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Western Press Review: Commentators Express Views On Israeli Election And Other Topics

Prague, 8 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press comment today continues to focus on the fallout of Ariel Sharon's landslide win Tuesday in Israel's election for prime minister. Many analysts say that regardless of the makeup of Sharon's new government, prospects look grim for peace in the Middle East. Other comments address the debates over U.S. and European Union defense initiatives and the ongoing problem of how to cope with immigration in the EU.


A commentary by analyst Roula Khalaf in Britain's Financial Times says Sharon risks losing ground in choosing to court either the left-wing Labor Party or right-wing parties to form a coalition government. But he also says: "Whatever the composition of the new [Israeli] government, a stand-off with Israel's Arab neighbors appears inevitable. [Sharon's] long-held position is that Arabs understand only the language of force, and the policies he has outlined so far are unlikely to form a basis for the resumption of peace talks."

Khalaf writes that any negotiations between Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are unlikely to begin with the concessions offered by Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak, and that the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem will remain firmly under Israeli control. "If that happens," he adds, "Mr. Arafat will be torn between the urge to step up the intifada [uprising], and the desire to avert what will surely be a punitive military response by Israel."


A commentary by Canada's former ambassador to Israel, Norman Spector, in the country's Globe and Mail daily says that Arafat and Sharon are more alike than either leader may care to admit. Spector says that while both can be charming and relaxed in personal interviews, neither has a history that indicates a peace deal is likely to be in the works anytime soon.

He writes of Arafat: "Exuding moderation and compromise, his words are soothing. It is hard to believe that this man gave the order to attack Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. It is harder still to accept that he launched the terrorists who killed 19 Israeli schoolchildren in Ma'alot."

Spector describes Sharon as a man who has spent "his entire career asserting the Jewish right to settle on the land in the West Bank and Gaza," and a leader whose policy decisions include a 1953 raid against Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan that left 69 Arabs dead, half of whom were women and children.

Spector concludes: "It is said that people get the governments they deserve. While Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat deserve each other, knowing both peoples, I cannot believe that either Israelis or Palestinians deserve the leader they now have."


Columnist Richard Cohen comments in the Washington Post: "The real loser in this election is not Ehud Barak [but] Yasser Arafat," adding that the last four months of violence have left many Israelis wondering "whether the Palestinians were capable of compromise." Cohen says further: "[Arafat] might have thought that the violence was costing him nothing. [But] the violence took its toll. Not only did it sap Israelis of their sense of security but it made them wonder about the nature [of] the people they were dealing with."

He sums up: "It was Arafat's obligation to build Israeli confidence in his leadership -- in his ability to maintain peace if it ever came. He failed so miserably that even the American officials who pushed the peace process were never sure whether Arafat was capable of holstering his gun once and for all."


In a commentary published in the International Herald Tribune, columnist William Pfaff says that proponents of NMD, the U.S. National Missile Defense initiative, are more convinced of the project's research value than of its actual feasibility. Pfaff writes: "Few in the scientific community [really] expect the anti-missile project to produce a defensive shield that countermeasures could not defeat or imaginative delivery methods could not evade."

For Pfaff, the real purpose of the project is to fund a vast research program whose results, he says, "might prove interesting and important." He adds: "Formulating the research project as a program to give protection from missiles makes the expenditure politically and psychologically irresistible to a majority of voters."

Pfaff goes on to say the European Union is being equally indirect in its support of a proposed EU rapid response defense force. He says the EU is playing down its enthusiasm for the force only in order to avoid U.S. hostility. He writes: "Western Europe, with a bigger industrial economy and a larger population than the United States, could [get along] without NATO," adding: "The fact that the EU has decided to build a rapid reaction force reveals that Europeans understand this."


An editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe addresses the problem of immigration policies among the European Union's 15 member states. It says that despite a decade of increased anti-immigration initiatives, a half-million people continue to stream into the EU each year, with stricter enforcement having pushed many would-be immigrants into the arms of human smugglers.

The editorial goes on to say that tougher immigration controls have raised both the cost of smuggling and the fee that migrants must pay their smugglers upon reaching their destination. For the migrants, the paper says, this formula "translates into many more years working in slave-like conditions in illegal factories and sex clubs. This, in turn, increases the social costs of illegal immigration."

The editorial argues that at a time when the EU is seeing its labor force shrinking as demand continues to rise, member-states' policies on immigration should change. It describes German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's plan to increase the number of so-called "green cards" [that is, work permits] issued to qualified foreign workers as "encouraging," concluding: "Perhaps where the Germans lead, Europe will follow."