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Western Press Review: A Death Watch For The Mideast Peace Process?

Prague, 20 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary seems to have set up a kind of death watch for Mideast peace. Commentators also tackle the apparently slowing world economy.


The Times, London, editorializes today on what it calls "the eleventh hour" for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to negotiate a last settlement. The Times' editorial says: "Mr. Barak, trailing in the polls, faces re-election. Unless he can pull the peace process back from the abyss, the man who promised a 'peace of the brave' faces political extinction after only 18 months. Unless Mr. Arafat can halt the violence on the West Bank and Gaza and snatch the fleeting opportunity to negotiate at least a framework for a future deal, his Palestinian Authority will disintegrate, his leadership will lose the last vestiges of credibility and power will pass to Fatah and other gunmen, as Palestinians suffer a new cycle of violence, anarchy and despair."

The editorial says, "Eleventh-hour talks in Washington may, just, find a formula to return both sides to the table. That may no longer be enough. With such a burning sense of betrayal on both sides, neither is likely to make the concessions needed for peace. Events will be shaped by the shootings and confrontations in alleyways and around Jewish settlements. No United Nations force is to be sent to save Mr. Arafat. [U.S. president-elect George W. Bush], a reluctant interventionist, may nevertheless find by January a full-scale regional crisis on his hands."


The Jerusalem Post makes space today for a commentary by Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Middle East Forum. Pipes says war is imminent and no sure or easy answer seems available to provide an alternative. The commentary says, "If a descent into war is not to take place, Israel must carefully calibrate its actions to achieve two nearly contradictory goals: deter potential enemies -- that is, be willing to use force and lose lives; and [avoid agitating] the Arab street -- that is, deploy violence in an intelligent and controlled way. The sooner Israel begins the effort to dissuade its potential enemies, the better its chances to dispel the winds of war."


The British Daily Telegraph applauds former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for deciding to drop out of the campaign for Israeli president -- a "decision" that other commentators say was forced upon him. The Daily Telegraph says: "Benjamin Netanyahu did the right thing by withdrawing from the forthcoming Israeli prime ministerial elections yesterday. Had the former Likud leader stood in this contest, he would undoubtedly have avenged his defeat last year at the hands of the Labor incumbent, Ehud Barak: the latter has been thoroughly discredited by the explosion of violence that followed hot on the heals of last July's summit with the Palestinians at Camp David. But everything changed when the Knesset decided not to dissolve itself. The many smaller parties, who would have been the main losers, were determined not to risk an outing at the polls."

The editorial says: "Richard Cheney, the [U.S.] vice president-elect, has rightly observed, [that] Mr. Clinton has committed the great blunder of placing the hardest issue -- Jerusalem -- at the heart of the process. This will make it much harder to sell any deal to the Israeli and Palestinian public. Why should a new administration be locked into a flawed and undeliverable deal by its increasingly desperate predecessor?"


The International Herald Tribune invites back today a commentator who proposed in October that Israel end Palestinian violence by unilaterally withdrawing from occupied Palestinian territories. Henry Siegman, a senior fellow at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, says his idea has garnered support. But he adds a caveat.

In today's commentary, Siegman says that the disengagement he proposes, in the words of the newspaper's headline, had "better not be punitive".

The writer says: "Palestinian insistence on Israel's withdrawal from the entire West Bank and Gaza is not evidence of Palestinian irrationality or diabolism. The withdrawal they ask for, even if fully accommodated by Israel, would leave Palestinians with about 20 percent of the original mandate divided by the United Nations in 1947; Israel would have about 80 percent. The popular Israeli notion that Israel is expected to give and give while Palestinians only take and take is a self-serving distortion of reality."

Siegman writes: "If [unilateralism] is to work it must be a coordinated unilateralism, however informal or tacit the coordination. It must be seen by both parties as a way of achieving their most essential goals without having to make concessions -- on such issues as sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount and the refugees' right of return -- which they cannot make.

It is a unilateralism that must aim for the greatest possible openness and collaboration between the two societies. A unilateralism that aims for punitive disengagement is bound to fail."


Other Western commentary examines the world economy. The Irish Times editorializes today that the Central Bank of Ireland, having issued a warning that the economy is vulnerable to a sharp slowdown, finds itself powerless to do more because the traditional tool for economic adjustment --- changing interest rates -- has been given over to the European Central Bank.

The Irish Times says: "It is important to stress that the [Irish] Central Bank is not forecasting a sudden collapse into recession. But it is pointing to our vulnerability to international trends, particularly the health of the U.S. economy and the related dollar to euro exchange rate. Last night, [Chairman Alan] Greenspan and the [Federal Reserve Board] -- the U.S. central bank -- indicated that they would consider cutting U.S. interest rates in the near future in a bid to sustain a reasonable level of growth in the United States. For the sake of Irish economic prospects, we must hope that this strategy works."

The British Financial Times and the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung consider German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's proposal this week to impose a seven-year delay in full EU labor mobility for any new EU members from Eastern and Central Europe. The British newspaper says Schroeder is right. The German newspaper says his hypocrisy is incredible.

Here are excerpts:


The Financial Times -- "Labor mobility is among the most sensitive issues on the enlargement agenda, especially in Germany and Austria, where many people fear a flood of low-wage workers. [Schroeder] therefore was right. [His] carefully balanced proposal may be a price that has to be paid if enlargement is to be achieved at all."


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "The hypocrisy shown by Schroeder and others over letting foreign EU workers into the country is almost unbelievable. A little time ago everyone was clamoring for the need of foreign labor to make up for the shortage of skilled workers, witness the green card campaign. Now Eastern European workers are to stay away."