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Western Press Review: Chronic Conflicts In Mideast And Balkans

Prague, 28 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A number of comments in today's Western press focus on the volatile Middle East, amid increasing violence in the area and an Arab summit in Amman.


In the "New York Times," Yoel Esteron writes from Tel Aviv: "It is true that Israel has responded to Palestinian violence with excessive force. It is horrifying that hundreds of Palestinians, among them dozens of children, have been killed in the last six months. [So] why are [Israelis] silent? Well, it goes like this: When we are fired on, blown up by bombs and indiscriminately attacked, our inclination is to withdraw into ourselves."

The commentator adds: "What [Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and the majority of Palestinians] seek, simply put, is the dissolution of the state of Israel. [It turns out] that terror is not the work of desperate extremists. It is encouraged and even supported by senior Palestinian Authority officials. The Palestinian media do their bidding, inflaming the passions of would-be bombers and spreading malicious lies to demonize Israel. Many Palestinians openly rejoice whenever Israelis are hurt."

He concludes: "It is clear to me why so many Israelis in the peace camp have grown desensitized to Palestinian suffering. Fear is stronger than compassion. The peaceniks are exhausted."


An editorial in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" says former U.S. President Bill Clinton's last envoy to the Middle East is still stirring up trouble. The paper writes: "[Israeli] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was all too gracious when, on Sunday, he received Bill Clinton's fact-finding envoy on the Middle East, George Mitchell, [who was] conducting a five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian-Arab territories."

The paper adds: "The Mitchell committee has nothing to do with finding facts and everything to do with preparing the way for the United Nations to get involved in oversight of the Jewish state, for whose enemies it has become the principal platform. [President George W.] Bush handled things just right, [saying] the problems in the Middle East need to be sorted out by the Arabs and Israelis themselves. Secretary of State [Colin] Powell said the administration is ready to assist but not to insist. Sounds like the best way to assist would be to tell Mitchell [that his] mandate has ended."


Middle East specialist Jon Alterman writes in the "Washington Post" that the Arab press is not as slanted and demagogic as many Western observers believe it to be. He says: "The Arab press in the past decade has become far more accurate, objective and open to new ideas than it was before the Gulf War. The main engine driving this change is competition. Whereas state-run dailies and television used to have a near monopoly of distribution in their own countries, they now must compete with international newspapers and a broad array of satellite television channels."

He adds: "One of the major attractions of the new Arab media has been the presentation of broad arrays of viewpoints. Thus, Arab television stations relish having secularists debating Islamists, Iraqis debating Kuwaitis and even Israelis debating Palestinians."


Another editorial in the "New York Times" says the Bush administration's call for an early withdrawal of U.S. peacekeeping troops from the Balkans "cannot be achieved until sufficient stability has been brought to the region to allow the removal of outside military forces without risking a rapid return to armed conflict. Recent raids into Macedonia and southern Serbia by armed bands of ethnic Albanians show just how volatile the military situation remains."

The editorial goes on: "The specific remedies needed in Macedonia, southern Serbia and Kosovo are different. But in all three areas, Western governments should work closely with moderate Albanian leaders who reject violence and promote the interests of their community by political means."

It concludes: "NATO's secretary-general, Lord Robertson, and Europe's top diplomat, Javier Solana, lent useful support to this approach during a visit to Macedonia earlier this week. [During] the months ahead, NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo can help maintain stability by improving border security. More inclusive political arrangements in all three areas will reduce the potential for violence and speed the completion of NATO's mission."


Writing in the French daily "Liberation," commentator Nano Ruzin says that, "unlike its neighbors, Macedonia was able to develop a system of government that [for the most part] satisfied its minorities." He adds: "The guerrillas of the Albanian UCK are demonstrating total irresponsibility."

The commentary continues: "In the political circles of this tiny country, one of the most debated questions today it whether the current crisis was imported from Kosovo or had indigenous origins. According to the leaders of Macedonia's Albanian political parties, the crisis is not a matter of terrorism imported from Kosovo but rather of internal dissatisfaction aimed at obtaining more rights and democracy for the Albanian minority through a change in the country's constitution (bilingualism, a constituent people, a federal nation)."

Ruzin then says: "Because of this, [the] extremists shrewdly do not mention their aims of a Greater Albania and a change in existing borders. After the bitter experiences of similar projects undertaken by [Yugoslavia's Slobodan] Milosevic and [Croatia's Franjo] Tudjman, the new UCK (National Liberation Army) insists only on claims that resemble those of the Serbs of Krajina in Croatia."


A commentary in the "Washington Post" looks at the Bush administration's struggle to create a unified foreign policy. Michael Kelly writes: "[The] administration is indeed divided, [with] Secretary of State Colin Powell heading a faction that favors a softer, sweeter approach and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld leading those who would prefer to take a harder line in dealing with the world's hard cases. And the early indications are that the hard-liners will win."

Kelly cites as an example the administration's move last week to expel 50 Russian diplomats for "espionage activity." He writes: "[The decision] was, on one level, a traditional spy-game move, a punishment for the [alleged U.S. spy] Robert Hanssen embarrassment. But, as former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has noted, it also reflected the administration's desire to demonstrate that it does not, in its dealings with Russia, intend to display the 'flabbiness of the former administration.' In the same vein, regarding the Palestinians, this president has made it clear he has no interest in pursuing the endless pleading that won his predecessor nothing but humiliation."


A news analysis in Britain's "Times" daily says that plans for a united European defense force are at the heart of the Bush administration's foreign policy quibbles. Damian Whitworth writes: "Pentagon officials have been warning their European counterparts that the robust stance of Rumsfeld on the proposed European rapid reaction force is the true position of the White House, not the more relaxed approach taken by Powell. The hawkish Mr. Rumsfeld has expressed skepticism about the plan for a 60,000-strong European peacekeeping and crisis management force, saying that it could 'inject instability' into NATO and put at risk 'something that is very special.' [But] Mr. Powell has said he does not see the force as a threat to NATO."

However, Whitworth adds, "Mr. Powell [does] not have the immediate access to Mr. Bush enjoyed by Richard Cheney, the vice president and a long-standing friend of Mr. Rumsfeld, or Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser, who has an office close to the Oval Office and has established a close rapport with the president."


The "Financial Times" carries a commentary that calls the European defense initiative "essential." Douglas Hurd, British foreign secretary from 1989 to 1995, writes: "Europeans live within an arc of danger to our east and south. This arc of danger stretches from Kaliningrad in the north through Belarus and Ukraine, east to the Caucasus and the Caspian, west to the Balkans and the Middle East and along the North African shoreline. [From] time to time in coming decades the tensions and difficulties along this arc of danger will erupt into crisis. [We] need to act [in union] as Europeans if we are to make sense."

Hurd adds: "[Europe's] relationship with the U.S. should be neither that of a rival nor a satellite but of a valid partner. It is in the interests of the alliance as a whole that Europe should build up its cohesion and the quality of its effort, both diplomatic and military. If it fails to do so, the Americans may come to think of Europe in the same way as Bismarck thought of 19th-century Italy -- as possessing a big appetite but weak teeth."


A "Financial Times" editorial assesses German protests over the country's resumed import and reprocessing of nuclear fuel. It says: "Europe is running down its nuclear energy industry. [But] if the European Union eschews both nuclear power and indigenous coal for natural gas, it will rely on the outside world for 70 percent of its energy supply by 2030. Most of its gas will come from Russia and Algeria."

The editorial adds: "By generating a third of its electricity through nuclear plants, the EU avoids spewing 300 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. [The] economics of atomic power have also become more attractive. In the U.S., nuclear generators have ironed out operational and safety glitches and are running at peak output at marginal additional cost. Europe's nuclear plants can do the same."

The paper concludes: "[Anti-nuclear] protesters are right to highlight the serious problem of [reprocessing] nuclear waste. [The] industry still has to devise better methods of long-term storage. But Europe cannot afford to waste its nuclear assets."