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Western Press Review: Middle East, U.S. Election And EU Peacekeepers

By Erica Hurtt

Prague, 24 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators discuss a variety of issues today, including the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, the on-going U.S. presidential election and the future role of a European Union military force.


In the New York Times, analyst Thomas L. Friedman says the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians is "a war with no name because it makes no sense." Friedman says "It makes no sense because it's a war that both sides go in knowing they can't win." Friedman calls the Israeli strategy "wacky" and says: "The Israelis can't win this war because the normal means of victory, occupying the other guy's territory, is something they don't want. Israel has already left parts of the West Bank and Gaza because it didn't want the pain and bloodshed involved in ruling over the Palestinians there."

Friedman argues that the Palestinian strategy is "insane." He says they have not been able to mobilize and the general public has lost interest in "the CNN view of the conflict, especially now that the Palestinians are also using guns."

Friedman adds, "All this craziness aside, I'm convinced the parties will eventually find their way back to the table, because a war this painful and this senseless is not sustainable."


In the French daily Le Monde, analyst Mouna Naim looks at why the Palestinians view the Camp David summit this summer as a failure. Naim says, "In the Palestinian public opinion, the initiative by America's president to convoke the summit created hope because everybody assumed U.S. President Bill Clinton was sure that the two parties where engaged in the last phase of the negotiations and needed only a little push to conclude. So, at the end of the summit, the disappointment matched the hope which came after so many disappointments."

Naim argues the Camp David Summit was poorly prepared and didn't account for the Palestinians' determination to refuse a peace that, she says, was being forced on them. She adds, "The summit increased the reasons for even more bitter feelings among the Palestinians."


A Wall Street Journal Europe editorial argues that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is not a reliable peace partner and says that "pretending that the status quo ante can be restored would be a serious mistake." The commentator continues, "his goals are non-negotiable, and like his old Soviet allies, he views the peace process as a form of war by other means. It should therefore be the policy of both governments to seek his overthrow rather than, as Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told us in September, 'wish him long life.'"


In the Spanish newspaper El Pais an editorial argues that the conflict has acquired characteristics of "Lebanonization", that is, a "war of low intensity without a foreseeable solution." The writer says, "In such a degraded context, despite the loss of authority from which both suffer from their populations, Barak and Arafat should understand that it is crucial to put an end to the ongoing logic of extermination."

Meanwhile, as the hand recounts continue in at least two counties in the U.S. state of Florida to determine the next U.S. president, analysts continue to look at the situation there.


An editorial in the New York Times says the 2000 U.S. presidential election has one very important lesson: that "America's unwillingness to invest in a reliable, up-to-date system for casting and counting votes has helped produce the chaos that now clouds the outcome of the presidential election."

The paper says, "One of the first challenges facing the new Congress will be to develop a uniform national electoral process that safeguards the sanctity of America's right to vote." The paper adds, "The country cannot afford such complacency any longer."


Washington Post columnist William Raspberry takes a contrarian position, saying neither party is to blame nor is the system for the election mess the U.S. finds itself in. He writes while "there is a virtual consensus that matters are in a mess," finding something or somebody to blame is not easy. Raspberry says you can't blame Florida's antiquated card-punch voting machines, George W. Bush, Al Gore or Katherine Harris (Florida's secretary of state and co-chair for Bush's Florida campaign). He says you can't blame network television, or the recounters.

Raspberry concludes: "The blame, if we must call it that, is that the election is so close -- that the difference in the vote count is smaller than the margin of error for either mechanical counters or human ones." He adds, "We have what amounts to an electoral tie, and we don't have any really satisfactory way of dealing with it."

According to Washington Post commentator Michael Kinsley, much blame for the squabbling over Florida's vote can be placed on presidential candidate George W. Bush and his campaign managers. Kinsley says the "official Bush line became that it doesn't matter what arrangement people general perceive as fair. What matters is obeying the law."

Kinsley says as a principle that stance is correct, but he says, "the Bush folk have applied the sacred principle with more convenience than consistency."

Kinsley argues that "any law that gets in their way turns out to be unconstitutional in their view." He concludes, "It seems clear to me that the Bush people win the overall hypocrisy-and-double standards contest."


A commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe has harsh words for Bush's Democratic challenger Al Gore. The editorial says, "Al Gore can't win without the dimpled ballots. That is the single, irreducible, final truth of the 2000 campaign for the U.S. Presidency. No dimples, no White House for Al Gore." It continues, "Thus, like the Terminator robot, Al Gore grinds on across the state of Florida, programmed only to win." The analysis argues that if Al Gore had been ahead by 1,725 votes on the morning after election day, George W. Bush would have conceded the election and the U.S. would be assembling a new government. Instead, the writer adds, "Al Gore's 'just win, baby' philosophy of government has diminished the election, diminished the candidates, and -- no one disputes -- diminished the next presidency. Quite an accomplishment."

Western media also comment on plans for a European Rapid Reaction Force.


In a commentary contributed to the Financial Times, Sir John Weston, British ambassador to NATO from 1992-95 and the UN from 1995-98, argues that Europe's Rapid Reaction Force is unnecessary and will weaken NATO by siphoning "off the same scarce military expertise and resources." Weston says "the way the new force is being created looks less like an increased European share-holding within a joint alliance enterprise than straight-forward NATO asset-stripping. Is this the basis on which the EU wishes to confront a future Kosovo-type emergency?" He adds that the EU defense initiative "appears to have less to do with occasional crisis management than with further steps toward the stated Maastricht treaty goal of a 'common defense policy' for the EU."


On the issue of European defense initiatives, an editorial in Le Monde argues the EU must become "an actor of international security." The analysis says the 15 EU members must "choose a course based on pragmatism, and on solidarity, advancing together in spite of different traditions and alliances." The writer adds, "This common defense policy ... should now reinforce the internal cohesion of the Union and give the Europeans the feeling that they belong to the same community and share values to fight for."

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