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Western Press Review: Mostly Middle East

Yesterday's attack on Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian bus driver grabs the spotlight on editorial pages across Europe. Most commentators are pessimistic.


The Times of London writes: "Death has become such an established part of the Israeli-Palestinian 'relationship' that the murder of eight people at a bus stop near Tel Aviv yesterday might appear more sad than significant. That assumption would be a mistake. Both the timing of the attack and what is known of the perpetrator will prove to be important. The sense of crisis offers the Labor Party further reason to enter a government of national unity led by Ariel Sharon. The fact that this assailant does not seem to have been connected to any established network of terrorists will further convince ordinary Israelis that they cannot be secure unless they are physically separated from their neighbors. That instinct is likely to be reflected in official policy shortly."

The Times continues: "The striking aspect of the political backlash within Israel yesterday was how cautiously Mr. Sharon responded. The outgoing Labor administration, by contrast, reacted with fury."

The paper says that [outgoing Labor Prime Minister Ehud] Barak has been persuaded a tougher stand is now called for: "That [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat is not merely tolerating but tacitly encouraging violence against Israel, either as a bargaining tactic or to maintain his popularity on the West Bank, has persuaded Ehud Barak that a tougher stance is required. This has included strikes against those who have coordinated those assaults on Israeli targets.

The Times of London concludes: "The next Israeli government will do whatever is necessary to protect its citizens."


Across the English Channel, the conservative Parisian daily Le Figaro comments: "Ever since 1993 the Israeli government in power has justified its restraint in negotiations on the basis of security needs. Who guarantees us that the Palestinians will give up their hostility toward us if they get their own state? That's how the question has always been phrased in Jerusalem."

But, Figaro continues, "Israel should give the Palestinians the chance to put their sincerity to the test. The Palestinians must finally get a viable state on the basis of the Taba compromise. Theoretically, the U.S. has sufficient influence to persuade the government in Jerusalem to accept this solution."

Le Figaro concludes, "if the new [state] then fails to keep its promises and proves to be ever more aggressive, then Israel would have the morally based right to resort fully to military force."


Jacques Amalric, writing today in the left-liberal Parisian daily Liberation, warns the Middle East is on the brink of a catastrophe: "One does not have to be particularly pessimistic to fear the worst. Ehud Barak's vacillation and Yasser Arafat's intransigence have in just a few months thrown the situation in the Middle East back by 10 years -- to the edge of a catastrophe. The slow progress on the path to a reasonable compromise has vanished into thin air."

Amalric goes on: "What no doubt is even worse, those who [are] leading in this direction and have had to show the way, have lost control over events. They are running behind their peoples, both of which are increasingly thirsty for revenge." Liberation concludes: "The attack on Wednesday is symptomatic of this spiral.'


The German daily Die Welt, in a commentary by Michael Wolffsohn, suggests the Jewish diaspora, particularly American Jews, are behind Ariel Sharon's victory and are now pushing Israel to war.

He writes: "The U.S. Jewish diaspora has emancipated itself from Israel. Moreover, Israeli diplomats are reporting back to Jerusalem that the large Jewish communities -- in France, Great Britain, Russia, Latin America -- are similarly against Israeli compromises in the Holy Land. Cynics formulate the situation like this: Jews in New York, London, Paris, and Moscow are prepared to fight to the last Israeli."

Die Welt concludes, "the overwhelming majority of non-religious worldly Jews can hardly cut themselves off from Israel. Without the Jewish state, they would really have no more Jewish identity. Really."


The Swiss daily Basler Zeitung, commenting on the attack:

"The murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in view of the wave of Islamist terror, established the only correct doctrine during negotiations: there will be negotiations as if there were no terror and the terrorists will be fought against as if there were no negotiations." The paper says: "Now Ariel Sharon must adopt this maxim as his own and drop his preconditions for negotiations that only play into the hands of those who commit violence."


The liberal Viennese daily Der Standard, in a commentary by Markus Bernath, adds this: "The hopelessness the duo Sharon/Barak are unleashing, is increasingly causing frowns in the U.S. as well as in the European Union. At least what they know there is that the Palestinians can hinder a peace [agreement]. Only the stronger one -- Israel -- can offer one."


In Italy, the left-of-center Rome-based daily la Repubblica comments that yesterday's attack "will probably cause Sharon to continue isolating the Palestinians and to close all doors to even the most minimal integration. This will fulfill the preconditions for a complete split." La Repubblica concludes, "The dream of the old PLO leader to live in a state called Palestine appears to be evaporating."


And the Madrid left-liberal daily El Pais comments in a similar vein: "The terror attack with the bus shows to what a shameful level the Mideast conflict has sunk. [Israel] does not seem to realize that no peace can ever hold as long as it uses the same methods of terror as its opponent. The sole difference is that the Israel advance is smarter as it operates on the basis of better opportunities."

The Balkans are also a topic for editorial comment in British and U.S. papers:


An editorial in London's Independent calls on the international community to be patient with Yugoslavia, just 100 days after President Vojislav Kostunica formed a new government, sealing the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic.

"The Balkans, however peripheral, are still the biggest single threat to stability and security in Europe. Like it or not, Western troops will be needed there for years, possibly decades. But if democracy has returned to Belgrade, economic good times have not. And it is not only Serbia that remains a disaster area; the country's dominant size and pivotal geographical position means that much of the Balkans will also remain one. Here, too, we have a heavy responsibility."

The Independent continues: "But the [Balkan] Stability Pact has thus far, to put it mildly, been a disappointment; until it starts to deliver results, Yugoslavia and the Balkans will be synonymous not with economic recovery but with shortages, corruption and their function as a clearing house for illegal immigration to western Europe."

The paper says the path leads back to the Kostunica government and the question of whether Milosevic should be handed over to the Hague tribunal to answer for war crimes.

The Independent notes that Kostunica's men are floating a deal to try Milosevic locally on charges of corruption and criminality. The paper says: "The idea makes sense."

The Independent concludes: "We must be committed and patient in our dealings with Belgrade. Here, a week may be a long time in politics. In Balkan politics, 100 days is hardly the blink of an eye."


And the Wall Street Journal Europe publishes a commentary today by author Stephen Schwartz, who commutes between the U.S. and Sarajevo.

Schwartz berates the international community for arrogance in Bosnia and Kosovo:

"It has become obvious to many on the ground that [intelligent] reconstruction of the damaged social fabric in the Balkans is failing badly. And in this area, much of the responsibility belongs with the European Union and European-based non-governmental organizations."

Schwartz writes that Bosnia, where foreign authorities have been the longest and most extensively active, provides the worst-case scenario for what at best can be called "humanitarian colonialism."

He says: "The arrogance of foreign NGO personnel toward Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians seems limitless. They assume no political or cultural wisdom existed in these societies before they arrived. Everything has to start from zero: Journalists must be completely retrained, political parties must be started from scratch, the education system must be totally revamped."

Schwartz asks, what is to blame? He says: "Political correctness above all. The foreigners in Bosnia-Herzegovina had a simple-minded goal: eradicate nationalism, a concept that was never realistic and would never have been entertained in the Middle East or other crisis areas."

He finishes: "If the 'international community' is to succeed in Bosnia, it must come to grips with one simple truth: Nationalism cannot be wished or hugged away. Foreign authorities must not turn up their noses at moderate nationalist political groups that defend their communities' cultural identities but that renounce violence and agree to the punishment of war criminals."