Prague, 7 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Israeli governments decision
Sunday to withdraw unconditionally from south Lebanon within four
months has sparked a round of commentary in the Western press. Most
analysts applaud the decision, but few believe it alone will bring
peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. There is also some
comment today on the UN's difficulties in bringing peace to Kosovo.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Without Syria's blessing, Lebanon will not sign a
peace treaty with Israel
Our selection of commentary begins in Britain with an editorial in the daily Financial Times. The paper writes that Israel's scheduled
withdrawal "will not end violence on [the Lebanese] front in the Arab-Israeli conflict unless it is part of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, the power broker in Lebanon. So the July deadline should focus minds in Israel and Syria on the need urgently to resume peace talks stalled since January."
The editorial explains: "In theory, a unilateral [Israeli] withdrawal should end the activities of the [Islamic movement Hizbollah] guerrillas. It should also rob Damascus, -- which has used Hizbollah to press for a return of the occupied Golan Heights -- of a bargaining chip. In practice, however," the paper goes onto say, "Israel runs serious risks in leaving Lebanon without an accord with Damascus. Without Syria's blessing, Lebanon will not sign a peace treaty with Israel providing it with solid guarantees that Hizbollah or other groups would be reigned in. This leaves open the possibility that attacks will reach inside Israel and lead to fierce retaliation
For the Financial Times, a unilateral withdrawal has "other negative implications." It argues: "Israel's military defeat would mark a victory for Hizbollah. And it would tell Palestinians frustrated with their own peace process that only force can drive Israel out of occupied territories. Given the risks involved and the limited time left," the paper concludes, "the U.S. should step up efforts to restart Israeli-Syrian peace talks."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Barak will only achieve peace when he is
prepared to return the Golan to Syria
A commentator in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung says this: "The
unanimous decision by the Israeli cabinet of Prime Minister Ehud Barak
to withdraw its troops from the 'security zone' it has maintained in
southern Lebanon is a huge success for the Hizbollah, which is
accepted by most Lebanese as a legitimate resistance force. In fact,"
writes Heiko Flottau from Cairo, "the 'Party of God,' [that is,
Hizbollah,] can now claim to be the only Arab fighting organization to
have defeated Israel."
He continues: "The victory gives the Lebanese [Islamic guerrillas]
the opportunity to show ... political far-sightedness since the
withdrawal should now remove any justification for attacks against
Israeli soldiers or their Lebanese proxies. But should the Hizbollah
militants choose to keep fighting, they would prove their war is not
about liberating occupied Lebanese territory, but rather about the
very right of Israel to exist."
Flottau, too, finds Syria important to Israeli-Lebanese peace. He
writes: "The Hizbollah, after all, have been engaged ... in a war of
proxy for [Syrian leader] Hafez Assad. Their guerrilla war has exerted
pressure on Israel to return the occupied Golan Heights to Syria." He
sums up: "Barak has at least managed to rob the Syrians of one trump
card. All the same, Barak will only achieve peace when he is prepared
to return the Golan to Syria. For all of them -- the Hizbollah, Syria
and Israel -- the moment of truth has arrived."
INFORMATION: The relationship between Israel and Syria could still
ignite another major war in the Middle East
In Denmark, the daily Information writes today: "It has taken Israel
22 years to decide to withdraw its forces from ... southern Lebanon.
... The government's decision was the result of both international and
domestic pressure -- not least from the families of Israeli soldiers
who have lost their lives in Lebanon."
The paper argues: "At the same time, the Hizbollah militia ... has
changed as well. From a terrorist group, it has become a movement
aimed at hitting mostly military targets." But Information also sees
no quick peace in the offing: "Many sensitive Lebanese issues remain
unsolved. [Among them are] compensation demanded by Hizbollah for
damage Israeli bombings have caused in Lebanon [and] the plight of the
360,000 people -- officially described as Palestinian refugees --
currently in Lebanon."
These issues, the Danish paper concludes, "will quickly emerge as
soon as Israel has
withdrawn its forces from southern Lebanon. But the most important
question," it says, "remains the relationship between Israel and
Syria, which could still ignite another major war in the Middle East."
WASHINGTON POST: Syrian leaders are at least partly right -- and that
is not a bad thing
Two U.S. dailies also comment on Israel's decision. In an editorial,
the Washington Post says: "To the Syrians, the [decision] is a message
that while Israel would prefer to extricate itself from Lebanon by
reaching a peace treaty with Syria -- the main power broker in the
tiny, war-torn country -- Syria will not be the arbiter of Israel's
eventual departure either." It adds: "Mr. Barak is effectively putting
Syria on notice that it can't improve its bargaining position on the
Golan Heights simply by making life more miserable, through its
proxies, for Israeli troops in Lebanon. ... Barak is saying that Syria
must negotiate seriously on other issues relating to Israel's
The paper goes to say that, in its words, "on the face of things,
[Assad's] government ... ought to be pleased. Syria has ... long been
calling for Israel's withdrawal from occupied Arab lands. ... Yet," it
adds, "the Syrian reaction ... has been hostile. Syrian leaders and
the state-controlled press have accused Israel of using the threat of
a Lebanon withdrawal to pressure Syria. They are at least partly right
-- and that is not a bad thing."
The Washington Post concludes: "It is important to read this
[Israeli] toughness alongside the other signal that Mr. Barak sent the
Syrians last week. In the most direct statement yet that he was
prepared to give back the entire Golan, Mr. Barak stated that other
Israeli governments had negotiated on the basis of full withdrawal and
he would not step back from their position." For the paper, "the
combined [Israeli] message is that Syria can get what it wants from
[Barak's] government, but that its hand will not grow stronger if the
current delay [in peace talks] continues."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Giving arms to lure Syria into 'peace' is
The Wall Street Journal Europe says this on the subject: "Journalists
really ought to love the Syrians. Not only has their long Hizbollah
proxy war against Israel's northern border provided reporters with
plenty of work, the continual stream of doublespeak emanating from
the Syrian government and its state-controlled media offers lots of
juicy quotes to deconstruct."
The paper's editorial notes: "Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara
said Israel would 'bear the consequences' of withdrawing without
Syria's blessing. [The] editor of Syria's official Tishrin newspaper
said the withdrawal plan had 'stirred a new wave of question marks ...
over Israel's seriousness about building a genuine peace in the
region.'" That moves the Wall Street Journal to ask: "Come again?
Israel wants to leave 'occupied Arab territory' and this raises
questions about its commitment to peace?"
The editorial also says: "The Syrians ... now seem to be inching
their way back to the [negotiating] table. ... [There] is speculation
that ... Assad could meet ... Barak in Geneva, and then for a signing
ceremony in Washington." Concluding, the paper raises another point:
"Nobody should be lured into this [Israeli-Syrian peace] deal because
U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a pre-election push, makes grand
promises of support ... that may well include military or economic aid
to Mr. Assad's Syria." It says: "Land for peace is risky enough.
Giving arms to lure Syria into 'peace' is downright foolish."
NEW YORK TIMES: The West cannot yet be satisfied with its efforts to help build a functional, law-abiding society in Kosovo
The New York Times today carries an editorial titled "A Cash-Starved Peace in Kosovo." The paper comments on remarks made yesterday at the United Nations in New York by Bernard Kouchner, the UN civil
administrator in Kosovo. It says: "[Kouchner] has a hard enough job
trying to contain ethnic hatreds, establish the rule of law and
provide for the medical, educational and material needs of a war-
battered population. He should not have to beg European nations to
come up with the money they promised for these purposes or to send the
international police officers who are urgently needed to restrain
The editorial continues: "Kosovo urgently needs more international
police officers to keep situations like the confrontation between
ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the city of Mitrovica from spreading.
... Ironically, one of the most conspicuous laggards in providing
these police officers is France, the country whose troops have been
most deeply involved in the Mitrovica strife."
The paper concludes: "The West can be proud of its role in ending
terror and mass expulsions from Kosovo. But it cannot yet be satisfied
with its effort