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Western Press Review: On Peace In The Middle East And Northern Ireland

By Joel Blocker, Dora Slaba and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 21 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- From the Middle East through Northern Ireland to communist China, Western press commentary is focusing on a variety of international subjects. British newspapers are most concerned with Prime Minister Tony Blair's apparently successful efforts to revive the dormant Mideast peace process. Yesterday, after Blair's recent visit to the area, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat agreed to hold separate talks in London early next month with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Netanyahu's offer to Blair should be treated with skepticism

In an editorial today, Britains Financial Times remains skeptical of Netanyahu's commitment to the peace process. The paper says that Netanyahu "is unquestionably gifted at coating extremist positions in honeyed reason." It writes: "Netanyahus latest offer to Tony Blair --'to go anywhere at any time, and specifically in the next month, possibly to London, to advance the (peace) process' -- should therefore be treated with skepticism." The paper's editorial continues: "So anything Mr. Netanyahu says about his willingness to advance peace should be weighed for content." The paper concludes: "The only way Israel can secure peace with the Palestinians -- and with other Arab neighbors whose land it occupies like Syria and Lebanon -- is by returning that land in exchange for their recognition of Israelis' right to live in security. Whatever talks may or may not take place, 'anywhere at any time,' those hosting and facilitating these negotiations should not cease making this clear to Mr. Netanyahu.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Palestinians and Israelis express reservations

The daily Guardian of Britain, in a news analysis today by Lucy Ward and David Sharreck, also warns of being too optimistic about yesterday's "breakthrough." The two analysts say: "Serious reservations were still being expressed by Palestinians and Israelis yesterday about whether the London meeting would achieve anything." They note, too, that an Israeli "cabinet statement (yesterday) dampened expectations of a breakthrough at the London meeting by saying 'we are not talking about European mediation or an international conference, but the possibility of a meeting which would take place in Europe.'" They also say: "Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing justice minister, Tashi Hanegbi, added: 'The British are not supposed to be involved in direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians. They would host a meeting and by so doing might gain some prestige which would not cost us (the Israelis) anything.'"

Hearst Newspapers: The Blair touch did the trick

A U.S. commentator takes a different view of Blair's accomplishments in the Mideast. Writing for the Hearst newspapers, Paris-based analyst Bernard Kaplan says that what he calls Blair's success was all the more surprising since the Israelis are traditionally deeply distrustful of the British whom they consider pro-Arab. Kaplan wrote yesterday: "Only last month, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook caused deep offense on a visit when he appeared openly to side with the Palestinians. He and Netanyahu were barely civil to one another." The analysis continues: "Blair's initiative is the first instance in many years in which the Israelis have accepted outside mediation by someone other than the Americans. Officially, Blair was representing the 15-nation European Union of which Britain currently holds the rotating presidency. But it was the Blair touch that did the trick." Kaplan's conclusion: "Every so often, a genuine new star arrives on the international political scene and there's little doubt the latest is...Tony Blair."

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: What do Middle Easterners have to learn from the Northern Ireland peace accord?

A commentary in yesterday's Los Angeles Times by Robert Satloff, the executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, asked, "What do Middle Easterners have to learn from (last Friday's) Northern Ireland peace accord?' Satloff answered: "Other than the common legacy of terrorism and the shedding of innocent blood, the two conflicts are fundamentally different and the solutions reached (on N. Ireland) at Stormont this month and in Oslo, Norway, in 1993 (on the Mideast) are very different, too. But the record of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians does have an important lesson for Northern Ireland: The tough part is implementing an agreement, not reaching it."

Satloff continued: "For U.S. policy, President Clinton did get it right in a Good Friday (April 17) news conference response: The lesson of Stormont for the Mideast is just don't ever stop. But an equally important lesson is don't ever try to dictate terms of an agreement. As history has shown, American engagement in Mideast diplomacy is necessary for its success, but not sufficient. In the Mideast case, Israelis and Palestinians don't need a distinguished ex-senator such as George Mitchell to help them achieve their own Stormont; they already made their own deal, without direct U.S. assistance, at Oslo." Satloff concluded: "Today, Washington's task should be to make Oslo work, using moral and political persuasion to ensure that each party complies with the letter of its contractual obligations under those accords. It's been the tough part of Arab-Israeli peacemaking the last five years and, if the Mideast holds any lessons for the British and the Irish, it will be the toughest part of Irish peacemaking the next five years, too."

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Precarious Northern Ireland agreement has an uncertain future

In a companion piece on Northern Ireland also published by the Los Angeles Times yesterday, history professor Martin Marty wrote: "The very name 'Good Friday Agreement,' designed to bring peace to Northern Ireland, has a properly holy ring. The accord asks much of warring parties that bear Christian names, 'Protestant' and 'Catholic.' In the churches of both on Good Friday the words of Jesus, 'Father, forgive ....' rang out. The Easter pulpits rang with pleas that the belligerents give the gift of forgiveness to their ancient enemies. Both sides in Northern Ireland have much about which to be angry and vengeful. Both have much to forgive and much from which to profit if they are forgiven." Marty went on to say: "The precarious Northern Ireland agreement has an uncertain future. Its success will depend largely on the forgiving acts of people labeled Republican or Unionist, Catholic or Protestant. The choice before them seems simple. They may forgive and follow up the act with consequences, which means beginning the long process of finding peace and enjoying productive lives. Or they can continue to act on the basis of anger and the impulse to wreak revenge." Marty concluded: "Forgiving in such circumstances is not forgetting; the aggrieved and raging partisans cannot forget their wounds even if they try. The mind, conscience and emotions do not work that way. They are wrenched by the temptation to hold on to their instinct for revenge, but they do not give in to it."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Biggest turning point took place in the Ulster Union Party

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also comments on last week's accord on Northern Ireland. In an editorial today, the paper writes: "The biggest turning point probably took place last weekend in the Ulster Union Party but its impact is not yet fully clear. The voting in the party council took the form more of a vote of confidence for the chairman David Trimble, who was one of the participants in negotiating the Stormont agreement." The FAZ comments further: "This was a breakthrough in the party's reprehensible past. Since the Union Party was established it has only defined itself negatively, in adamant opposition to any relations with the Irish Republic. The result of the weekend deliberations, on the contrary, favored a political solution whereby playing an active role in discussions with Irish ministers. This was a vote for a more mature Unionism, for a novel perspective of the entire domain of the British Isles."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: China seems to be loosening its stranglehold on political dissent

In its edition today, the New York Times comments on recent developments in Communist China. An editorial entitled "Chinese Political Yeast" says that "nine years after it crushed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, China's leadership seems ever so slightly to be loosening its stranglehold on political dissent. It is too soon to know whether the new openness will last, or grow, but something is stirring in China that bears encouragement and close monitoring by the United States." The editorial continues: "On Sunday, Wang Dan, the most prominent leader of the Tiananmen movement still in prison, was released for medical treatment in the United States. That comes after last November's medical release of China's senior democracy campaigner, Wei Jingsheng, and signals a somewhat more humane attitude toward those who have challenged Communist Party rule. Regrettably, Wang and Wei had to accept exile from China as a condition of their release." The paper concludes: "Twice in recent decades -- in 1978 and 1989 -- China seemed to edge warily toward greater democracy only to be thrown back by a new wave of government repression. This time continued modernization of China's economy may prove a powerful incentive for political reform. That is certainly something the world would cheer, and a development that (President) Bill Clinton should encourage as he prepares to visit China in June."