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Western Press Review: World Poverty, Macedonia, And The Middle East

By Daisy Sindelar and Khatya Chhor

Prague, 16 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in today's Western press looks at a wide variety of issues, ranging from poverty in the world's underdeveloped nations to NATO's possible responsibility for the growing influence of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army in Macedonia. Other comments examine the continuing crisis in the Middle East and Silvio Berlusconi's rise to power as Italy's new prime minister.


Two comments in the "International Herald Tribune" today address the growing wealth gap between the world's rich and poor nations in light of the United Nations conference on world poverty taking place this week in Brussels. In one comment, European Commission President Romano Prodi calls on the richer nations to shoulder their responsibility "to ensure that gains from increased trade really will be used as a tool to combat poverty," and to maintain vigilance against the corruption that could easily undermine this goal.

Prodi adds: "No amount of money from the rich West will help unless our anti-poverty strategies are combined with a drive for democracy, human rights, and the supremacy of the rule of law. Corruption is an insult to the poor, and we should all put the fight against corruption at the core of our policies." He stresses the need for "an overall framework of sustainable development" and says that "a long, hard fight against poverty will stretch into the years ahead. As always," Prodi concludes, "it is not words at the comfortable conference table that will make the difference, but action and long-term political commitment."

In the paper's second comment, Kevin Watkins, senior policy adviser to the British humanitarian organization Oxfam, calls this week's meeting "a litmus test of whether globalization can be managed to close the increasingly obscene wealth gap separating rich and poor countries." He goes on: "Unfortunately, this conference has all the makings of yet another high-cost, low-output talk shop, with [affluent] Northern governments offering empty promises in place of the real policy reforms that are needed."

Watkins notes the least-developed countries (LDCs) are most likely to export farm produce, but that industrial countries have subsidized their own agricultural sectors. This, he says, has "kept the doors to their markets shut, [while] many LDCs have been required under the terms of structural adjustment programs to liberalize their markets at breakneck speed, often with disastrous consequences." Watkins concludes that without the increased economic cooperation of Western governments, both in trade as well as aid, the LDCs "will become increasingly isolated islands of poverty, despair, and instability."


A comment in "The Washington Times" looks at NATO's role in the escalating conflict in Macedonia. Analyst Amos Perlmutter, editor of the "Journal of Strategic Studies," writes that in its eagerness to be rid of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, "NATO willy-nilly gave a hand to the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), which is engaged in destabilizing the area." He adds: "NATO's quasi-imperial domination of Kosovo shares only the bad aspects of imperialism. [In Kosovo], NATO has failed to establish authority, government, a representative system, and certainly no democracy."

Perlmutter continues: "One of the most serious issues left from the NATO bombing and domination of Kosovo is the status of Albanians elsewhere. It is argued, especially by Western Europeans, that, if the Macedonians provide equal rights to their Albanian minority, all will be fixed. That is political nonsense. The KLA is not interested in the role of minorities and their status in the Macedonian government. They are interested in toppling it."


Comments from both sides of the Middle East conflict consider options for ending the violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Yasir Abed Rabbo, the minister of culture and information in the Palestinian Authority, writes in "The New York Times" that "the intifada, if it is to end, must first be seen for what it is: Palestinian resistance to Israeli military occupation." He adds: "Since the Oslo accords were signed in 1994" -- laying the groundwork for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories -- "the number of Israeli settlers on Palestinian land has increased by nearly 70 percent. As a result, every new brick laid in Israeli settlements is transformed into a stone of Palestinian defiance."

Referring to recent recommendations by a commission led by former U.S. senator George Mitchell -- including a call for Israel to freeze all settlement construction -- he writes: "The Palestinian Authority fully supports implementation of the Mitchell committee's recommendations, including the one that calls on us to 'make a 100 percent effort' in addressing Israeli security concerns."


A second commentary, this one in the "Los Angeles Times," says fervent anti-Semitism is overtaking the Arab world. Jewish author Yossi Klein Halevi writes from Jerusalem: "A familiar madness is returning to the Middle East, and we can't pretend any longer that it will pass." He continues: "A new hit song on Egyptian radio stations proclaims, 'I hate Israel.' State-controlled newspapers vie with each other to spread the most astonishing lies, including the medieval notion that Jews use the blood of murdered Gentile children for matzo. [Libyan] dictator Muammar Gaddafi recently accused Israel and the CIA of infecting Libyan children with AIDS. [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein ended his speech at the recent Arab summit in Amman with this prayer: 'God damn the Jews.'"

Halevi continues: "This astonishing outbreak of hatred would, perhaps, be comprehensible had Israel annexed the West Bank and expelled its Palestinian inhabitants. In fact, the Nazi-like incitement follows Israel's unprecedented offer, under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to withdraw from practically the entire West Bank, uproot a majority of settlements, and create a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."