Prague, 10 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics being debated in the media today are whether Turkey's decision to deploy troops in Iraq will help or hinder U.S. objectives there, the importance of luring Ukraine toward the West and away from Russian predominance, and the war in Chechnya.
Events in the Middle East are also under discussion, as reports come in that new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei is considering resigning, a mere four days after taking office. A Palestinian Authority spokesman said "serious differences" remain between Qurei and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The reported shake-up within the Palestinian leadership comes as Israeli troops launched a raid this morning on the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
Writing in the "Chicago Tribune," Don Wycliff says the war on terrorism "seems to have become the lens through which [U.S. President George W.] Bush views every foreign policy issue. And Israel certainly faces a particularly harrowing campaign of terror now."
But Wycliff says the attacks of suicide bombers "cannot be viewed in isolation from Israel's 36-year occupation of Palestinian lands and the attempt, through settlement-building, to colonize those lands. Bush, however, insists on viewing it that way. And with all the resources of the government at his command, he has been unable to hire an adviser who'll challenge that view."
Wycliff remarks that the U.S. administration "was mostly silent" last week when the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved the construction of nearly 600 new buildings in West Bank settlements. He says neither the Bush nor the Sharon governments seems able to realize "that Israeli security and occupation of the Palestinian lands are incompatible."
"After every suicide bombing, the wall that Israel is building to seal itself off from the West Bank grows more popular with its people," says an item in "The Economist" this week. But the magazine questions whether the security barrier is merely a safety measure or a bid to consolidate certain territories under Jerusalem's control.
Some Israelis initially opposed its construction, fearing it would become a de facto political border. Others opposed it on the grounds that such "unilateral action" would undermine the prospects of achieving a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.
But "The Economist" says Israel's "political mainstream embraced the wall as a self-defensive measure.... [Keeping] the terrorists out [is] the foremost consideration with most Israelis, trumping humanitarian worries about what is happening to Palestinians along the barrier's route."
The first phase of the wall prevents 13,600 Palestinian residents in 15 villages "from reaching their lands, businesses and extended families in [the] West [Bank]. A further 30,000 Palestinian farmers [are] now cut off from their orchards, groves, and farms on the western side. Thousands more Palestinians have lost their access to schools, hospitals, government services and universities in the main urban centers."
"The Economist" says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was once "a reluctant convert to the wall," may now be "using the overwhelming domestic support for it to pursue his own long-held territorial and strategic ambitions."
Writing in Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woollacott says, "Violence against the Israelis could only be effectively curbed if there were [a] settlement, under which Hamas could look forward to a role in government and a share in power in a Palestinian state."
What he calls the "two main political and military forces in Palestinian life, Fatah and Hamas," must come together and achieve some level of solidarity. Otherwise, any progress on peace with Israel "would produce civil war among Palestinians." The Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat "never had the means [of] suppressing [Hamas] and Islamic Jihad."
But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has done his utmost" to ensure that no internal Palestinian settlement is reached, Woollacott says. Israel's "day-to-day tactics" of targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders for assassination have helped provoke new suicide attacks.
"To put it more bluntly," he says, "at a time when Hamas might have been embarking on a transition from terrorism to politics, Israel acted in such a way as to close off that possibility. Whether this was wholly calculated cannot be determined."
Israelis understandably "have no faith in a transformation of Hamas." But Woollacott says that "trying to draw Hamas into a political role is surely a better gamble than attempting its destruction by military means [since] such methods are so often counterproductive."
Hamas might be convinced to accept a Palestinian state that followed pre-1967 borders. "But it would not stand for much [less], which is what Sharon has in mind."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Robert McFarlane, who served as national security adviser under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, writes a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today in which he urges the West to prevent what he calls the Kremlin's "seduction of Kyiv."
All over the former Soviet Union, events are determining "whether these newly independent countries survive as sovereign states oriented toward democracy and freedom or are pressured into renewed Russian suzerainty."
"Nowhere," he says, "is this struggle more important than in Ukraine." Kyiv has recently taken concrete steps to align itself with the West and the U.S. in particular, "in the hope of reciprocal help that will enable them to withstand the pressure they are under from the East."
Ukraine sent 500 chemical-weapons experts during the U.S.-led war in Iraq, as well as a brigade of soldiers. It has expressed interest in joining the World Trade Organization and moved to settle outstanding trade disputes. Most importantly, next year President Leonid Kuchma will step down, and Ukraine will hold elections. And yet the U.S. remains conflicted between fostering socio-political reform in Ukraine and the desire to avoid troubling relations with Moscow.
The U.S. and Europe have a great interest in not allowing Ukraine to fall under Russian dominance again, says McFarlane. "It's time that we reciprocated Ukraine's goodwill with concrete measures of support." Otherwise, Russian pressures may prove too much "and we will have lost an historic opportunity to consolidate the democratic future of Ukraine."
"The Nation" carries a piece by analyst Matt Bivens saying Russian President Vladimir Putin's government "is driving women and children who had fled the fighting in Chechnya back into a war zone."
According to Associated Press reports, a 1,150-person tent camp has been closed to journalists and rights activists. Bivens says: "Residents of the camp have snuck out word that police and government officials have arrived and begun to cut off electricity and gas and to remove latrines -- a nice touch, that.... [The] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is alarmed, [and] human rights groups have put forward thorough documentation of these crimes against humanity as a long-running Kremlin policy."
And yet, says Bivens, the U.S. president is willing to host the Russian president for amicable talks at Camp David.
U.S. President George W. Bush even has intelligence from his own State Department documenting the crimes in Chechnya and describing daily life for civilians as "bleak and deteriorating."
"Unspeakable crimes, Russian federal death squads, 'disappearances,' civilians herded into a war zone -- is this reason enough for the American president to sternly register his displeasure with the Russian president?" Bivens asks. Probably not, he says.
When Putin was recently questioned by U.S. journalists on rights abuses in Chechnya, he simply parried with his own questions: "Are you sure everything is OK with human rights [in Iraq]?" he asked them pointedly. "Or Afghanistan. [And] what about down in Guantanamo [Bay]?"
Writing in France's "Le Figaro," Semih Vaner of the Paris-Based Institute of Political Studies (L'Institut d'Etudes Politiques) says there were several reasons for Ankara agreeing to send a sizable contingent of troops to Iraq.
Turkey was eager to restore good relations with Washington, which had been damaged by its refusal to allow U.S. troops to stage incursions into Iraq from Turkish soil. As a traditional U.S. ally, there was also a desire to benefit from reconstruction contracts, not to mention the $8.5 billion aid package Washington just approved for Turkey.
Ankara is also interested in controlling Kurdish separatism in northern Iraq, as well as ensuring that it has some say not only in that country but regionally as well. Vaner says it is almost certain that geostrategic concerns weighed more heavily than financial ones in Ankara's decision.
But the Turkish deployment is not without risks, he says. The occupation of Iraq is weakened by the lack of a UN mandate. And while Washington enthusiastically welcomes the cooperation of a Muslim nation in Iraq, given the regional context, Turkish forces could well be considered a hostile occupier.
Iraq once before fell under the sway of the dominating Turkish Ottoman Empire, and some Iraqis might view the Turkish presence as an unwelcome case of history repeating itself.