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Western Press Review: The Abbas Resignation, Reforming Russia's Justice System, WTO To Meet In Cancun

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 8 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in several major dailies today is focused on the weekend resignation (6 Sept) of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. Abbas was seen by many as a moderate and an alternative to the more intransigent president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. His resignation has highlighted divisions within the Palestinian leadership and sparked much speculation over whether progress can still be made on the "road map" to peace in the Mideast. Other items discussed today include the slow pace of reform for Russia's justice system, the meeting this week of trade ministers at the Mexican beach resort of Cancun, and U.S. President George W. Bush's speech last night, which called on the international community to become more involved in rebuilding Iraq.

THE FINANCIAL TIMES:

An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas "looks set to speed up the resumed cycle of violence" in the Middle East. The paper calls the "road map" to peace a "flawed blueprint" that was "unlikely to get anywhere unless the U.S. applied serious pressure" on Israel to make concessions. Since Washington did not step up its demands, "Abbas stood no chance [of] winning his battle for supremacy with Yasser [Arafat]; of persuading his people he was not a stooge of America and Israel; and, above all, of demonstrating that it was possible to reverse Israel's occupation of Palestinian land by peaceful means."

U.S. President George W. Bush did at times criticize Israeli policy, the paper says. "In practice, however, Washington put a lot of pressure on Mr Abbas to confront the Islamists, and almost none on Mr. Sharon to curb Israeli attacks and expansion of the occupation. Little wonder then that Mr. Abbas was undermined."

Ultimately, Abbas "never had any popular standing. Nor was he ever going to acquire any unless Israel and the U.S. enabled him to demonstrate that moderation and engagement translate into concrete gains such as progressive Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land and, most important, the realistic possibility of a viable state."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

The "Wall Street Journal Europe" also comments on the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, saying his withdrawal can be "best understood as a victory for [Palestinian Authority President] Yasser Arafat and those Palestinians who want to continue their terror campaign against Israel." The paper says Abbas "was simply unwilling to confront" Arafat, "wrest control of the Palestinian security forces from him, and disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He chose to resign instead."

In announcing his resignation, Abbas said Washington could have helped him more by pressuring Israel to make meaningful concessions. But the "Journal" says "after years of suicide bombings, no Israeli leader can possibly turn over more territory to a Palestinian Authority that isn't ready to constrain its own killers." Maybe Europe and the rest of the world "will now recognize that that will never happen as long as Arafat controls the bulk of the Palestinian security forces."

THE TIMES:

The lead commentary in the London-based "Times" says the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister is "a major blow to the peace process" in the Mideast. But it is "an equally serious setback for the development of politics within the Palestinian Authority itself." The "principle obstacle" Abbas faced was Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who the paper says evinces "little evidence that he has made the transition from guerrilla leader to international statesman." Arafat "made life impossible for Mr. Abbas by refusing to allow him real control over the Palestinian security forces and thus give him the ability to address the terrorist question. Without that authority, one especially deadly suicide bombing would be enough to make diplomacy redundant."

The Abbas resignation has created "a desperate situation for the Palestinians themselves. There is no chance of their building a stable society, a prosperous economy or democracy if numerous armed bodies exist with little or no loyalty to president, prime minister or parliament." The "Times" says, "Most intelligent and rational Palestinians appreciate that Mr. Arafat is the personification of their problem, not the embodiment of a solution." The "unfortunate truth for those who would like to see the Palestinians realize many of their ambitions is that, until they have dealt with the Arafat factor, there is not the slightest prospect of them dealing effectively with [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [Israel's Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:

The "Christian Science Monitor" says the Bush administration's handling of negotiations over its UN draft resolution on expanding the organization's role in Iraq is an important test case. Nossel was deputy to the ambassador for UN management and reform at the U.S. mission to the UN during former U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration.

Nossel says the Bush administration's dilemma over control in Iraq "reflects a wider tension between a world system that is becoming more participatory and a superpower that prefers to wield power single-handedly." Rather than try to suppress this trend and reassert its superpower prerogative, Nossel says the U.S. should refashion its leadership style to suit a world in which other nations will increasingly insist on being both seen and heard. Rather than cling to total control in Iraq, the U.S. should accept the right of other contributors to play a meaningful role. She says while military chains of command must be kept efficient -- though not necessarily all American -- key strategic issues shouldn't be beyond discussion.

In a command structure for Iraq, U.S. know-how, technology, and resources will multiply the authority it holds. Even if control is shared, Nossel believes the U.S. will get its way most of the time. The only thing holding the U.S. from effectively leading a joint operation is its continued resistance to the idea of deigning to share control. If it can get over that feeling, she says, the political and military advantages in Iraq and elsewhere will be great.

THE WASHINGTON POST:

In a commentary, "Washington Post" staff writer Dan Balz says "after a string of setbacks," Bush spoke with "unusual bluntness about how to confront the obvious last night -- that the conflict in Iraq is not going well and that it will take a lot more time, money and sacrifice for the U.S. to prevail."

Balz says Bush spoke last night of a "dangerous and more grinding conflict in which sheer force and technological prowess may be less conclusive to the outcome than will, resolve and patience."

Particularly notable, Balz says, was Bush's call for others to share the burden in Iraq. "But in abandoning his go-it-alone approach, however, the president did not give significant ground to allies who had opposed him at the time of the war and who want reassurances about greater political and economic influence in Iraq if they participate." Balz says Bush's call for UN involvement "was stated in declarative, not conciliatory, language." Members of the United Nations, he said, have "the responsibility" to help.

Balz says Bush is on the defensive over Iraq, just as he is on the defensive at home over the sluggish economy. The irony, Balz says, is that it had been assumed that Bush's strength as a wartime leader would be a major political asset in his re-election campaign. That may well be the case, Balz concludes, "but only if the progress the president and other U.S. officials have promised in Iraq and the Middle East becomes a reality before too much longer."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

A "New York Times" editorial says Russia's judicial system "has long suffered from too much interference from above. The czars interfered with important verdicts. The Soviets put on their gruesome show trials. And now, even in a Russia that sometimes appears to be edging away from the lawlessness of the past, progress in the judicial system is minimal." President Vladimir Putin's efforts to combat crime are often "aimed pointedly at his old political enemies. Such prosecutions only move the nation backward to the day when Russia's powerful routinely chose who paid a price for breaking the law."

The focus on high-profile cases "also obscures what is an even more important problem for most Russians. That is the slow pace of converting Soviet-style courts into places where the accused can get a fair trial." Prosecutors and judges "often view the accused as the guilty." The defense lawyer tends to merely "[plead] for a shorter sentence instead of advocating a client's innocence."

Two years ago, Putin supported "a fairly enlightened code of criminal procedures," which included a new emphasis on jury trials. But the paper says it is "troubling" the way higher courts can still overturn a jury's verdict, sometimes several times, or otherwise interfere with lower courts. "Such top-down justice," it says, "robs the Russian populace of a decent judicial system, with independent judges, real juries and a presumption of innocence."

THE GUARDIAN:

The lead editorial in the British "Guardian" today says this week's World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting of trade ministers at the Mexican resort of Cancun "needs to settle the question of whether globalization aids, or relieves, poverty."

A system that is more fair will help alleviate poverty and aid development. "Trade is not a zero sum game: all should benefit from engaging in it. But the world today does not work this way.

"Farm products from poor countries are kept out of rich nations either by high tariffs or because they have to compete against heavily subsidized American, European or Japanese goods."

The paper says that, ironically, the wealthy industrialized West "taxes goods from developing nations at far higher rates than those from developed countries. The result is that Bangladesh, mired in poverty, contributes almost as much as France to the U.S. economy via customs duties." These inequities need to be abolished, says the paper.

Rich countries recognize they must reduce these barriers to imports. "But they have not done enough to put the principle into practice. Instead, the negotiations are degenerating into a row between rich and poor over who needs to do what first."

The "Guardian" says "industrialized countries [should] lead by example. They should open their markets instead of bending the World Trade Organization to their will just because they can."

This week's meeting in Cancun "needs to produce meaningful changes to show that more can be achieved by coming together than by coming apart."

LIBERATION:

Gerard Dupuy, writing in France's daily "Liberation," says the first stage of the diplomatic framework titled the Mideast "road map" to peace has ended in almost complete disaster.

Hamas conducted another slaughter, and Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has raised the stakes by targeting top leaders from Hamas for assassination. And Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat quickly eliminated the only Palestinian other than himself to claim some leadership over the Palestinian Authority -- Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

But all of these developments were fairly predictable, says Dupuy -- each character played the role we could have expected from him. Arafat and Sharon moved toward negotiations, only to allow their ill will to make them ultimately meaningless. Abbas heroically played the tragic victim.

Nevertheless, says Dupuy, if it is possible to maintain some hope in the "road map," it is precisely because it maps out the most improbable route. Each camp can create horrible suffering for the other, he says. But this is true only on the condition that it is willing to suffer horribly itself. This sadomasochistic spiral is true of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. But Dupuy says one should not forget those who, in both camps, reject the depraved cycle of violence and suffering.

The "road map" is in trouble and the compass no longer works either, he says. But with some work, the two sides will eventually arrive at their destination.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

Commentaries in the German press focus on the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, the name he adopted during his resistance struggle to promote the Palestinian cause.

Wolfgang Guenter Lerch in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says the very reason Abbas managed to stay in office for "a surprising four months was due to his 40-year-long struggle for Palestinian liberation."

Nevertheless, says Lerch, "from the very beginning, Abbas was doomed. His former brother-in-arms and 'superior,' Yasser Arafat, fought him with all means at his disposal to survive politically at a time when the Americans -- at first reluctantly -- wanted to remove him from office. Considering this political rivalry, Abbas faced obstacles and limitations in all his political efforts. He had to assert himself against Arafat who, although he had made many mistakes in the past, has nevertheless remained the idol of Palestinian resistance.

The consequence of this power struggle means a return to the persistent lack of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says Lerch, adding that "it is one of the paradoxes of this modern world of ours that the U.S. -- currently overstrained with its Iraq commitments -- will now be required to bring these two rivals to reason."

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

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