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Western Press Review: Commentators Condemn Sharon, Deplore Reaction

Prague, 3 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press turns its eyes and ears today toward the gun-flashes and the ricochet sounds in the Middle East and reaches a virtually unanimous conclusion: Israeli right-wing politician Ariel Sharon deliberately ignited the fire.


The Irish Times, which surely knows about such things, goes a subtle step further. Sharon may have been the stimulus, but the ill-led and undisciplined Palestinians and then the Israeli army overreacted. The newspaper says this in an editorial: "Mr. Sharon may have been the prime mover in creating the current serious unrest. But the Palestinians have played predictably into his hands, made much worse by the Israeli military's use of lethal weaponry in response."

The newspaper concludes that whatever hope for peace that is left rests on the shoulders of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The editorial says: "Mr. Sharon has gambled that Mr. Arafat will not be able to control Palestinian reaction to his deliberate provocation. The longer the violence continues the more damage will be done to the peace process in general and to [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak's domestic standing in particular. The violence needs to be brought to an end as quickly as possible and both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak need to play an urgent and visible part in bringing this about."

Three U.S. newspapers review the new armed clashes and also find blame enough to go around.


A Boston Globe editorial describes Sharon's adventure in these terms: "Ariel Sharon's ostentatious entry last week onto the plaza where the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque are situated may have been legal, but it was a characteristic gesture of belligerence from the leader of the Likud Party."

The newspaper counsels moving swiftly on. It says, "At this stage, the argument over blame for starting the latest round of violence becomes merely another spur to protract the bloodletting."

Barak and Arafat, the editorial says, must urgently cooperate to halt the cycle of violence. If they fail, says the Globe, "Barak may then be swept from power in fresh elections, and Arafat may go down in history not as the liberator of Palestinian land but as a fool who overplayed his hand."


The New York Times, in an editorial, describes Sharon's action in words that contrast with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's understated phrase, "definitely counterproductive." The newspaper says, "The precipitating incident was a provocative and irresponsible visit by the Likud leader, Ariel Sharon last Thursday to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the site of Islam's holiest mosques."

The editorial assigns most of the violence now to the Palestinians and says that Arafat bears the greater responsibility for restraining it. The stakes, says the editorial, are very high. It says: "If the violence ends, security officials from both sides should discuss ways to avoid a recurrence of fighting. The alternative to rebuilding trust and communication is now on deadly display."


The Washington Post offers this description of Sharon's act and his motive: "Of course, Mr. Sharon, a longtime hawk, had the right to go, as he self-righteously insisted afterward. This question has rather to do with wisdom and morality. His visit apparently was intended not only to sabotage the peace process but also to position himself better for a coming intra-party battle with former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. One can only imagine how such calculations resonate with those who have lost their children in the past four days."

The Washington Post editorial forecasts dark clouds. It says: "The latest clashes could spell the end for the current Israeli government and its push for peace. Mr. Sharon would be pleased, and Mr. Arafat might keep his job. Their countrymen would be the losers."


From Paris, Liberation carries today columnist Jose Garcon's pessimistic death knell for Mideast peace. He writes: "It is generally assumed that the correlation of provocation and repercussion was a fatal blow to the already difficult process of negotiations."

The commentary says: "Since the end of the Camp David summit, things have not changed much [in a search for a way to untie the] Gordian knot of the conflict: sovereignty on the Temple Mount. Not one idea has been approved by both sides yet."

Garcon writes: "In spite of the forced optimism of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a miracle would be necessary to restart the machine of peace."


An editorial in today's Financial Times, London, is equally glum. It says this: "The escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories threatens to kill an already ailing Middle East peace process." It concludes: "Palestinians and Israelis have made significant progress in the peace process in recent months. Now the risk is that this progress will be in vain. The longer the confrontation lasts, the harder it will be to return to the negotiating table."

Another confrontation also occupies Western press commentary today. That is the question of whether Slobodan Milosevic's presidency can survive the challenge of last month's election results and this week's demonstrations.


Madrid's El Pais says in an editorial that Milosevic's opponents should apply both pressure and patience. The paper says: "The confrontation between the street and Milosevic has entered a decisive stage. As Zoran Djindjic, the coordinator of the opposition reminded, pressure and patience are needed because the aim is to knock down a dictator."

El Pais continues: "While the internal pressure against [Milosevic's] regime is growing, the external pressure is growing as well. Yesterday Switzerland froze the accounts of a hundred people close to Milosevic. They should have done it a long time before. The pressure from Western countries, especially from the European Union has changed. The tone is no longer so threatening and is more constructive, promising to lift sanctions if Milosevic goes."

The editorial counsels against softening the anti-Milosevic stance prematurely, saying: "This is not the right time to lift the pressure. It should be, on the contrary, reinforced."


The Wall Street Journal Europe concurs. In an editorial, it says this: "Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has survived NATO's bombers, hostile press, international sanctions and indictment in The Hague as a war criminal. But he may not survive the will of his own people."

The editorial says: "The Yugoslav elections held on September 24 once were expected to be a non-event. A few months ago the opposition was divided into petty factions. The public was unenthusiastic. And Milosevic would probably steal the election anyhow. But so far nothing has gone according to that cynical script."

The newspaper adds: "Whatever Milosevic's fate, Yugoslavia has reached an important crossroads. After decades of sham elections under communists and strongmen, that beleaguered nation finally has had an election that really means something to the people. The only remaining question is how vigorously they will demand the outcome that they seek."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego contributed to this report.)