Prague, 27 July 2000 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary continues to focus on the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian summit talks that occurred on Tuesday at Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat near Washington. There are also comments today on Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent trip to Asia.
Reflecting on the failure of the talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Irish Times says today that both returned to the Middle East, in the paper's words, "claiming that they have refused to bow to unreasonable demands and expecting plaudits from their separate constituencies. But," its editorial notes, "Mr. Barak is now without a peace deal or a parliamentary majority, and Mr. Arafat is without a capital for the state he wants to proclaim. And," it adds, "having failed to make concessions in order to make peace, both are in danger of becoming captive to more extreme elements in Israeli and Palestinian society."
Looking ahead, the editorial goes on to say: "Mr. Barak's only hope of surviving a vote in the Knesset (parliament) next Monday now lies in compromise with the very coalition partners who deserted him in recent weeks. If he loses, early elections may offer him a better chance of forming a government dedicated to seeking peace. If he survives, the Knesset goes into recess until October, giving him the space to consider new approaches to peacemaking."
"But time is not on Barak's side," the editorial argues. "He will still face pressure to reach a deal before 13 September, the date by which Mr. Arafat is determined to declare a Palestinian state, with or without an accord." The paper concludes: "The prospects of re-launching the talks or organizing a new summit before 13 September are slim. In the coming days and weeks, both sides will need creativity and sensitivity to pursue the alternatives, to reduce friction and to prevent violence."
New York Times:
In his commentary on the failure of two weeks of talks at Camp David, New York Times columnist William Safire asks: "Why is Arafat Smiling?" He writes: "Three pictures on the front page of The Times told the Camp David story: Ehud Barak stunned and dismayed, Bill Clinton shattered -- and Yasser Arafat grinning broadly." His explanation: "Arafat gave up nothing. But Israel's leader, prodded by a U.S. president, made concessions that broke pledges Barak made in his election campaign a year ago."
Safire continues: "Barak offered Arafat virtually all the West Bank, including the vital Jordan Valley, requiring the uprooting of 40,000 Israeli settlers. He offered what amounts to right of return of thousands of Palestinians to Israel, backed up by a reported huge commitment by Clinton to pay Palestinians around the world to not return. And most unthinkable only a year ago, he offered to share sovereignty with a new Palestinian state in portions of Jerusalem."
"Not enough, smiled Arafat," says Safire. "He went home to the cheers of intransigent Palestinians. Arabs are delighted at the one-way flow of concessions because they now see Jerusalem 'in play.'"
For Safire, however, it is the U.S. president who is most at fault. He concludes: "Though Clinton absolves Barak and himself from the failure of these negotiations, his desperation for a deal in time for election was at the root of the fiasco. Because Barak, under pressure, gave away too much too soon, nothing was left as a deal-closer."
Los Angeles Times:
The Los Angles Times is kinder to Clinton, for whom, it says, "the breakdown of the talks was no doubt a sad event. Clinton, it adds, made every effort to broker a deal, sincerely hoping the summit would clear the path to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians."
In its editorial, the paper sees some good emerging from the collapse of the Camp David talks, writing: "The two sides for the first time laid out many of the terms of peace, breaking some major taboos. As one Middle East expert put it, 'The genie is out of the bottle and no one will put it back in again.'"
The paper goes on to say: "Barak showed a great deal of flexibility in offering concessions on key questions, including the future of East Jerusalem. But his proposals apparently did not go far enough for Arafat, who was under pressure not only from his own constituents but other Arab leaders claiming vital interests in Jerusalem's fate."
It concludes: "The collapse of the talks is bound to usher the Middle East into a period of high emotions. Clinton failed to win a promise from Arafat to reject a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Frustration among Palestinians could trigger a wave of violence, and casualties are inevitable if Israel responds with heavy police action."
A news analysis in Britain's Financial Times also sees the end of the Camp David negotiations as what it calls "an encouraging failure." Roula Khalaf and Judy Dempsey write: "There are good reasons to believe that the two weeks of intensive negotiations will usher in a new and decisive phase in Middle East diplomacy. In the short term," they admit, "both will need to calm domestic fears. But in the longer run," they argue, "Camp David could prove to be the biggest step towards reconciliation since the 1991 Madrid conference, which brought Israelis and Arabs together for the first time to agree on the principle of the return of land in exchange for peace."
The analysts are also appreciative of Clinton's efforts. "At Clinton's prompting," they say, "Israelis and Palestinians have finally discussed face to face the most emotional issues dividing them: the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements, and the future of Jerusalem. The summit has clarified the issues and led to shifts in the Israeli position."
They also note that, "despite the rhetoric, there are signs that both leaders believe they have gone so far down the road to agreement that they cannot turn back. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, was unusually upbeat when he confidently predicted the two sides would get back to the negotiating table and an agreement would be struck by September." And they also cite a remark by one of Barak's advisers to bolster their optimistic views: "The taboos have been broken," the adviser told them. "The momentum for peace has not totally dissipated. We can and must move on."
A Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, says that "the international disappointment over Israeli and Palestinian failure to reach an agreement -- even though their talks were being mediated by the world's most powerful leader -- is great and genuine. Yet," it writes in its editorial, "the Camp David negotiations did achieve something positive. They rid the two parties of the mentality that stipulated that 'if both parties do not want an agreement, there will be no agreement.'"
"Instead," the editorial goes on, "they promoted a more coherent and diplomatic 'give-and-take' technique that viewed each others' requests as part of a package. In this fashion," it argues, "concessions on some of the disputed elements might be traded for other compromises, with the result being that some political and psychological taboos in the discussion between the two parties were successfully dropped."
Two U.S. dailies run comments today on Russia President Vladimir Putin's trip to China and North Korea.
New York Times:
In an editorial, the New York Times says: "Putin came back from North Korea reporting a tantalizing offer. The North, he said, would give up its menacing long-range-missile program if other countries would launch at least two North Korean space satellites a year." The paper argues: "If, as Putin believes, Pyongyang envisions sending its satellites abroad for launching, the proposal merits serious consideration. But if North Korea expects other countries to provide it with advanced rockets it could learn to copy, the risks are unacceptable."
The editorial continues: "It is too soon to conclude that North Korea has joined the community of peaceful nations. Its nuclear weapons and missile programs have been suspended, not abandoned. Reckless foreign missile sales and human rights abuses continue," the editorial adds, "as do allegations of international drug trafficking."
The U.S., the paper concludes, "must use caution in engaging North Korea. In addition to confirming that North Korea is proposing satellite launches from outside its territory, Washington needs to find out whether the satellites would be used for military and intelligence purposes and who would pay the launching costs. It should also," the editorial concludes, "seek a North Korean commitment to stop exporting missile technology."
Los Angeles Times:
A commentary by Jim Mann in the Los Angeles Times says that, with "Putin's trip to Beijing last week. Russia's ties to China have now drawn closer than at any time in the past 40 years." He writes further: "The Russian president signed a joint statement with President Jiang Zemin that was startling in scope. Russia and China agreed to work together not just in opposing the U.S. missile-defense system, but in many other areas of foreign policy, including Central Asia and Taiwan."
Mann continues: "The military aspects of the Sino-Russian relationship continue to deepen, too. Russia already has sold China advanced Sukhoi warplanes that Russia's own military doesn't have the money to buy, along with destroyers, missiles and other hardware. Russian military experts," he adds, "say there may well be more to come. Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian defense analyst, predicts China may seek Russian help to stop American aircraft carriers from intervening if there is a crisis over Taiwan."
"Nevertheless," the commentator notes, "one can detect in Russia more than a little ambivalence about the country's new China connection. Russian military leaders," he says, "have opposed giving high-tech planes and missiles to China that they fear might someday be used against their own country. Economic officials gripe that China doesn't buy enough Russian products beyond arms supplies. And many other Russians voice the fear that the sparsely populated areas of Siberia will be overwhelmed by an influx of Chinese."
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this review)