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Western Press Review: Commentary Turns To Several Subjects

Prague, 29 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary turns today from its weeks-long fixation on the U.S. elections tangle to a variety of topics, with the Middle East high on the list.


The New York Times says that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's call yesterday for new elections may portend a clarification of Mideast diplomacy. The newspaper says in an editorial: "Barak of Israel, desperately short of parliamentary allies, bowed to reality yesterday and agreed to new elections, likely to be held some time next spring. That scrambles Israeli politics and diplomacy at a time when violent confrontations with the Palestinians persist. But it can open an opportunity for peace negotiations if the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, is wise and bold enough to seize it."


The Spanish daily El Mundo also sees opportunity as well as challenge in the Israeli political mist. The paper says in an editorial: "[Barak yesterday] had only two options: to accept the drastic conditions of Ariel Sharon, the [Israeli opposition party] Likud leader for creating a government of national union, or to dissolve the parliament and call for general elections. He opted for the second solution," says the paper. "The future of peace in the Middle East will depend on this crucial election, the most important in the country's history. The Israelis will have to say if they prefer the negotiation path or confrontation with the Palestinians."


Spain's ABC finds less cause for optimism, writing: "The pre-electoral process is the beginning of uncertain times. The outlook is not optimistic. Palestinian militias are in the middle of a guerrilla and terrorist offensive. Communication with friendly Arab countries -- Egypt, Jordan -- is at a low point and nationalistic frenzy has taken hold of the [Palestinian] population."


Writing from Egypt, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Heiko Flottau says that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is committed to working for Mideast peace and also to securing his place as Egypt's strong man. In the current, newly unstable Israeli-Palestinian situation, Flottau says, the two aims are mutually supportive.

He cites Mubarak's recent, calculated recall of Egypt's ambassador to Israel, as an argument, writing: "Egyptians sympathize with the Palestinians' suffering. Hosni Mubarak is incensed over the manner in which Ehud Barak, his 'partner in peace,' is proceeding against the Palestinians. In a situation like this," Flottau goes on, "withdrawing Egypt's ambassador from Tel Aviv is a move that provides Mubarak with some security. Among Arabs, it shores up support for Egypt's leadership role -- and it means that Hosni Mubarak's skin is a little safer for now. The commentator adds: "Through it all, however, Mubarak remains fundamentally committed to the peace process and wants to steer the two sides back to the negotiating table again. His focus rests squarely on the ultimate goal, quite befitting a scion of Minufiyeh (Mubarak's Nile Delta home region)."


Moving back into recent Jewish-European-Russian history, The New York Times today calls in an editorial for today's Russian leadership to lay to rest a sad incident from Russia's totalitarian past. The editorial says: "In recent months the Russians, in conjunction with Sweden, have been trying in earnest to find out what really happened in Budapest during World War II [to Swedish diplomat-hero Raoul Wallenberg]."

"Wallenberg," the paper recalls, "took great personal risks by issuing Swedish passports to at least 20,000 Jews who were being threatened by the Nazis with death marches and deportation to concentration camps. Once captured by the Soviets, Wallenberg was accused of being a spy for the United States and of being a Nazi agent. The details of his case have been secret for too long. It is time for Putin to set the record straight about Raoul Wallenberg's last years."


A number of commentaries today tackle some of the continuing problems of the Balkan peninsula. The results of last Sunday's elections in Romania leave some cause for hope, Matthias Rueb writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, but not much.

Rueb says: "Only an old-style communist [remains to] prevent a right-wing extremist from coming to power. As expected, former president Ion Iliescu, who held the reins of power from 1990 to 1996, and his Party of Social Democracy in Romania led the pack but still faces a runoff in two weeks." He goes on: "The country's second-strongest political force is now the right-wing extremist Party of Greater Romania, led by nationalist loud-mouth Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a man who during the era of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu distinguished himself with effusive hymns of praise for the 'genius of the Carpathians.'"

The writer says further: "Perhaps Mr. Iliescu has learned his lesson from his own election defeat in 1996 and that of the conservative-liberal coalition last Sunday. His commitment to a future Romania that forms a part of the European-Atlantic family is not merely a pretense -- it is in keeping with his inner convictions. That," Rueb argues, "is why [Iliescu] led Romania down the path toward NATO and the European Union following Ceausescu's downfall. But without a functioning market economy, continued progress in that direction will be impeded."

He concludes: "Romania still has a chance to gain ground in its endeavor to develop into a successful transformation state like Hungary, or even Bulgaria. But it may well be the last chance."


Britain's Financial Times perceives a similar peril in Romania. The newspaper writes in an editorial: "Romania's presidential elections have created the disturbing prospect that the country's next head of state could be a far-right nationalist -- Corneliu Vadim Tudor -- who once said the only way to govern was with a machine-gun [and who] has attacked minorities such as Jews, gypsies and Hungarians."

The newspaper says, "Romanians have every reason to vent their frustration at the incompetence of successive governments. But they must realize that voting for Mr. Tudor is not the answer."


Several West European commentaries turn up the volume on praise for the political management so far of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. The following is from Peter Muench in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "[Kostunica] has become a man for all occasions, the favorite guest of honor on stages across the width and breadth of Europe."

Muench continues: "Kostunica has been passed round like some kind of international soccer trophy since Belgrade slipped from Slobodan Milosevic's clutches. Everyone wants to be seen in his company and everyone wants to send him on his way along the rocky road to democracy with their blessings and a pocketful of cash to help him along. Sometimes, it is almost enough to make your head swim. [But] not so with Kostunica," he adds. "While all around him seem to be losing theirs, the new Yugoslav president has managed to maintain a clear head."

The commentator also says: "[Kostunica] clearly showed that, from day one of its membership, Yugoslavia is going to bring a mountain of problems with it to the OSCE table: Montenegro, Kosovo and southern Serbia. Kostunica's ears may still be ringing with the sound of applause from almost every corner of Europe, but he will have to show that he intends to solve all of these conflicts within the framework of the OCSE -- and that means peacefully."


The upward curve of praise for Kostunica on Serbia is matched by a similarly noisy chorus of disapproval for the U.S. government's position on global warming, even among U.S. commentators. Representative is criticism by Paul Krugman in the New York Times. He writes: "The image of the American filling up his living room on wheels with dollar-a-gallon gasoline (that is, one-third of a dollar per liter) while his European counterpart carefully spoons precious petrol into his mini [car] is a caricature, but gets at an essential truth."

Krugman says that the road to domestic tax incentives that would earn U.S. consumer cooperation in pollution control is politically blocked, tying the hands of both Congress and the presidency. He writes: "The ultimate reason that the [global] climate talks failed [last week in The Hague], that global warming will go unchecked, is the power of America's vitriolic anti-tax right. Is there any way out of this trap? A decisive political defeat for the rabid right might open a path. But that didn't happen in this [presidential] election."

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