Prague, 22 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators today touch on several subjects. Some assess Pope John Paul's ongoing trip to Christian holy sites in the Middle East, while others are concerned with U.S. President Bill Clinton's current visit to South Asian nations and the situation in Kosovo.
FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The pope's pilgrimage in many respects resembles maneuvering on a political minefield
Writing in Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau daily today, Inge Guenther says that in Israel both Jews and Palestinians are hoping to gain the pontiff's attention. She writes in a commentary from Jerusalem: "The [recent] 'mea culpa,' or admission of guilt, issued by the Vatican was seen as extremely vague and met with disdain by some Israelis. Now that the pope is actually in the country, Israelis are looking ahead, [particularly to the pope's visit] to Yad Vashem, the national memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem."
As for the Palestinians, Guenther continues, "they are overjoyed that the pope is spending the six days of his visit [to the areas] exclusively in Arab-dominated east Jerusalem in the residence of the papal nuncio. Pro-independence Palestinian politicians," she adds, "will underline their claim to the city's eastern section with their presence when the guest from Rome meets Jerusalem's mufti in the Aqsa mosque."
The commentator says that the pilgrimage of the pope -- who is caught between both sides -- "in many respects resembles maneuvering on a political minefield. Even Karol Wojtyla," she concludes, "could come away with the impression that Jerusalem is a city which, according to an old adage, 'is as close to heaven as it is to hell.'"
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The relationship between Catholics and Jews can never be quite the same again
Another personal witness to the pope's visit to Israel, author George Weigel, writes today in the Wall Street Journal Europe: "Something epic is afoot [in Israel this week]. The pope is in the Holy Land as a Jubilee-year pilgrim," he goes on, "and he insists that his pilgrimage is strictly religious. He should be taken at his word. But," Weigel adds, "the pope now has come to a sovereign Jewish state. The Holy See enjoys full diplomatic exchange with that Jewish state; Israel has welcomed the bishop of Rome as an honored guest; and the relationship between Catholics and Jews can never be quite the same again."
The commentary goes on: "Pope John Paul [understands] that these two questions -- the Jewish-Catholic dialogue and diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel -- are, theoretically, divisible. But he also [knows] that they are indivisible in the minds and hearts of many of his Jewish interlocutors. Furthermore," Weigel says, "this pope, with his profound insight into modern Jewish pain, understood the unique place Israel holds in the Jewish imagination after the Holocaust. [For him,] the dialogue with Judaism and diplomatic relations with the Jewish state had to be pursued together."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: The pope's moral courage could begin to soften hearts in a strife-torn Middle East
Also in the Wall Street Journal Europe today, Israeli analyst Daniel Doran asks: "Can Christianity Survive in the Holy Land?" He writes in a commentary: "Years of war, oppression and neglect by their mother churches and clerical leadership have caused a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East. What started as a trickle at the turn of the century," Doran goes on, "grew into a flood after the withdrawal of Western colonial powers from the Middle East, creating large Christian Arab communities in North and South America. It will take a miracle to reverse this trend."
The commentator then spells out current conflicts within the various Christian communities -- Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Christian Arab, to mention only the most numerous -- who now total about one-quarter of a million in Israel. He then says: "It remains to be seen whether the pope's visit can do much in the short term to patch up these conflicts. He certainly cannot put an end to centuries of suspicions and hostility with a one-week visit."
But Doran cites what he calls the pope's "moral courage and good intentions, [which could] begin to soften hearts in a strife-torn Middle East and promote a message of peace among three religions that have so much in common. That would be no small capstone to a papacy that already has done so much to change the world."
GLOBE AND MAIL: Christian missionary work is a form of cultural imperialism
An entirely different view of the pope's trip is expressed in a commentary today in Canada's daily Globe and Mail by Mohammed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He tells the pope: "Stop trying to save our souls!"
Elmasry argues: "Roman Catholics, and other Western evangelicals, are busy converting Israeli Jews, Indonesian Muslims, Indian Hindus, Japanese and Chinese Buddhists, African natives, Russian Christian Orthodox and Egyptian Christian Copts. They are destabilizing societies, dividing families and destroying indigenous cultures."
Christian missionary work in the developing world, the commentator says, is "a form of cultural imperialism." He suggests that "today's missionary zeal be directed toward Western governments at home, not toward the world's poor, the world's sick and the world's uneducated and unskilled workers." That, he concludes, would be "more Christian."
FINANCIAL TIMES: There is little prospect of concrete progress on the core issues of nuclear proliferation and Kashmir
Britain's Financial Times daily today assesses U.S. President Bill Clinton's week-long trip to three South Asian nations: India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The paper writes in an editorial: "It is easy to see why U.S. presidents so rarely visit India. There is plenty of room for Bill Clinton to make gaffes this week if he becomes enmeshed in the protracted confrontation between India and Pakistan." But, the paper goes on, "there is little prospect of concrete progress on the core issues of nuclear proliferation and Kashmir."
In the editorial's words, "a closer relationship between the U.S. and India would be good for both countries and for the world." That's particularly true, it explains, because "strong relations with India would offset strains in Washington's relationship with China and reinforce the overall security balance in Asia."
As for Pakistan, the Financial Times continues, Clinton's "task will be equally complicated [when he visits Islamabad briefly later in the week]. He is right to go there," the paper argues, "because the U.S. must keep its lines of communication open in case of another Kashmir crisis. But he must stress the need for an early return to democracy [after the recent military coup d'etat] and to do more to combat terrorism."
WASHINGTON POST: In real terms, Kosovo is not safe, not secure and becoming less so all the time
In the Washington Post, National Journal editor Michael Kelly titles his commentary today "Anarchy in Kosovo." He begins by asking: "How safe is Kosovo, how secure?" His answer: "Safer and more secure than it was a year ago but still, in any real terms, not safe, not secure and becoming less so all the time."
Kelly argues: "The UN mission and its NATO musclemen [in Kosovo] are failing, according to their own definition of their mission. The continuing campaign to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of all but Kosovar Albanians has so far forced more than 100,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians, to flee the province; about 400 Serbs have been murdered, and many of those who remain live under constant, heavy guard." Meanwhile, he adds, "as predicted, members of the theoretically disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army -- UCK --have emerged as leaders of a criminal mob-ocracy that is the real power on the streets."
He concludes: "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last week declared that things were looking up in Kosovo. [In her words,] 'After all that has happened, we do not expect the rival communities in Kosovo to immediately join hands and start singing folk songs,' she lectured. She has a point," Kelly acknowledges. "But, slightly more to the real-world point, Madame Secretary, do we expect the majority in Kosovo to subvert law, establish a gangster anarchy and murder the minorities under our benign peace-keeping gaze?"