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Western Press Review: Geneva Accord Restarts Mideast Peace Process, World AIDS Day, Putin's 'Empire'

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 2 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much media discussion today centers around the Geneva Accord, an unofficial plan for Mideast peace drafted by civic leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. An editorial in "The Moscow Times" considers Russian President Vladimir Putin's renewed dreams of empire, while other commentary looks at the shortcomings of the global response to HIV infection in light of yesterday's observance of World AIDS Day.

We also hear from Georgian opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, the man widely expected to become the country's next president following 4 January elections.


A "New York Times" editorial says the Geneva Accord shows that Palestinians and Israelis "of good will" can do "what their current leaders have shown themselves incapable of doing: [declaring] in concrete terms how their conflict can end."

The plan, while still unofficial, contains many essential elements that will inevitably be part of any Mideast peace deal. It calls for "two neighboring states with two capitals in Jerusalem, the evacuation of most Jewish settlements and the incorporation of the rest into Israel in exchange for an equivalent amount of land." A limit will be placed on the number of Palestinian refugees who can return to areas now belonging to Israel, but compensation will be paid to the rest.

There are many more aspects of the plan that must be negotiated, elaborated, and debated, says the paper. But the fact is that the accord illustrates "more or less how [the conflict] has to end. Neither side will have all of Jerusalem. The Palestinian refugees will not all come back.... [Many] settlers will have to go."

But the alternative is for both sides "to continue their endless arguments over whose religion grants what land to whom, and to continue killing each other, dragging the rest of the world into the fray. The principles of the Geneva Accord are the right way to go."


An editorial in the British "Guardian" says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has every reason to feel -- as he himself confessed -- "angry, distressed and helpless" when faced with the continuing hesitation on the part of world governments to commit more resources to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Since AIDS first surfaced in the 1980s, 28 million people have died and 40 million worldwide are now living with the disease. The international nongovernmental organizations tackling the disease, including the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO), insist that billions of dollars are needed to combat AIDS. And yet the AIDS budgets of the U.S. and U.K., the world's two biggest bilateral donors, remain in the millions.

The secretary-general concluded that the world is losing the AIDS fight because world leaders are not "engaged enough" in the battle.

But there have been some positive developments. A new "three-drugs-in-one" pill is now available and may help the WHO meets its target of providing antiretroviral drugs to 3 million people in developing nations by 2005. But the "Guardian" says more protest should be directed at the Vatican, which insists on continuing its "blind opposition to condoms" despite copious research indicating they are the best available means of preventing the spread of AIDS.


An editorial in the "Guardian" says the most important use for the Geneva Accord "could be as a catalyst, as a tool for changing perceptions. Already, its constructive influence is discernible. As ordinary people become more familiar with the plan, they have become more supportive.... [The] accord has also inspired, or provoked, a spate of other unofficial peace proposals, ranging from the bilateral People's Voice petition to initiatives emanating from within Israel's opposition Labor party, [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's coalition, and the right-wing settler movement."

The road map "[is] increasingly dismissed as dead." But the Geneva Accord and other plans seem alive and well. They have shown "that despite this pervasive gloom, a large constituency for peace does still exist on both sides of the divide. The question is how best to tap into it."

Mindsets may now be changing, the paper says. "This is a moment to be seized, not squandered."


Writing in "The Washington Post," Richard Cohen says the decision to go to war in Iraq has set Washington back in its dealings with Iran. The Europeans' preferred method of engagement with Tehran, rather than U.S.-style confrontation, appears to be bearing fruit.

And after prolonged disagreements with Washington over going to war in Iraq, U.S. allies are now "even more reluctant to follow the lead of the United States." Moreover, Cohen says, "It now seems apparent that on the question of [Iraq's] WMD [weapons of mass destruction] alone -- nevermind links to Al-Qaeda -- Washington didn't know what it was talking about."

Perhaps Washington wanted to make an example out of Iraq -- and Iran "got the message" and is now cooperating. But Cohen says it seems "more likely that Iran and North Korea learned that once you get designated [part of the axis of] 'evil' you'd better accelerate your nuclear weapons program."

Whatever the case, he says "it now seems clear that through clumsy diplomacy, unbridled arrogance and an insistence on taking out Saddam Hussein for reasons that have not been vindicated, the United States comes out of Iraq with its authority diminished. The world respects its might," Cohen says. But respecting America's judgment "is another question altogether."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" by Nikolas Busse discusses the dangers of Iran's nuclear program.

Faced with concerted international pressure, Iran recently agreed to allow snap inspections of its nuclear sites and to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, which could potentially generate either fuel for nuclear reactors or bomb-grade material.

Busse says Iran poses a far greater threat than did Iraq. Unlike Iraq, the proof of Iran's weapons development is much more clear. And unlike North Korea, the government in Tehran is more willing to cooperate. With Iran, Western politicians "could have given clear evidence of having adopted a responsible attitude in this day and age of nuclear proliferation."

Commenting on the latest resolution adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Busse says "the basic direction was designated: Teheran was admonished, but at the same time is permitted to continue to develop its atomic program under more thorough supervision by the atomic energy authorities."

Busse says Iran could not have wished for more. "Now Iranian engineers can legally continue to build not only [the Bushehr] power station but many [others]. The Europeans have even promised technical aid, which enables Iran to peacefully continue developing its program to the point at which it becomes of military interest."

Busse suggests a different solution, including the strict control of weapons, "depriving nations of uranium and plutonium and keeping them under international supervision." But he says, "Unfortunately, it seems that Europeans and America do not have the strength to implement such measures."


In a contribution to the London-based "Financial Times," Georgian opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, the man widely expected to be chosen as the country's next president in 4 January elections, discusses the "Rose Revolution" and his country's future.

He says the bloodless overthrow of President Eduard Shevardnadze was not about "disgust with a tired leader or frustration with corruption, though these factors certainly played a part. In its essence, it was about democracy -- our right as a nation to determine our own path and not to be dictated to by rulers we did not choose. The crowds swelled in the streets when it was clear this right was being stolen from us. We have learned to take democracy seriously. If there is only one message from the uprising, that is it."

But if Georgia is to enjoy a brighter and more prosperous future, Saakashvili says "the next president must focus on three main areas: relations with the West; relations with Georgia's immediate neighbors; and economic reform." Georgia shares with the United States and Europe "a strong commitment to democracy and the values of an open society." But it must develop the "social and political structures that have made Western democracies strong and stable."

Tbilisi must also improve relations with its neighbors, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, but especially Russia. "Georgian-Russian relations are the essential first step to building peace and prosperity in the north Caucasus," he says.

Saakashvili says Georgia now looks "to an era of democratic pluralism and civic engagement. Georgia's rose revolutionaries deserve nothing less."


Writing in "The Moscow Times," independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says the failed Russian attempt last week to broker a reunification deal between Moldova and the breakaway region of Transdniester was just the latest in a series of Kremlin attempts to re-engage with members of the former Soviet bloc.

For the past six months, "the view that it is time to actively reintegrate most of the post-Soviet landmass has been dominant in the Kremlin and the ruling elite," Felgenhauer says. And the West, needing Moscow's support in the war on terror and access to Russian energy sources, "is in no position to actively resist" such moves.

Felgenhauer goes on to speculate about the Kremlin's motives. Maintaining its expensive troop presence in Moldova "does not seem to serve any obvious Russian national interest. It only makes strategic sense if the Kremlin has plans to link up with that outpost by retaking all or a large part of Ukraine. Such plans are in fact much discussed today in Moscow," he says.

And in Georgia, following the overthrow of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Moscow "has been increasingly openly supporting separatist regional governments. The new government in Tbilisi has clearly been given a choice: Bow to Moscow or Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ajara may by 'reunited' with Russia."

Felgenhauer says this "increasingly aggressive neo-imperial policy of undermining neighbors and supporting corrupt, self-styled separatist fiefdoms is detrimental to true Russian national interests." He warns that such attempts will meet resistance from the former Soviet satellites, as well as from the West, and Russia could become increasingly isolated internationally.


Patric Sabatier says the importance and potential success of the Geneva Accord can already be measured by the extent to which it has met resistance from the extremists on both sides. Writing in the French daily "Liberation," Sabatier says the Palestinian signatories to the text are dismissed by some as "traitors" and collaborators, while their Israeli partners are criticized by their own government's spokesmen.

Undoubtedly, powerful forces will try to undermine the Geneva agreement, motivated by fear, ideology, or racial hatred. And despite the hopes the new accord has generated, 50 pages of good intentions will not allay 50-plus years of bloodletting.

But the new path to peace laid out by the pioneers of the Geneva Accord will only have significance once the representatives of both enemy peoples commit to it. And this will happen only after combined pressure from the societies on either side, both of which are still plagued by skepticism and justifiable fears.

The international community must also step up the pressure to accept the accord and restart the process underlying the "road map" to peace, which unambiguously laid out a permanent status agreement. This is not only a moral imperative, Sabatier says, it is of major strategic interest.

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