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Western Press Review: Commentary Examines Lingering Hope For Mideast Peace

Prague, 5 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Faint but still existent hope for peace in the Mideast occupies much Western press commentary today. Commentators also discuss the battle in the Czech Republic for nonpoliticized public TV, and the impact of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank's half-percentage-point rate drop.


Commentary on the Mideast seems to sort today into one of two categories: A. there's hope, and B. forget it. The Los Angeles Times files an editorial, headlined "Shred of Hope for Mideast," in Category A. The editorial says: "Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's qualified agreement yesterday to accept [U.S.] President [Bill] Clinton's latest formula as the basis for further negotiation with the Israelis has injected a small but tangible hope that the will to achieve peace has not been destroyed by months of violence."

The editorial concludes: "This appears to be the last best chance for Middle East peace for some time to come. President-elect George W. Bush fully supports Clinton's efforts, but once he enters the White House he will have many other priorities and the issue of Israel and the Palestinians will sink toward the bottom of the agenda. The time is now."


The Boston Globe expresses a similar opinion editorially. It says: "If an accord is to be reached before Clinton and perhaps [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak vanish from the scene, Israel will have to cede a state to the Palestinians, who in turn will have to acknowledge that Israel cannot be transformed by missions of returning refugees. If no such peace is reached this month, it may be a long, lethal time before its pursuits can be resumed in earnest."


Deborah Sontag writes in a news analysis in The New York Times that Barak is controlled as much by politics at home as by the proposals on the negotiating table. She writes: "Until now, Israeli pundits agreed that the only way for [the prime minister] to win reelection on February 6 would be to bring home an agreement. [But now] Barak gives the impression that he is pulling back from his dash to the finish line. [It is possible] that the stark reality of a peace deal, after so many months of violence, might be too much for Israelis to handle right now. They might reject it and him because they are not prepared."


Thomas L. Friedman, also writing in The New York Times, says the poker hand has been dealt and Clinton has given up his seat at the table to president-elect George Bush. Friedman writes: "I'm glad Mr. Clinton has brought this Middle East peace game to a head. He has done the Lord's work, not only in clarifying what's a fair compromise but in clarifying who is up to it and who is not. In time, this will be seen as a real contribution. But for now, all this clarity is coinciding with a presidential transition, and the one thing that is not obvious is how the Bush team intends to deal with the hand it is inheriting."


In today's Jerusalem Post, contributor Gerald M. Steinberg, director of the Program on Conflict Resolution and Negotiation Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, throws his weight strictly on the Category B side of the scale. Steinberg: "The myths of Middle East peacemaking have finally unraveled, exposing the illusion that the creation of a Palestinian state would bring peace and stability." He writes: "Old myths die hard, but the mask of Palestinian victimization has finally been blown apart and the face of terror has been revealed again. Until the Palestinians demonstrate that they are capable of fulfilling basic responsibilities, they are not entitled to the privileges of sovereignty."


The Czech public's response to a running battle about Czech public TV reminds The New York Times of a still-painful memory from recent Czech history. The newspaper says in an editorial: "When Soviet-bloc troops invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring in 1968, the biggest battle of the invasion was to control the country's radio headquarters. The anti-Soviet tone of the medium with the widest reach had been a prime irritant to Moscow. Today Prague's state television station is a battle site, this one a political struggle that underscores not only the media's importance in former Communist nations but also the dangers of coziness between politicians and the press."

The editorial says: "In many states of the former Soviet Union, however, television news is nothing more than a publicity organ for the president. Vladimir Putin, for example, seems to be trying to put critical private broadcasters out of business in Russia, which has enjoyed free media since the fall of Communism."

The newspaper continues: "The Czech Republic, by contrast, is one of the freest and most democratic nations of the former Soviet bloc. But its development has been hindered by political patronage that has not been effectively checked by law or regulatory oversight." The editorial concludes: "This time, however, the public outcry may provoke a change. Parliament is rushing to pass a law that would create a new television council free of links to the political parties. This would be a valuable reform, one that the Czech Republic should carry over into other aspects of society."


The Wall Street Journal Europe voices suspicion that the issue might be less noble and more subtle than The New York Times describes it. The Wall Street Journal Europe editorializes: "Those of us who toil for independent news organizations take press freedom seriously. Just yesterday, Garry Kasparov warned on these pages that Vladimir Putin is trying to take control of the mass media in Russia. Not a few journalists around the world are watching this process warily. But when we look at the current protests in Prague, we aren't sure whether what we see is a genuine press-freedom issue, or a good, old-fashioned political fight that just happens to have a broadcast medium as the prize. We are inclined to think it might be the latter."

The editorial says: "Our timid suggestion is as follows: Find a replacement for Mr. Hodac with credentials for objective news reporting, if that is possible. Then introduce more diversity into Czech broadcasting so that reporters and editors can take their political views to outlets where they are most wanted."

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board's unexpected -- in the words of the British Financial Times -- "shock half-point rate cut" attracts a flurry of commentary from both sides of the Atlantic. Here are excerpts from a representational three:


Financial Times editorial -- "Generally where the U.S. Federal Reserve leads, the rest of the world follows [and] a monetary loosening is in prospect, if not at next week's Monetary Policy Committee [of the United Kingdom] meeting, then soon afterward. But the feeling of panic in the United States need not affect the United Kingdom."


Commentator Thiemo Heeg in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung -- "The European Central Bank -- or ECB --- has not allowed itself to be influenced by the hasty reduction in key rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve. Contrary to his colleague, [Fed Chairman] Alan Greenspan, ECB [President] Wim Duisenberg decided in favor of continuity, and rightly so."


Boston Globe -- "The move also puts in proper perspective president-elect [George] Bush's proposal for a $1.300 trillion tax cut spread over 10 years, signaling the Fed has both the inclination and the tools to modulate the economy in a far more targeted and timely manner than any tax cut could. Bush at least had the good sense yesterday to praise the interest-rate cut."