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Western Press Review: Netanyahu Ship Of State Sails Through Storm

Prague, 22 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- What did not happen in Israel over the weekend attracted substantial Western press commentary in the past few days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, implicated in an influence-peddling scandal, was not indicted.

His controversial, hard-line government did not fall. A flurry of efforts to overturn a public prosecutor's decision to drop an investigation did not succeed. But, commentators agree, the Israeli Government did not emerge unscathed, either.

WASHINGTON POST: Palestinians fear the crisis could bring tougher times

Barton Gellman, writing from Jerusalem this morning, concludes that state prosecutors believe the main allegations against Netanyahu, but have decided they lack proof of criminal intent. Gellman says one side effect may be more problems for future Mid-East peace talks. He writes: "Prosecutors made clear that they believe the central allegation of the case, which is that three influential figures under criminal probe used political connections and threats to induce Netanyahu to name (criminal lawyer Roni) Bar-On to the nation's highest law-enforcement position in hopes of easing their own legal troubles. But they said they could not prove that unlawful motives were Netanyahu's only reasons for the choice."

Gellman says: "Although Netanyahu's government thus seemed secure for the immediate future, Palestinians expressed fear that Israeli-Arab peace negotiations, already delayed by the crisis, could face tougher times ahead because of its fallout."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Netanyahu's word no longer counts for much

Commentator Josef Joffe says outright today that Natanyahu himself has been politically crippled by the affair, and so has his ability to lead the Mid-East toward peace. Joffe comments: "Israeli public opinion could well disagree with the chief public prosecutor on how strong the evidence is."

Joffe says: "Whatever course events may take, the tragedy is in full swing. Regardless of whether Netanyahu can sit it out or is forced to resign and call fresh elections, the victims are already clear. They are the entire country, and the Middle East peace process. Netanyahu's word no longer counts for much."

The commentator concludes: "How in the circumstances he can arrive at make-or-break decisions and how he is to convince both his own right wing and Yasser Arafat isn't at all evident. In Israel the agony of power is being suffered."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It will be difficult for Netanyahu's government to continue

The paper today also excerpts a commentary from the Israeli daily "Ha�aretz" drawing a conclusion similar to Joffe's. The excerpt says in part: "The affair has left a black mark on the Netanyahu government. (It) will make it very difficult for the Netanyahu government to continue."

MIAMI HERALD: No Israeli prime minister has ever been indicted

In the U.S. paper today, John Donnelly writes in a news analysis that Netanyahu's deft handling of the crisis may only have covered over cracks in his leadership that any future tremors will reveal, and may have irretrievably undermined his authority to wage peace. Donnelly says: "The Passover Seder (festive dinner) at the Netanyahu house (last) night must have been full of thanks." He writes: "After facing down the worst crisis of his 11-month tenure in office -- no Israeli prime minister has ever been indicted -- Netanyahu succeeded in persuading moderate Likud ministers and ministers from two centrist parties not to leave his government."

The analysis says: "Palestinian leaders worried aloud that Netanyahu would step even farther back from the peace process in an attempt to shore up his core support among Right-leaning Israelis who remain extremely distrustful of any deals with the Palestinians. Some Israeli commentators, meanwhile, said that it may take another crisis to reveal cracks in the prime minister's foundation of support."

SUN SENTINEL: Netanyahu's speech seemed to fuel Palestinian anger

Another newspaper in the southern U.S. state of Florida carries today an analysis from Jerusalem by E. A. Torriero. It says that Netanyahu promised in a speech Sunday to revive peace talks, but his speech angered Palestinians. Torriero writes: " 'No Government Crisis Expected.' That was a banner headline in an Israeli newspaper (yesterday) morning. And by nightfall, as Israelis sat down to celebrate the beginning of Passover, there were growing indications that opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had lost a seemingly ripe chance to derail him politically."

He writes: "Netanyahu, meanwhile, began turning his attention to the stalled Middle East peace process. Netanyahu told Israelis in a televised speech Sunday evening that he intends to revive dormant negotiations with the Palestinians while sticking to the hardline agenda that his opponents reject." And Torriero concludes: "The speech seemed only to fuel Palestinian anger. By (yesterday), there again were clashes in the West Bank between rock-throwing Palestinians and Israeli soldiers who fired back with rubber bullets."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Even without an indictment, Netanyahu was damaged

In a news analysis yesterday, Rebecca Trounson agreed with other press observers that the affair has damaged Netanyahu. She wrote: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday escaped indictment in Israel's influence-peddling scandal but was strongly criticized by prosecutors for 'closing his eyes' to possible corruption in his coalition government."

Trounson said: "Even without an indictment, however, Netanyahu's image and credibility were damaged by the scandal (but) the absence of an indictment against Netanyahu appears to have eliminated the immediate risk of a government collapse." She added: ":In Washington, the Clinton administration reacted cautiously to the news that Netanyahu would not face indictment."

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Netanyahu faces a formidable task

Charles Holmes wrote yesterday in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution news analysis: "The decision removed the legal jeopardy facing Netanyahu after police last week recommended that an indictment be issued against him for fraud and breach of trust in the appointment last January of an obscure lawyer, Roni Bar-On, as attorney general. (But) with his credibility tainted, Netanyahu faced a formidable task in repairing the political damage and salvaging his coalition government, which has been paralyzed by the corruption scandal."

Holmes went on: "But the much-anticipated decision of Israel's top two prosecutors did little to clarify just how much Netanyahu knew about the alleged deal last January to appoint Bar-On in exchange for leniency for Aryeh Deri, a member of Netanyahu's coalition who was on trial for unrelated corruption charges."