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Western Press Review: Commentators Focus On Mideast And Yugoslavia

Prague, 11 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Comments in the Western press today continue to focus on the world's two chief crisis areas. One is the violent confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East, with its threat of a wider conflict. The other is the abrupt change of power in Yugoslavia, where the installation of President Vojislav Kostunica is posing questions about him and the chances of his coping with the country's myriad problems.


What went so wrong in the Middle East peace process, several commentators ask, that today the region could easily erupt again into armed conflict? In the New York Times, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger says the "failure [has] many fathers." He asks: "[Is the] 'peace process' dead or only breathing hard. Whatever the answer," he says, "it is clear that we have come to this sorry state thanks to a dearth of effective leadership on both sides."

"First," Eagleburger continues, "there is General Ariel Sharon. He must have known that his visit [last month] to the Temple Mount would trigger a violent reaction, particularly in the atmosphere of the time. [As] for the Palestinians, to put it mildly, the punishment hardly fits the crime. The rampage that ensued showed how little influence [Yasser] Arafat has over his minions. It also showed," Eagleburger continues, "just how unprepared his police were to prevent the destruction of holy places when Palestinians run amok. Nor should we ignore the game that apparently is afoot along Israel's northern border. Hizbollah, Lebanon and Syria all seem intent on taking advantage of Israel's troubles, should the opportunity present itself."

Eagleburger says that he himself is "increasingly pessimistic." He explains: "Mr. Arafat may or may not want a settlement, but can he control his people? Doubtful," he answers, "particularly in the present climate. Mr. Barak may be faced with the need to call new elections soon. Even if he can hang on for a time, it is doubtful -- again, particularly in the present climate -- that he can generate the support necessary to resolve the really tough issues, like Jerusalem."


The Washington Post, in an editorial, is at least as pessimistic, saying that there is "no peace, no process" today in the Middle East. The paper says that underlying its previous support for the peace process was "the assumption, or at least the hope, that Israel had someone to negotiate with. The recent violence in the region casts doubt on that assumption. It is less clear than ever that Yasser Arafat is a partner with whom Israel can reach an understanding."

The editorial goes on, glumly: "There is no alternative negotiating partner to Mr. Arafat, and the possibility of reverting to the [pre-1993 Oslo Accords] days of occupation and day-to-day violence is almost unthinkable. But [Arafat's] walking away from a deal at Camp David, his stoking of the recent violence and his persistent refusal to call that violence off force Israel to begin contemplating alternative futures, no matter how dismaying."


In Germany's Die Welt today, Dietrich Alexander says that the dispute over Jerusalem "is uniting disparate Arab hearts." He writes: "If the press from Morocco to Oman is a barometer of opinion, tempers in the Arab world must be flaring. 'Battle for Jerusalem' scream the headlines as monarchs, presidents and dictators rush to join in and declare their sympathy for the Palestinians' 'heroic battle.' No matter," Alexander adds, "that the hysteria hides a good deal of internal dissonance. The feelings are pan-Arab, and that is what Muslims apparently buy."

The commentary goes on: "The more radical contingent in the Middle East conflict is represented by states such as Yemen, Iraq and Libya. [The] only country seen to be keeping a clear head while all around are losing theirs is Hosni Mubarak's Egypt. [Mubarak] warns specifically against all and any war-mongering. And thank goodness: Cairo without doubt has the most important voice in the conflict."

The commentary concludes: "In the final analysis, no Arab state has any interest in going to war against Israel. Creating the pan-Arab card will never do the trick. Its sole purpose is to whip up hatred against Israel."


Another German commentator, Thorsten Schmitz writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, praises Israeli Prime Minister Barak's recent conduct in the crisis. Writing from Tel Aviv, he says: "The fear here was that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was going to announce far harsher measures than he did on leaving the five-hour cabinet sitting late Monday evening (Oct 9). On the contrary, [Barak] [elected] to wait and watch whether the Palestinians might stop their stone-throwing themselves."

"Barak," Schmitz goes on, "could just as easily have declared the peace process dead and war on the Palestinians. Instead, he has merely sealed off the Palestinian areas for an unspecified time and has said he still wants to attend a summit meeting with Arafat and President Bill Clinton." Schmitz concludes: "For a government leader fighting a three-front battle -- against the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria -- and with a near-civil war between Jewish and Arab Israelis, Barak is displaying remarkable composure."


Another set of questions is raised today by Vojislav Kostunica's takeover of the Yugoslav presidency. Ivo Banac, who teaches history in the U.S., asks in the Wall Street Journal Europe: "Can Serbia's new leader escape [Slobodan] Milosevic's Legacy?" He writes: "The new president is, in many ways, an untypical representative of the Serbian opposition or of the nation at large." He adds: "Kostunica is a conservative by Serbian standards. 'The new head of state,' according to a Belgrade daily, 'is honest, measured, educated, and a Serb who believes in God.' He is also a monarchist and a redoubtable legalist. In other words," Banac sums up, "he is not only unlike Mr. Milosevic, but also unlike all Serbian leaders since 1944."

The commentary continues: "[Kostunica's] ideal among world leaders is Charles de Gaulle. In an October 9 interview, Mr. Kostunica noted that de Gaulle was an 'extraordinary example of the national principle and of national revival, [who] was conscious of the danger of U.S. hegemony, at a time when this hegemony was not as pronounced as today.' Three days earlier, when Mr. Milosevic was overthrown, Mr. Kostunica said: 'We do not need Moscow or Washington. Serbia will do this all by herself.'"

"Still," Banac adds, "Mr. Kostunica's belief in the revival of Serbia's grandeur, his trust that, like de Gaulle, he too can be 'not only a sincere nationalist, but a convinced democrat,' is not as important as the current alignment of forces in Serbia. Mr. Milosevic certainly would not have fallen had the army and police chiefs stood by him. [Milosevic] simply provided them with an opportunity to channel popular discontent into safe political waters, without 'revanchism' -- that is, without any deep political changes."

"That may no longer be possible," Banac adds. "During the past two days, the radical current has overflowed the legalist ramparts. As Milosevic loyalists busily burn official documents -- including, apparently, the evidence of how Mr. Milosevic stole the elections from Milan Panic in 1992 -- the various official institutions are falling to the forces of change. Mr. Milosevic's rectors and deans, chiefs of his favorite firms, editors of his newspapers and television stations, are being fired or forced to resign throughout Serbia."


In the International Herald Tribune, analyst Anna Husarska writes that "most Yugoslavs want Milosevic brought to justice." Writing from Belgrade, she continues: "Two days after the storming of the Parliament, the Humanitarian Law Center here fired off a press release: 'Is there anyone who does not know that Slobodan Milosevic, together with his wife and closest associates, did everything in his power to steal votes [in the Sept 24 election] and pervert the will of the people? Is there any doubt about the culpability for the death and destruction in the series of wars waged by Milosevic?'"

"This," says Husarska, "is definitely out of step with the views of [Kostunica,] who repeats that he will not deliver his predecessor to The Hague tribunal which indicted him for war crimes. Neither," she adds, "does [Kostunica] seem to plan to have him or his family arrested for any other crimes."

Husarska reports that ever since the Law Center's appeal was made public, its phones are continually ringing "with people offering support. No wonder," she adds. " While the old and new regime are busy with a not-so-easy change of guard, the subject dominating private conversations is 'Where is '"he"?' and the magnanimous spirit of Mr. Kostunica is seldom shared by anyone but the party faithful."


Spain's ABC daily carries a commentary by Cesar Alonso de los Rios that says: "With Milosevic, everything was clear: dictatorship, a Greater Serbia, violence and ethnicity. [For some Serbs,] everything seemed justified: international pressure, bombings, the embargo." But now, he goes on, "elections and democracy have thrust forward [Kostunica, a very different kind of leader]."

The commentary goes on: "This professor of constitutional law with a serious -- almost gloomy -- demeanor is not charismatic at all. He's a fluent but monotonous speaker, a liberal conservative but also a nationalist, anti-American, an opponent of The Hague tribunal, which he considers as a [U.S.] instrument. And at least for now, Kostunica refuses to reconsider his attitude towards last year's actions by the Serbian community [in Kosovo]."

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