Prague, 16 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton has returned home after three days in Israel and the Gaza Strip, where he sought to unblock the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In Washington, the full House of Representatives is due tomorrow to vote on whether or not to impeach Clinton for alleged lies and other misdemeanors in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Western press commentary is largely devoted to examinations of both issues.
IRISH TIMES: Stability can only be reached after the collapse of the Netanyahu Government
The Irish Times says today that Clinton "succeeded in getting the Palestinians to renounce their pledge in the PLO Covenant to destroy the State of Israel, but he has failed to get the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, to adhere to the Wye River agreement signed only (seven) weeks ago."
The paper writes in an editorial: "Netanyahu has turned his back on those sectors of Israeli society urging him to make peace with the Palestinians....But if the Netanyahu government has failed to choose peace, the U.S. has made its peace with the Palestinians and is now committed to steering them safely to independent statehood."
The editorial concludes: "The vast majority of Israelis recognize the inevitability of a Palestinian state. And, in the long term, Israel can only benefit from a more stable Palestinian entity next door. That stability can be achieved only by halting new settlements and by trading occupied land on the path to permanent peace. It now appears, however...that these goals can only be reached after the inevitable collapse of the Netanyahu Government and fresh elections..."
TAGES ANZEIGER: The causes of the deadlock between the Israelis and Palestinians are too deep
Switzerland's Tages-Anzeiger, published in Zurich, writes today of Clinton's trip: "All the pomp and rhetoric should not serve to hide the disappointing (reality) that the peace process is not on track by a long way. For the causes of the deadlock between the Israelis and Palestinians are too deep to be wiped away by symbolic gestures."
The paper's editorial continues: "At the same time, radical Palestinian groups met in Damascus and vehemently rejected a settlement with the Jewish state. These militant 'no-sayers' are as incorrigible as the (Jewish) settlers on the other side who demand Biblical Israel for themselves....(This) augers little good for the future of the Middle East."
ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Only the U.S. can help in creating an independent Palestinian state
In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that "only the future will tell whether (Clinton's trip) is really historic." The paper's editorial goes on: "Undoubtedly, the visit has great significance for the Palestinians. The highest representative of the world power that previously was the Palestinians' worst enemy has been welcomed with tremendous enthusiasm." It ends: "There are still many reservations in the Arab world concerning the Americans, but the realists know that only the U.S. can help make the idea of an independent Palestinian state reality."
EXPRESS: A new beginning would be impossible for a long time to come
The Cologne tabloid Express also underlines the fact that the U.S. is "no longer acting as a protective power for Israel - that old way of thinking is now over," it says. The paper continues: "Just as important for the Americans now are peace and security in the autonomous territories. But there's a big risk: Bill Clinton must utilize all his credibility to get the stalled peace process moving again. Should this plan fail," the paper's editorial sums up, "a new beginning would be impossible for a long time to come."
FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Netanyahu has just achieved the diplomatic equivalent of shooting himself in the foot
In a commentary for the Frankfurter Rundschau today, Inge Guenther writes from Jerusalem: "Benjamin Netanyahu can sing the praises of his hard-line approach as much as he wants, but he has just achieved the diplomatic equivalent of shooting himself in the foot." She goes on: "The Israeli Prime Minister did succeed in forcing the Palestinian National Congress finally to carry out the long-overdue removal of (anti-Israel) clauses inserted in the (PLO's) charter in a time of war. But...it was U.S. President Bill Clinton who got all the credit as television cameras beamed his smiling image around the world."
Her commentary also says: "In the Palestinian history books, the President's visit will get prominent mention as a milestone on the way to a Palestinian state. There is no other way to interpret Clinton's statement that the people of Palestine have the right 'to decide their future in their own country.'"
Guenther concludes: "With each of them facing a separate political crisis of his own, the three leaders...will be distracted by their own problems. And yet Clinton, threatened with impeachment over the Lewinsky scandal, has proved, just as Arafat has through his trials and tribulations, that progress can still be made on important things in even the most difficult circumstances. Of the three, only Netanyahu faces political capitulation --and one that is entirely his own fault."
DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: Netanyahu's internal political difficulties explain his radicalization
The provincial French daily Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace says: "Netanyahu, whose coalition is hanging by a thin thread, yesterday refused to commit himself to the re-deployment of more Israeli troops from the West Bank --despite pressing demands from Bill Clinton."
The paper's editorial continues: "According to Israeli commentators, Netanyahu's internal political difficulties threaten to bring him down with a motion of censure or a vote for new elections in the Israeli parliament Monday. That," says the DNA, "explains his radicalization. The Prime Minister does not want to expose himself to criticism from the extreme Right."
The editorial adds: "Clinton admitted that he had been unable to obtain Israel's agreement to further withdrawals from the West Bank. But he nonetheless said that the visit had been a success and that the peace process was once again on the rails....However, this optimistic account is contradicted by Mr. Netanyahu's intransigent declarations..."
HA'ARETZ: Clinton's visit symbolizes the great transformation in U.S. policy toward the Palestinians
Israel's independent daily Ha'aretz titles its editorial today, "Milestones in Gaza." The paper writes: "With the touchdown of the U.S. President's helicopter at Gaza International Airport (yesterday), the Palestinians won the most important recognition of their framework for a future state.... Clinton's appearance in Gaza symbolizes the last step of the great transformation in U.S. policy toward the Palestinians in general and Yasser Arafat in particular."
The editorial continues: "Arafat, who for years was persona non grata in the U.S...is now a friend....In return, Arafat showed Clinton that the Arabs recognize that the U.S. has become their friend...The annulment of the PLO (Charter clauses)... has brought an end to this episode. The Palestine National Congress has now underlined what Arafat declared two years ago: It is no longer the aim of the Palestinians to annihilate Israel."
NEW YORK TIMES: History will condemn the Republicans
Three U.S. national newspapers comment on Clinton's possible impeachment by the House of Representatives. In a long editorial today, the New York Times says: "Just about any citizen who follows the news could write the one-paragraph synopsis of what history will make of William Jefferson Clinton, a man blessed with great talent and afflicted with a mysterious passion for lying."
The NYT continues: "The vote against (Democrat Clinton due tomorrow) will be almost strictly partisan, meaning that the Republican victory will meet the arithmetic requirements of the Constitution but will not carry its magisterial authority. History, in our view, will condemn the Republicans for using their constitutional powers as an instrument of partisan vengeance. That instrument was intended as a scalpel for the cutting out of cancers, not for the excising of unsightly pimples."
The editorial says that Clinton is "a man you cannot trust whether you have his handshake, his signature or his word on a Bible." It adds, however: "If impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate would simply harm him and not the Constitution, we would be all for it. But under the present circumstances of a polarized party-line vote, it would assault the Constitution as well as public confidence in that most precious American asset, the orderly, quadrennial surrender of power from one chief executive to another and often from one party to another."
The paper urges the House to censure Clinton, not impeach him, writing: "If the Republicans remove him by simple force of numbers, the debate over whether this was a political coup will continue for decades and could become a bigger threat to civic stability than Clinton's mendacity."
WASHINGTON POST: Censure is an imperfect answer, but the right one
The Washington Post also says "Censure, Don't Impeach" Clinton. In its editorial, the paper writes: "President Clinton is a manipulator of the truth who has spent much of his career in the gray zones of American politics....Time and again, his self-protective instincts have led him across the dividing line between principle and deviousness and, unfortunately, the line between truth and falsehood as well."
But, the WP continues, "the people knew that about him in 1992, and again in 1996. Both his personal and political histories attested to it. They elected, and re-elected, him anyway. Now the House Republicans...propose to reverse that popular judgment and set in motion a process to remove him from office."
The paper goes on: "(The Republicans) lack the basis for the momentous step they are almost casually undertaking. It's an ill-considered force play on their part, and wrong....The question is not whether wrong was done but whether the wrong is sufficient to impeach....Censure minimizes the damage while expressing the necessary condemnation. It is an imperfect answer, but the right one. The House leadership does a huge disservice in blindly refusing to let it come up."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: A Capitol so out of step with the people is a greater danger than Clinton's lies
Like the other papers, the Los Angeles Times is for censure, not impeachment. Its editorial says: "Some form of rebuke, short of impeachment, is what Americans want. The Constitution does not forbid it. The House leadership has no right to preclude it." The LAT adds: "While many supporters of impeachment have sanctimoniously worried about the precedent of a censure, what they ought to worry about is the precedent of impeaching a president who, outside (Washington), maintains popular support, in this country and abroad. A Capitol so out of step with the people it claims to represent, one so easily whipsawed by a group of small but vocal extremists, is a greater danger to the Republic than all of Bill Clinton's selfish lies."
The paper concludes on a solemn note: "The House should heed an almost biblical warning from (Democratic) Representative John Lewis, issued earlier this year: 'The American people are watching. Beware the wrath of the American people....Beware.'"