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Western Press Review: Yugoslavia, The Middle East

Prague, 17 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Events in Yugoslavia and the Middle East occupy the attentions of the Western press today, particularly the development of the political situation in Belgrade and the holding of the Mideast peace summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.


In a Washington Post news analysis, Peter Finn and R. Jeffrey Smith discuss yesterday's agreement in principle between allies of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party to share power in Serbia until new elections are held in late December.

They write: "Representatives of Milosevic's party, including Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, told the democratic coalition at a meeting Saturday night that they still needed to 'consult' before they could sign the accord Monday, the deadline set by Kostunica's allies. [The] coalition leaders said they interpreted this to mean the Socialists needed Milosevic's approval for the deal. Milosevic," the analysts comment, "continues to exercise influence from his guarded Belgrade residence, but one democratic leader said they were reluctant to cut off his phones because then 'you cannot listen to what he is saying and you do not know what they are thinking.'"

The two analysts also write that the agreement reflects the Socialists' abandonment of their demand for exclusive control of the interior and justice ministries, a sticking point that had held up a deal. And they say: "The parliament in Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, has already passed a new electoral law that its sponsors say meets all European standards and will thus foreclose any possibility of vote-stealing in December."


The future of Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation, occupies Erich Rathfelder in an analysis in Vienna's Die Presse daily. Writing from the capital Podgorica, he says: "Motorists pull over to the curb, in the cafes the music is interrupted -- the people are listening intently to the news. Vojislav Kostunica, the new Yugoslav President, has just declared -- after the European Union summit in Biarritz (Oct 24) -- that the people of Montenegro can themselves decide their future status within Yugoslavia. [He is willing, he said, to accept the verdict of] a referendum in Montenegro."

Rathfelder evokes the desire of Montenegrins to free themselves from the whirlwind of events in Serbia, He writes: "Kostunica's first remarks [after becoming president, in] which he mentioned [possible] secession for Montenegro, were not [regarded as] encouraging. Rather, they confirmed the [feeling of many Montenegrins] that a mere change of government cannot change the Serbian mentality: 'They want to rule others, as before they wanted a Greater Serbia.' [Until a few days ago,] that was the dominant opinion in Montenegro."


Another analysis by Daniel Williams in the Washington Post deals with the future of Kosovo. Writing from the provincial capital Pristina, he finds politicians there are now saying that Vojislav Kostunica's ascent to power in Yugoslavia means that Kosovo must get its political act together, tame its unruly society and show it can stand as an independent entity.

Williams cites a remark by Vehbi Rafuna, president of the War Invalids Association, which aids people wounded in the last year's fight against Serbian-led Yugoslav security forces. "The world is too quick to kiss Kostunica. [What] about us?" Rafuna asked. "We must show we are a state, and everybody must understand we are a state. This unclear situation of ours can only hurt."

"Two weeks ago", Williams continues, "the majority ethnic Albanian population in this NATO-occupied province of Serbia [gave] little thought to the political machinations in Belgrade, preoccupied as they were with their own battle for independence. But with Kostunica now occupying the president's office and Slobodan Milosevic on the outs, they fear that the world will forget or obstruct Kosovo's separatist aspirations."

"Kosovo," he adds, "is hamstrung by its status as an international protectorate run by the United Nations since the end of the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia last year. Institutions of self-government are few, and the ones that exist are poorly run."

Williams also says that Kostunica "is portrayed by many [in Kosovo] as Milosevic in sheep's clothing. Newspapers have prominently displayed a 1998 [photograph] that shows a grinning Kostunica holding an AK-47 rifle." His analysis concludes: "Kostunica has said many times that Kosovo, still legally part of Serbia despite the current UN administration, cannot split off permanently. But he has also talked in fatalistic terms of being able to imagine a Serbia without Kosovo."


Doubts about Kostunica also emerge in a commentary in the Spanish daily El Pais by Herrmann Terstsch. The writer recalls the events which brought Kostunica to power: "The enthusiasm was general all over the world. [There] was glory and there was meaning. The Serbian people had assaulted the temple of the usurpers, those who had covered the entire Balkan region with dead bodies -- this arrogant Mafioso power that become rich through the impoverishment of the people, making misery Serbia's condition."

But Terstsch says that Kostunica and his weak alliance have so far not managed their victory very well. He refers to Kostunica's failure to face up to demands that Milosevic be handed over to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, where he has been indicted. And he concludes: "What [Kostunica] is doing begins to look like [an] immoral and convenient deal. If [those now in power in Belgrade] think that they can please God and the devil at the same time, things are not going to improve. It is not possible to ask to join democratic Europe and at the same time [refuse] to cooperate with The Hague tribunal."


Turning to the day's other big subject, the Middle East crisis, a commentary by Jane Perlez in the New York Times, ponders how much control Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat really has over the violence in the Palestinian territories. She writes from Sharm el-Sheikh: "What is implicit in the demands by Israel and the United States to [Arafat] to shut down the street action in the West Bank and Gaza, is the presumption that he can turn the violence on and off."

But she continues: "The degree of that control [is] a matter of some debate in the Clinton administration, especially in the current wave of deadly rioting that has swept the West Bank, Gaza, and Arab Israeli towns. 'He doesn't control everything, but I believe there's more he can do,' said the [U.S.] national security adviser, Samuel Berger, before leaving Washington for the summit meeting.'"

Perlez notes that for the last two years, two of Arafat's top security officials have been working with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which has coordinated the cooperative security arrangements between Israelis and Palestinians. She writes: "It is that cooperation, and even the camaraderie that has developed between the two senior Palestinian officials and American operatives, that led the administration to believe that Mr. Arafat does have real control.

"But," she comments, "the events of the last two weeks have shown that the administration's assessment of Mr. Arafat's control may have been exaggerated."


An opinion piece by Amity Shlaes in Britain's Financial Times, entitled "The Middle East tells us the hawks were right," argues that building democracy must be the paramount goal of U.S. policy towards the Palestinians. She writes: "In synagogues and via e-mail this weekend, thousands of American Jews expressed their shock at the lynching of Israeli reservists at Ramallah [on the West Bank]. They wondered whether it was time for the U.S. to rethink the entire edifice of foreign aid for peace, at least while Mr. Arafat remained one of its pillars."

"This," Shlaes adds, "even though Middle East reconciliation funding has long been the greatest single foreign aid outlay by the U.S. government, which since the Camp David Accord of the 1970s, has given thousands of millions of dollars to Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians to help them find a way to peace."


A commentary in the French daily Liberation by Ilan Pappe, the director in Israel of the Institute for Peace, discusses the current anger of Israeli Arabs. He writes: "Israeli Arabs, who now number more than a million, massively voted for [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak. We see now how he shows his gratitude." Pappe continues: "[Israel's Arabs] supporting those [Palestinians] who demonstrate in the occupied territories, but never rise against the [Israeli] state. They are disappointed and bitter," he continues, "because of Barak's attitude, but also because they have endured 50 years of discrimination and economic deprivation. To express their anger and frustration, they use the same methods utilized many other groups in Israel -- but they are shot at by the police."


In the Washington Post, Howard Schneider writes from Sham el-Sheikh that Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah may not like what has happened in the Palestinian territories over the past two weeks. "But," he says, "as the leaders of border states that are also the only two Arab nations to have signed peace treaties with Israel, they also have the most at stake in seeing that the violence ends and the peace process resumes. [They] cannot afford to be shrill, even if their people demand it."

Mubarak, Schneider suggests, must handle the contradictions between managing a nation where anti-Israeli sentiment is running high and maintaining his role as an interlocutor in regional affairs. "Abdullah,' he writes, "Jordan's monarch for just two years, is playing a lesser role, but one in which the stakes are nevertheless high. A majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, and pressure to prevent further normalization of ties with the Jewish state is intense."


In Denmark, the daily Jyllands Posten writes in an editorial: "The best thing that can come out of the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting is a simple declaration that both the Israelis and the Palestinians condemn the violence. If such a statement does emerge," the paper says, "the Middle East conflict can return to the realm of quiet diplomacy under the following conditions: Israel has the sovereign right to exist in peace within its internationally recognized borders, and the Palestinians have an equally sovereign right to live in a functioning state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza and be provided with free access to East Jerusalem."

"These conditions," the editorial continues, "are certain to be rejected by extremist elements both in Israel and among the Palestinians. That very fact underlines their importance," it argues. "The Israelis and the Arabs must accept to live side by side in a tightly-packed territory because it is the only one they have. To encourage any solution that gives more room to either party would be irresponsible."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to our report.)