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Western Press Review: Too Early To Tell Whether Mideast Summit Shows Promise

Prague, 2 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to focus on the Mideast summit underway in Washington.

DIE WELT: Israel sees Europeans as unreliable and pro Arab

An editorial signed by Lothar Ruehl in today's issue of the German newspaper contends: "U.S. President Bill Clinton's initiative to save the Middle East peace process from failing outright due to the stark differences between the opposing factions and to religious fanaticism is an emergency operation and as such without alternative. Clinton ordered rather than invited the opposing parties in the current crisis to attend the Israeli-Arab summit in Washington. And indeed there is no alternative to the American approach to making peace by putting pressure on both sides." The editorial says: "America's policy in the Middle East is not being co-determined by Europe. Israel rejects the Europeans as mediators because it regards them as too unreliable and pro Arab."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton is mediating Middle East peace instead of preparing for his debate

R.W. Apple Jr. comments today: " Bill Clinton would have preferred, his aides said, to do other things. He could have spent (yesterday) preparing for his debate on Sunday night with Bob Dole, his Republican rival, which may be the most important event of the presidential campaign."

Apple writes: "Instead, the president plunged anew this morning into the hatreds, the complexities and the rigidities of the Middle East, embarking on a perilous effort to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the peace table. Having invested much of his prestige during his first term on an initially successful effort to reconcile the two, he is now investing more, five weeks before the election that will decide whether he has a second term, in a bid to hold on to his gains."

NEW YORK TIMES: The emergency summit is an attempt to break a cycle of violence

In a news analysis today, Steven Erlanger writes: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met face to face for three hours (yesterday) at the White House and will meet again (today)." Erlanger says: " While details were scanty, the length of the meeting and the presence of two close aides -- Arafat's deputy, Abu Mazen, and Netanyahu's personal adviser, Yitzhak Molcho, a lawyer -- suggested that the two leaders were at last grappling with some of the serious issues that lie them."

He continues: "If the meetings dispelled some mistrust, it was by no means clear that they erased any fundamental differences between the Israelis and Palestinians," and adds: "Nevertheless, the extended conversation between reluctant partners has already proved to be a partial success for President Clinton, who called the two-day emergency summit meeting here in an attempt to break a cycle of violence and grievance that threatened to destroy the Middle East peace effort."

NEWSDAY: Dole charges that Clinton is managing a 'photo op foreign policy'

The U.S. newspaper carries today a news analysis by Roy Gutman and Martin Kasindorf. They write: "There was no sign of an actual breakthrough at the summit, which President Clinton hastily arranged in hopes of reviving the peace process after scores died in rioting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last week. Yet the speed with which Arafat and Netanyahu were ready to shake hands and resume direct talks seemed to take the White House by surprise."

They add: "As the summit got under way, it appeared that domestic U.S. politics would intrude. Republican presidential contender Bob Dole, on the campaign trail in Ohio, (charged) that Clinton was managing a 'photo op foreign policy.' "

BOSTON GLOBE: Dole runs the risk of appearing to derail the president's dealings with heads of state

Jill Zuckman says today in a news analysis: "Republican challenger Bob Dole, campaigning in Ohio, accused President Clinton (yesterday) of 'photo-op foreign policy,' just as Clinton was hosting a Middle East summit at the White House. Dole's comments, and his plan -- later postponed -- to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (yesterday) afternoon, were criticized by Arab-American and Jewish-American leaders, as well as congressional Democrats, who said they feared Dole was upsetting a delicate diplomatic situation for political gain."

Zuckman writes: "For Dole, it was close to a no-win situation: If he kept silent and gave Clinton the spotlight, the GOP candidate was sure to be denied a day of headlines or television coverage. If he criticized Clinton, he faced rebukes for inserting himself where he didn't belong." She adds: "This is not the first time Dole has criticized Clinton for getting his photograph taken with foreign dignitaries in place of maintaining a consistent foreign policy. But more than ever before, Dole ran the risk of appearing to be trying to derail the president's dealings with foreign heads of state."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Jewish vote is a notable element of Clinton's constituency

In a news analysis, Norman Kempster writes today: "For two politicians whose careers have been defined by almost unremitting opposition to the causes advanced by the other, trust will not be easily attained. Since Netanyahu's election last May, he and Arafat met only once, a perfunctory, chilly session that both seemed to find distasteful."

Kempster says: "Still, to achieve a breakthrough, Netanyahu and Arafat will each have to make concessions they have vowed never to make." He adds: "In previous Middle East negotiations, both sides have explained unpopular concessions to their own people by suggesting that the Americans pressured them into action. But in an American election year when the Jewish vote is a notable element of the constituency Clinton hopes will re-elect him, the president carefully tried to avoid the appearance of pushing Netanyahu too hard."

DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Clinton has little to lose if the Middle East summit fails

Kathy Lewis writes in a news analysis: "President Clinton has little to lose if the Middle East summit fails, analysts agree, but it's not clear how much he gains politically if it succeeds."

She writes: "The summit marks the second time in recent weeks in which Clinton and an international crisis have dominated the headlines, knocking Dole and his message off the evening television news. As the showdown with Iraq percolated last month, Dole's carefully crafted address on leadership and values was overshadowed by news from the Persian Gulf region. When Dole did break through, coverage focused on his foreign policy predicament: With his history of always backing the commander in chief once military action was under way, could he be critical of the president? For days, he did not regain the spotlight. This time Dole has been criticized by some for overtly attacking Clinton over the renewed Israeli-Palestinian conflict."