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Western Press Review: Mideast, Immigration, Pope In Ukraine, Euro-Zone Economics

Prague, 26 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Some commentaries in today's Western press assess the chances for a lasting peace in the Middle East in light of today's meeting in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush. Other comments address immigration and asylum seekers, Pope John Paul's current visit to Ukraine, and economics in the euro-zone.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that the Bush administration "has wisely overcome its reluctance to engage in high-level Mideast diplomacy." The paper writes that the U.S. president, "by extending his personal support to Sharon at [their meeting today], can usefully reinforce the Israeli leader's political position at home and encourage continued restraint. [In] recent weeks [Sharon] has resisted right-wing pressures for strong military retaliation against the Palestinians."

The editorial goes on to note that later this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. It says: "Such working contacts are useful and American efforts to promote a cease-fire and [the] eventual resumption of peace talks would be hobbled without them."

If the cease-fire continues to hold, the paper continues, both sides must be encouraged to begin rebuilding trust and communication. It argues that in order to do so, each side must make concessions. "The first steps," it says, "should include efforts by the Palestinian Authority to collect illegal guns and prevent terrorist attacks, [as well as] moves by Israel to lift economic blockades of Palestinian areas."


Commentator Jackson Diehl writes in "The Washington Post" that the political price has become too high for the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to continue seeking "to eliminate each other." Instead, Diehl writes, "Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat will do what each genuinely excels at. They will spar and clinch, bob and weave and play to the crowd, round after inconclusive round. Since neither wants a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement, they could keep it up indefinitely, occupying diplomats and holding the world's attention with years of faux brinkmanship and pseudo-crisis."

Diehl goes on to say that this "may be the best thing that could happen [for those] Israelis and Palestinians who still hope for the peace deal that seemed so close a summer ago." He concludes: "Behind the short-term maneuvering of Mr. Sharon, 73, and Mr. Arafat, 71, Israelis and Palestinians are struggling to settle on a new generation of leaders and strategies that can take them past the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the bloody conflict that has followed. But neither [side] seems very close."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" assesses the benefits of immigration for the host country as well as what can be done to make migration more humane. Principled policies are needed, the paper writes, as a government "cannot claim to welcome genuine refugees when it has operated a dismal policy of seeking to prevent them from entering and robbing them of their dignity if they do enter." More opportunities for legal immigration, it adds, would "reduce the trafficking of human beings and discourage economic migrants from using the asylum system to gain entry."

The editorial says that European nations such as Britain need more immigrants "both to overcome short-term skills shortages and to counteract longer-term demographic trends." Otherwise, it argues, these countries will "suffer from labor shortages and higher social security and health-care costs." The paper suggests a "strategic immigration policy tied to labor market conditions" and coordinated with other European nations. "Immigration is only one way of coping with an aging population," it says. "But, as history attests, it also enriches society, bringing economic, social, and cultural benefits."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that once immigrant workers arrive in a host country, "too many of these workers, mostly women, often poor and uneducated, are abused, out of public view and with nowhere to turn for help."

The paper notes that both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have "taken positive steps in the past year, including implementing new codes of conduct and programs to educate employees and domestic workers about workers' rights."

It also cites a Human Rights Watch report, which it says "laid out some common-sense proposals, including making sure that individuals who are seeking visas for workers have not abused or exploited immigrant domestic workers in the past. The report," the editorial says, "calls for giving workers more leeway to leave an oppressive employer for a new job without facing possible deportation." The paper writes that the need for such policy reforms is pressing, because "it's too easy for these workers to become invisible once they are across the border and behind closed doors."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger considers the suggestion of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, that Germany recognize non-state persecution as grounds for granting political asylum. German Interior Minister Otto Schily has rejected this suggestion, Frankenberger notes, and "wants to continue streamlining the asylum process by quickly deporting asylum seekers whose applications have been turned down, and allowing no further right of appeal." Schily, the commentator says, "has Germany's Constitution -- which guarantees asylum in cases of state persecution -- as well as legal precedent [on his side]."

Frankenberger writes: "If Lubbers gets his way and non-state persecution is grounds enough for asylum, the asylum law will revert to what it [was]: an open door for uncontrolled immigration, causing both the length of the asylum process and the number of cases to increase sharply again."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," citing recent remarks by European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg, warns that "high taxes and labor-market rigidities are strangling economic growth in all but a few euro-zone countries." The paper says that EU economic coordination has often been focused on tax harmonization, which frequently leads to higher taxes.

It writes: "The euro zone is flirting with recession even as inflation creeps up," and adds, "Price-level figures imply that, if anything, the ECB is playing it a little fast and loose in keeping rates so low."

Noting that when the ECB met last week it left interest rates unchanged, the editorial urges the EU's fiscal chiefs to take action: "That means, cut taxes. That means making it easier for companies to both hire and fire. It does not mean creating an EU tax cartel."


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" calls the controversy surrounding the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ukraine "a potent reminder of that country's difficult position on the cusp of Europe." Poised between joining the West and ties still binding it to Russia, the paper writes, Ukraine has "failed to move decisively in either direction." The paper says that the pope's trip is both an acknowledgement of, and reward for, western Ukraine's Catholic revival of the 1990s -- although it has outraged those Ukrainian Orthodox believers whose sympathies lie with Russia.

For "The Times," what it calls the "muddled outcry" in Ukraine over the pope's visit "reflects continuing political uncertainty in a country whose agricultural wealth and beauty should [have] ensured it a golden future." Instead, the paper says, Ukraine's legacy has been corrupt politicians, economic crisis, destructive rivalries, and Chornobyl.

The paper cites U.S. President Bush's recent public support for Ukraine's future membership in NATO, and writes, "If Ukraine now finds the energy to push Westward, the pope's visit could be a reminder not only of today's domestic chaos but also of the helping hand that powerful foreigners seem ready to extend."