Prague, 9 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press again focuses on prospects for peace in the Middle East in the wake of Ariel Sharon's landslide victory in Israel's election 9 February for prime minister. While some commentators say there is still hope for the peace process, others are critical of Sharon's history of violence in the region and say the outlook for peace is grim. Other comments reflect on Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov's speech at last weekend's Munich Conference on Security Policy and the future of Franco-German relations.
NEW YORK TIMES:
Writing in today's New York Times, Dennis Ross, who served as a U.S. negotiator in the Middle East for the Clinton administration, says peace is still possible.
He writes: "Whatever else [Israeli Prime Minister-elect] Ariel Sharon is, he is not a man who ignores realities," adding that Sharon cannot "undo the existence of the Palestinian Authority, ... impose Israel's will on the Palestinians" or "deter Israelis in their quest for peace."
Ross says that Palestinians are likewise "bound by certain realities." He writes: "[Palestinians] know that Israel continues to control many aspects of their lives. They know, as well, that as the intifada continues and escalates in violence, it is likely to erode the authority of the Palestinian government."
Ross suggests that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict should begin with a series of small steps. Such steps could include negotiating a limited agreement on political issues and settling on a code of mutual conduct. He concludes: "It is time for the leaders to level with their public and acknowledge that there is no way to build peace on the cheap."
In a comment in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne writes that outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak may have brought about his own defeat in his offer of concessions to the Palestinians. He writes that the Palestinians, in rejecting Barak's offer, "helped elect [Sharon], the very man they most despise in Israeli political life."
Dionne writes that Yasser Arafat's rejection of the offer, which would have handed over much of the West Bank and Gaza and even part of Jerusalem to Palestinian control, was based on Israel's insistence that a Jewish majority remain inside Israel to maintain the state's Jewish identity.
He writes: "[Barak's proposed] land-for-peace swap was quite different from the old Palestinian demand for a 'bi-national secular state in Palestine', [meaning] the end of Israel as a Jewish state." He adds: "By placing such stress on the right of return, the Palestinian leadership had gone back to the old formula, which could never be accepted by Israel."
Dionne continues: "The crucial voters who swung from Barak to Sharon want both security and peace. After the new Palestinian violence, they'll settle for [just] security."
He concludes that even this may not be realistic. He writes: "Sharon and Barak have trod the alternative roads to peace. [Sharon] sought peace through victory in war, and failed. Barak sought peace through compromise and negotiation, and failed. The only 'third way' left is a more peaceful status quo. The only problem is that it may not be possible."
Seumas Milne, commenting in Britain's The Guardian newspaper, criticizes Western governments for their quick acceptance of what Milne calls the "extreme right-wing general" Ariel Sharon.
Milne compares the Israeli prime minister-elect to leaders like Slobodan Milosevic and Augusto Pinochet, and writes: "Governments deal with all sorts of leaders with ugly records. But Sharon is more than that. By any reasonable reckoning, he is a war criminal."
He adds: "Sharon's return to power will put the good faith of supporters of an international justice system to the test," and adds: "The prospects are [not] encouraging in the case of Israel, which has long been allowed by its western sponsors to violate a string of UN security council resolutions, while other states in the region are subjected to lethal regimes of sanctions and bombing attacks for their transgressions."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a commentary in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, analyst Vladimir Socor writes that Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, speaking at last weekend's Munich Conference on Security Policy, offered what Socor calls a "startling dose of Soviet-style propaganda and disinformation which led many of those present to speak of Kremlin relapse into the Cold War."
Socor says Ivanov, who supervises Russia's Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries as well as the country's intelligence services, was "correctly introduced at the conference as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's closest confidant and 'the number two man in the Kremlin.'"
Socor, in the first of several points, dismisses Ivanov's charge of NATO responsibility for so-called Balkan syndrome. He says the story, about cancer-inducing contamination from NATO's use of depleted-uranium ammunition, was planted in an Italian radical-leftist paper and gradually spread through the Western media.
He adds that former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, speaking in Munich, "equated the [Balkan] allegations with the Kremlin's recent story about the Russian submarine Kursk being rammed by an American or 'NATO' submarine," claims which Cohen described as "complete fabrications."
He also criticizes Ivanov's remarks on Russian policy in Georgia and Moldova, where Socor says Russian troop occupation continues despite Kremlin claims to the contrary. He describes Ivanov's statement that two of the four Russian military bases in Georgia have been closed as "[a misrepresentation of] the situation at the Gudauta and Vaziani bases, neither of which has been closed."
He adds: "The bilateral Russian-Georgian military negotiations are being accompanied by threats of Russian military intervention in Georgia under 'anti-terrorism' pretenses and by political and economic pressures, including intermittent cutoffs in energy supplies."
He also dismisses Ivanov's claim that Russia has removed four trainloads of troops from Moldova, saying Moscow has in fact withdrawn only one trainload of surplus equipment.
Socor goes on to say that Ivanov's defense of Russia's military presence in Tajikistan -- and desire to expand occupation to other Central Asian states -- paints a false portrait of the drug war in that part of the world.
He writes: "The statistics [Ivanov] cited on drug confiscations by Russian border troops represent only a fraction of the drug traffic that goes through Tajikistan," and adds: "Russian-controlled Tajikistan provides the main narcotics-traffic corridor to Russia and further to Europe, making it a supply source in its own right."
Socor goes on to say: "It's worth noting that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which are free from Russian troops, have an incomparably better record than Tajikistan with regard to drugs."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In another Wall Street Journal comment, German journalist Michael Mertes writes the Franco-German relationship is "a victim of its own success."
He writes: "Without the Franco-German motor, [postwar] Europe would not have been possible." But he adds: "Since German unification in 1990, an element of national rivalry has crept into the relationship again."
Mertes continues: "The deeper cause of the recent Franco-German estrangement is that the psychological balance between the two has been thrown off by German unification. France and Western Germany shared similar population sizes. [The new Germany] has some 83 million people, catapulting it into the top EU rank demographically from rough parity with France, Italy and Britain at around 60 million."
Mertes writes that the planned eastward expansion of the EU will further tip the scales against France. Still, he says, united Germany is "too big to abstain from leadership in Europe, and too small to exercise that leadership by itself. This is why Germany needs France."