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Western Press Review: Questions In Moscow; Provocations In Jerusalem

Prague, 27 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press finds little focus today, but questions about stability at the top in Russia, and about Israeli plans for housing construction in the area of Jerusalem, each attract multiple discussions.

WASHINGTON POST: Russia is more pragmatic about NATO expansion

Writing from Moscow in an analysis today, David Hoffman says he perceives greater receptivity there toward NATO expansion. He says: "After months of loud opposition, the Russian leadership has quietly taken a more pragmatic approach to the planned expansion of the Atlantic alliance, focusing on hammering out a compromise suitable to Moscow, Russian and Western officials said (yesterday)."

Hoffman writes: "In recent months, Russia has taken a two-tiered approach to NATO's planned enlargement to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic by 1999. One level was a vigorous public campaign against expansion, voiced not only by nationalists and Communists, but also by Yeltsin and his allies. The second track was to be ready to negotiate a compromise. Now Russia seems to be putting fresh emphasis on the second approach."

Hoffman quotes Sergei Rogov, director of Moscow's USA and Canada Institute as saying in an essay published yesterday in the newspaper "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" that Russia should capitalize on concessions offered by the West. The Post writer says: "The essay was seen by diplomats as another sign that Russia's foreign policy elite is becoming more pragmatic in its approach to NATO expansion. Rogov declared that Russia cannot stand a 'degrading defeat,' nor can it afford to 'return to confrontation' with the West."

DIE WELT: Russian army leaders turn to former Western foes for support

In the German newspaper, Lothar Ruhl agrees that signs in Russia point to a new attitude on NATO. He comments today also that Russia's poverty-induced military crisis is part of a long-term and stubborn pattern. Ruhl says: "Fear of military coups and civil war has been part of Russia's crisis ritual since the last years of the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev's abortive perestroika. Against this background, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's dramatic warning that the army in a state of crisis is becoming unreliable and that its officers could rebel, simply follows earlier warnings of this kind."

The commentary continues: "The extent of desperation in the army leadership in Moscow is clear from the secret cries for help by high-ranking Russian military directed at former foes in the West for direct support for the Russian army. One reason for this is that the ground for backing down from untenable positions of political confrontation with the West over eastward expansion of NATO is being prepared by top military personnel, whose spokesman is General Alexander Lebed, the former (security chief) sacked by Yeltsin."

WASHINGTON POST: Promoting democracy helps Russia and the U.S.

The paper editorializes today that now is not the time (abruptly or thoughtlessly) to chop aid for Russia. The newspaper says: "The (U.S. Clinton Administration) is asking Congress for $900 million next year for aid to Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union, a 44 percent increase above this year's appropriation. The proposal seems to reverse earlier plans to phase out such aid, and it seems to collide with gloomy news from Moscow. But it deserves a fair hearing, because the principle of remaining engaged with Russia and its neighbors continues to make sense." The editorial concludes: "The general thesis -- that promoting democracy in Russia helps both us and them -- is as right now as ever."

LONDON TIMES: Rumors say that Yeltsin may oust Chernomyrdin

Moscow writer Robin Lodge, relying in part on reports in "two liberal Moscow newspapers," concludes in an analysis today that a shake-up looms in Russian President Boris Yeltsin's government. Lodge writes: "The Russian government braced itself for a large-scale reshuffle yesterday amid rumors that Viktor Chernomyrdin, the prime minister, could be ousted as President Yeltsin takes steps to reassert his grip on the country after months of illness." Lodge writes: "Mr. Yeltsin delivered a public dressing down to his prime minister on television on Monday. The president said there needed to be a government shake-up because of its continued failure to pay public sector wages and pensions on time."


NEW YORK TIMES: Netanyahu must give precedence to the goal of peace with security

The paper, traditionally an editorial supporter of the Jewish state, says in an editorial today that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is "Building Trouble in Jerusalem" by pressing ahead with plans for building a new neighborhood for 30,000 Jews on Jerusalem's border. The editorial says: "Pressed by right-wing parties in his governing coalition, Israel's (prime minister) has authorized work to go forward on a long-debated new housing project for Jews in Har Homa, a highly sensitive area of Jerusalem. In doing so he has ignored American counsel for delay and the strong objections of the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. Mr. Netanyahu's timing is unfortunate."

The newspaper says: "The project may have a place in a broader territorial settlement. But at present it is a pointless irritant. Mr. Netanyahu need not appease restive coalition allies unhappy over his courageous decision last month to withdraw Israeli troops from most of the West Bank city of Hebron. Political balancing has its place in democratic governance. But it should not drive decisions in such delicate areas as the future shape of Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu, the first Israeli prime minister directly elected by voters, has a responsibility to give precedence to the larger needs of Israel and to the goal of peace with security he was elected to achieve."

WASHINGTON POST: Israel seeks to cement its claim to all of Jerusalem

In an analysis in today's edition, Barton Gellman writes: "The decision returned the Jewish state to a course of confrontation with its Arab peace partners, and Palestinian leaders warned it could set off violent clashes with Palestinians at the site and elsewhere. In going forward with the vast project despite opposition in the Middle East and other places, Israel seeks to cement its claim to all of Jerusalem, including the eastern half conquered from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War, as its 'eternal and undivided capital.' Arabs, as well, have long claimed the city. Palestinians, for whom it is a much more recent but no less central symbol of nationhood, insist East Jerusalem should be the capital of their hoped-for independent state."

NEW YORK TIMES: Most see the construction of the housing units as a fateful step

Writing from Jerusalem in an analysis today, Serge Schmemann says: "Most Israelis, Palestinians and foreign governments saw the decision to develop the first 2,500 of a planned 6,500 housing units on a wooded lot (Har Homa) as a fateful step in the bitter competition for Jerusalem." He writes: "There was little likelihood that any Palestinian would accept Netanyahu's interpretation of the decision to build housing for Jews as benign, or would view the proposed construction of housing for Arabs as a balance to Har Homa."