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Western Press Review: Commentary Still Focusing On Middle East

Prague, 23 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- In the aftermath of the weekend's summit of Arab leaders in Cairo, Western press commentary remains strongly focused on the Middle East.

Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace:

According to an editorial signed by Jean-Claude Kiefer in the French provincial daily Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace, "in less than a month -- since the first incidents on the Temple Mount -- Israel has succeeded in achieving the almost incredible: turning the entire Arab world against it. Of course," he goes on, "in the days to come, U.S. and European diplomats will explain that the anti-Israeli decisions taken at the summit could have been worse." He adds: "That's true, but if no concrete decisions were taken at Cairo -- nothing really dangerous for Israel -- its declarations add to an already poisoned climate."

El Mundo:

The Spanish daily El Mundo, in its editorial, finds that "the only real source of satisfaction for Palestinian leaded Yasser Arafat provided by the summit was the unanimous support of Arab leaders for a Palestinian independent state with a capital in east Jerusalem. But," it adds, "no other decision that might have annoyed the U.S. was taken at the meeting."

EL Mundo goes on: "The Cairo declaration only showed the lack of unity between among Arab nations on the matter of coexistence with Israel. But," the paper says, "Israel will exist no matter how many injustices are committed by its leaders, and the Palestinian people will remain as it is, more and more populous, demanding a state of its own." It concludes: "We are in a situation where those who call for a war to get out of a dead- end situation are more and more numerous. At such time, governments must seek solutions that will avoid further bloodshed."

Irish Times:

The Irish Times finds that the Arab summit "left open the door to a resumption of the Middle East peace process, despite the appalling violence of recent days and weeks." But it adds: "The process looks perilously close to being finished. This," it says, "was hinted at by Israeli Prime Minister Barak, who repeated that he wants to take 'time out' from the process to assess whether it can or should continue."

The paper says of the summit itself that it "condemned Israel's policies that diplomatic relations should be broken off." It calls that "a victory for President Mubarak of Egypt, working with Jordanians, against calls for more radical action." The editorial goes on: "Popular rage throughout the Middle Eastern region over recent events has profound implications for many of its regimes. Frustration over the outcome of the Sharm el-Sheikh summit last week and now over the Arab summit could destabilize the entire region if the pattern of violence continues in the Israeli-occupied territories."

The editorial says further: "Israeli leaders say Palestinian leader Arafat, must choose between negotiations and continuing violence. That assumes he is responsible for it and that he could survive politically by forcibly bringing it to an end. Both," the editorial argues, "are very dubious propositions. The protests have taken on a momentum of their own, which has daily deepened. Such a dynamic could drive the region rapidly towards war." The paper sums up: "If this dangerous situation is not to deteriorate further, it would be necessary for international as well as regional players to intensify their efforts to turn the Middle East away from such a confrontation."


In a commentary in Britian's Guardian daily today, Peter Preston says that recent events in the Occupied Territories show that "Palestinian children are cannon and media fodder. We watch as they die," he says, "because adults on both sides won't protect them."

While vigorously condemning Israeli killings of stone-throwing Palestinian children, Preston does not exempt the Palestinians themselves who, he say, "actively invite casualties. Their police," he says, "are not on hand to protect life or defuse tensions. They make no attempt to stop children and youngsters let out of school for the day from provoking Israelis and exposing themselves to their fire."

As for the media, Preston goes on, "the truth here is not merely that the young men of Israel are shooting the young boys of Palestine, but that we, the reporters on the spot, the cameras, the editors at home and you in your living rooms, are a vital factors in this vile equation. If we understand that," he concludes, then "we begin to understand what's going on."

New York Times:

In its editorial today, The New York Times finds that "Arafat's relatively moderate speech at the summit offers some encouragement. The meeting's final declaration," the paper argues, "harshly and unfairly condemned Israel for the violence and called on Arabs to refrain from any new diplomatic or economic relations with the Jewish state. But," it notes, "it carefully left the peace treaties that Egypt and Jordan have already signed with Israel intact. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan both bravely reaffirmed their faith in comprehensive, regional peace negotiations, while Arafat, the Palestinian leader, spoke of his desire for 'permanent, just and comprehensive peace.'"

According to the paper, however, "more than vague reassurances by Arafat will be needed to contain the current violence. He needs," it writes, "to give unambiguous instructions to the armed militia of his Faith movement to pull its members back from further confrontations with Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers. He also needs to instruct the large and well-armed Palestinian police force to prevent stone-throwing teen-agers and adults from approaching Israeli positions." Further, the paper says, "Arafat should have taken these steps weeks ago. He needs to do so now, to protect Palestinian lives and to keep alive any chance for the he says he believes in."

International Herald Tribune:

Writing in the International Herald Tribune today, an Israeli analyst -- Shlomo Avineri -- asks: "What should be done with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process begun at Oslo seven years ago? There is only one solution," he says, "Abandon it." Avineri argues: "Everyone has to realize that the Oslo process as conceived is dead. There is no meaningful way for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume."

"So what is to be done?" he asks. "For those Israelis who would like to disengage from continuing to occupy the Palestinians, only a unilateral option remains: to withdraw unilaterally from most of the Palestinian-inhabited territories in the West Bank that are still under Israeli rule. [In] other words," he explains, "do unilaterally what Mr. Barak offered at Camp David -- and what Mr. Arafat refused. The status quo in Jerusalem should remain for the time being as it is."

The commentary goes on: "In the territories thus evacuated by Israel, Palestinians should be left to their own devices. If they want to declare a state, so be it." In any case, Avineri argues, "Israel should totally disengage from what would be 90% percent of the Palestinian territories. A border, fortified and clearly delineated by Israel, should separate Israel and this Palestinian entity or state."

"Good fences don't necessarily make good neighbors," Avineri allows, "but they may prevent them from constantly being at each other's throats." He says: "A unilateral Israeli solution along lines is obviously a flawed program, yet it might work. Perhaps in a year or two, negotiations based on the new status quo could commence. In the meantime, the killings would stop."

Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung:

In the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, Luther Ruehl analyzes Israeli leader Barak's strategy over the past year-and-a-half. He writes: "In the Palestinians' deep-rooted hostility toward Israel and in Mr. Arafat's wobbly dictatorship over his people, Mr. Barak saw from the start a potentially explosive mixture that could blow up the negotiating process at any moment. He knew," Ruehl goes on, "that his and Israel's chance of success were much slimmer than pressing U.S. mediators imagined."

The analysis goes on: "Politically, Barak's aim has been to clearly 'divide' Israel and Palestine, and to separate Jews and Arabs in Palestine to diminish the sources of friction. This, Ruehl says, "would have kept the Arabs in Israel at a distance from the Arabs in Palestine." Barak, he adds, always believed that peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews could only be established "by means of separation."

"For this reason," the analyst concludes, "and with an agreement from Damascus, Barak decided unilaterally to withdraw Israeli forces from southern Lebanon." But that, Ruehl argues,"only led to a heightening of risks, and people saw it as a provocation. At this critical point, Mr. Barak the strategist committed a psychological error, and a technical one as defense minister -- lack of planning, preparation and control of the risky withdrawal across the border."

(NCA's Aurora Gallego contributed to this report.)