would be free Palestinian elections, which he says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be unlikely to win. A new elected leadership would "enjoy the legitimacy and moral authority needed" to achieve what new Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen still cannot -- to "disarm the armed groups, starting with Mr. Arafat's Tanzim."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
"The Washington Post" says the results of renewed U.S. involvement in the Mideast peace process have so far been "modest." The Israeli government has been induced to issue "a hedged endorsement" of the diplomatic quartet's (U.S., UN, EU, Russia) road map for peace. Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, have taken "preliminary steps toward curbing Islamic extremists." The lingering obstacles to a lasting peace "remain daunting," says the "Post." But revived U.S. intervention has halted a downward spiral and made "tangible gains" in the future possible.
Neither side seems either willing or able to begin taking the first steps called for by the "road map." But each side seems willing to take small steps forward: Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has indicated that while he may not be able to dismantle extremist groups, with some help, he may be able to convince them to declare a cease-fire. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejects the idea of halting Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, but he has "quietly" discussed "a possible rollback of the dozens of settlement outposts set up in the past two years."
The "Post" says taken together, these small steps "might form the basis of a preliminary package, one that could create momentum for bolder steps." The U.S. administration cannot "force" a peaceful settlement on the Israelis and Palestinians, it says. But the process "won't move forward without [continuing] engagement."
Writing in Britain's "Independent," columnist Johann Hari says a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue "will require the decent Israeli majority [to] endorse one specific model of Zionism over another." Hari says there are "two different Israels within the minds of the people of Israel. The Israel that frightens the world is a mirror image of the Israel-hating fanatics of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This fundamentalist Israel is represented by the settlers and their supporters. They seek to reclaim the historic, Old Testament Land of Israel -- which includes Gaza and the West Bank -- as a matter of right." This idea calls for ejecting the Palestinians from disputed territory or simply outnumbering them, as "wave after wave of Jewish settlement" moves in. Hari says this view of Israel "[cannot] be permitted to achieve its goals."
"But there is another Israeli nationalism, that of two-thirds of Israel's Jewish population," Hari says. This Israel is content "to live within the 1967 borders." It is an Israel "which seeks to be a Jewish state in that it has a Jewish majority, but which also seeks equality for its Arab population."
Hari says, "Contrary to the claims of Israel's home-grown far right, this is the Israel closest to the dreams of Israel's founding fathers."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Uri Dromi of the Israel Democracy Institute expresses doubt that the U.S.-backed road map will bring a lasting peace to Israelis and Palestinians. He says it is hard to discern how Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon really feels about the plan. In Dromi's words, Sharon first "made some friendly noises about [the peace plan], then gave his qualified endorsement. But he has also made contradictory remarks obviously meant to soothe the concerns of his ultrarightist political allies."
He says Sharon is, ultimately, likely to "envelop the [road map] in kind words while simultaneously slowing it down with reservations. He will try to hold out until the 2004 American presidential elections, trusting that the Palestinians will deliver the final death blow to the plan with their insane and self-defeating terrorism."
A truly lasting peace in the Middle East "will come only when Israelis and Palestinians, weary of this perpetual bloodshed, sit down together to draw their own, genuine road map. Until then, they will keep using American road maps as an excuse to steer clear of painful decisions."
Indian writer Arundhati Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel "The God of Small Things," contributed a comment to today's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." Roy's essay is very critical of the realities of democracy today, saying "the holy cow of the modern world" is now "subject to a profound crisis."
Roy says the democracy advocated today is made of little but hollow words, empty of real meaning. Free-market capitalists have already learned how to corrupt democratic ideals. They have managed to infiltrate the state's democratic institutions and model them to comply with their own desires. Roy says, "Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when, thanks to a free market, they are sold to the highest bidder."
She says democracy is being undermined in the very land that claims most to defend democratic ideals. It serves as "a bitter irony" that new restrictions are "preventing the exercise of liberties in America, even while it proclaims in strident and glowing terms to be defending the ideals of freedom."
On the other hand, says Roy, America has a strong tradition of popular resistance. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are resisting "the ultra-patriotic climate" that currently prevails in the United States in connection with the war in Iraq. "This is an indication of much courage," she says.
Roy says when not just a few thousand but millions of Americans protest this climate, the world will greet them with jubilation.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In a contribution to "The New York Times," columnist Yevgenia Albats of Russia's daily "Novaya Gazeta" says U.S. President George W. Bush will probably not broach any of the difficult issues involving Russia's failure to live up to Western "values of human rights and liberal democracy" when he arrives in St. Petersburg this weekend.
"Gone are the days when American presidents stood up to their Russian counterparts and openly pressed them to bring about democratic reform," she says. "Now relations at the top are largely about personal friendship." Bush has effectively "[made] American policy a hostage to his personal attachment to Mr. Putin."
Albats says "Not much good can come of this style of foreign affairs. Despite this cozy relationship between the leaders, the situation in Russia has not improved. The war in Chechnya continues. Corruption is on the [rise]. And, in terms of personal liberties and democracy, things are much worse than before Mr. Putin came into power."
Albats suggests Washington allows this state of affairs to continue -- and even worsen -- because the U.S. administration "doesn't really believe Russia matters." But she says even "if the Bush administration won't support Russian democracy for its own sake, it has plenty of pragmatic reasons" for pressuring Putin to liberalize. The 11 September 2001 attacks "made clear yet again that terrorism tends to originate in authoritarian countries, not democracies."
She says the possibility of a future Russia with "[an] unaccountable authoritarian regime, driven by nationalism and equipped with nuclear weapons, [should] worry even the world's only superpower."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An item in "The Washington Post" by correspondent Mike Allen discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming eight-day trip through Europe and the Middle East, which begins on 30 May in Krakow, Poland. Bush will then fly to St. Petersburg to take part in the city's 300th anniversary celebrations before heading to the Group of Eight summit in Evian, France, then traveling on to attend a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and make a visit to U.S. troops in the region. Bush is widely expected to thank the Polish leadership for its staunch support on the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But Allen cites White House aides as saying the leaders of Germany, Russia, and France -- who opposed, to varying degrees, the Iraqi military campaign -- will have to "demonstrate they can cooperate with the United States through new efforts to fight terrorism, oppose the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, promote trade, and alleviate poverty and AIDS."
So far, says Allen, official plans fall "well short of European officials' hopes" that Bush, coming off victory in Iraq, "would be in a magnanimous mood."
He writes: "Aides said Bush plans no conciliatory gesture such as proposing an alternative to the Kyoto global warming treaty, which he abandoned in his second month in office. After that," says Allen, "the split with Europe grew steadily."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)