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Press Review: Israel's New Prime Minister, War Crimes In Bosnia

Prague, June 20 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary focuses today on Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's new prime minister who was inaugurated on Tuesday, and the issue of war crimes committed by Bosnian Serbs.

Edward Cody, writing a news analysis today in the Washington Post, says: "Israelis are waiting eagerly to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first steps now that he has taken power - some in anticipation, others in dread. But perhaps more than anybody, Palestinians and their fellow Arabs are looking anxiously toward Jerusalem to see whether Netanyahu's actions follow the hard line traced by a lifetime of Zionist activism and a set of writings and policy guidelines that seem to leave little room for reconciliation. In short, the question on people's lips is: 'Does he mean what he says?' " Cody continues: "Optimists have voiced hope that Netanyahu the prime minister - he was inaugurated Tuesday and completed the transition of power Wednesday - will be more pragmatic and conciliatory than Netanyahu the opposition leader, candidate and coalition meister. He thus will approach negotiations with Syria and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority with more flexibility than displayed in his government policy declaration issued Sunday or in his previous stands from outside the government, they predict. . . . Shimon Peres, who took over from the slain Rabin but was defeated at the polls by Netanyahu on May 29, warned the new prime minister that he, too, will have to undergo a transformation if he wants to maintain the momentum toward peace established in recent years."

Anne Ponger writes a commentary today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. She says: "In foreign policy terms, the Netanyahu cabinet is considered hard-nationalist, although "Bibi" (Netanyahu) immediately called for direct negotiations without preconditions, the continuation of the peace process with the Palestinians and the consolidation of peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan. . . . When Netanyahu's cabinet sets to work, the premier will now be under pressure to succeed. He will have to find a domestic balance, pacify his party, and guarantee security from terrorist attacks. He will not be able to take his coalition's promises all too seriously if he is to be able to keep to international treaties, and not annoy the Europeans, Americans and Arabs."

Serge Schmemann writes today in the New York Times that "Netanyahu's new team is to face its first foreign challenge Saturday, when Arab leaders hold a summit meeting in Cairo to discuss the new Israeli government. . . . In his inaugural address Tuesday, the prime minister declared that he was ready to negotiate with Syria and Lebanon without preconditions, and that he intended to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians. But the Arabs have focused less on these soothing messages and more on the new government's policy guidelines, which rule out ceding the Golan Heights, preclude a Palestinian state and declare that the Israeli army is authorized to go anywhere to insure the security of Jews - presumably including Palestinian-controlled zones."

Ethan Bronner wrote yesterday in the Boston Globe that "despite a soothing inaugural speech calling on Israel's Arab neighbors to 'widen the circle of peace' and enter negotiations with no preconditions, Netanyahu was lambasted by Arab commentators from Algeria to the Persian Gulf, even before he made his first official move." Bronner continues: "Netanyahu, who squeaked past Peres in elections three weeks ago, vowed to put Israeli security above everything and seek peace with fewer concessions and more safeguards."

Today's London Daily Telegraph writes about a proposal by Bosnian Serb leaders to set up their own special court to try alleged war criminals. The plan was put to the Bosnian Serb parliament yesterday by speaker Momcilo Krajisnik. The Telegraph says: "it is not clear if the Bosnian Serbs intend to remove the two leaders (Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic) from office, or if yesterday's motion to the parliament was a convenient piece of window dressing. The suggestion that the Serbs should run their own war crime investigations and trials may be part of a plan devised by President Slobodan Milosevic to marginalise the wanted leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, Gen. Mladic and Dr. Karadzic. Their continuing activities on the political scene, despite a ban from office under Dayton, has been one of the major obstacles to holding elections throughout Bosnia this autumn. . . . Yesterday's discussion in the Bosnian Serb assembly is the first hint that some kind of deal is in the works for their quiet exit from Bosnian public life."

Laura Silber writes today in the Financial Times that the Bosnian Serbs said "the court would follow the procedures of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague - which has Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic, at the top of its 'most wanted' list." Silber quoted a Western diplomat as saying, 'the decision is aimed at exonerating any Bosnian Serbs and most likely the Serb tribunal would then also issue their own indictments against Moslems and Croats.' "

John Pomfret, writing a news analysis today in the Washington Post, comments on NATO's role in the possible arrest of alleged war criminals. ". . . The mission has fought off suggestions that it arrest alleged war criminals, specifically Radovan Karadzic, because of the risk of casualties and of appearing prejudiced against the Serbs, who make up the majority of those indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. Mr. Karadzic, who is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, has been identified by a number of officials as one of the main impediments to carrying out the Dayton agreement. His departure from the scene, particularly before the Bosnian elections, is considered a precondition for the Dayton plan's success."