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Western Press Review: The Arab League's Setbacks, NATO Expansion and Bosnia's Oscar

Prague, 28 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today continues to look at the Middle East conflict. A suicide bombing yesterday targeting a hotel's Passover celebration left 19 dead and close to 130 wounded, even as Arab leaders debated a Saudi peace proposal at their ongoing summit in Beirut. Other discussion centers on international aid and poverty, NATO expansion, U.S.-European relations, and Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic's Oscar win for his antiwar satire, "No Man's Land."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" looks at the prospects for peace in the Middle East. It says the peace proposal put forth by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah "simply [reiterates] the 'land for peace' formula of the UN Security Council Resolution passed after the Six Day War in 1967." Even so, the editorial says, "it raised the possibility of a negotiated solution to the conflict and signaled to moderate Israelis that they could find an interlocutor on the other side."

But at the Arab summit in Beirut this opportunity turned sour, it says. Israel confined Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Ramallah, while Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan declined to attend the conference. Additionally, the Palestinian delegation walked out of the meetings when Arafat was not allowed to address those gathered via satellite. The paper says that, in effect, summit participants "made a mess of an occasion which, while offering no immediate relief to combatants in the second intifada, afforded the chance to present a united, conciliatory front.

"That failure turned the summit into a sideshow of the central drama, the attempt by the American envoy, Anthony Zinni, to reach a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians. It is on that stage, not in the councils of the Arab League, that a retreat from confrontation, or a descent into greater violence, will be decided," the paper concludes.


A "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" editorial sums up the outcome of the Arab League conference in Beirut as remaining "far from peace." The Arab summit was expected to officially launch a Saudi proposal offering Israel peace and normal relations if it returns Arab lands occupied in the 1967 war and agrees to a "just and amicable" solution for Palestinian refugees.

But the commentary says the conference was "born under an ill-fated star." It discusses the possible reasons for the absence of so many important Arab League members. While it was to be expected that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat might not be present, more surprising was the fact that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah did not attend. The reason for their absence is unclear, says the editorial. Perhaps it is because they have both concluded a peace with Israel, or perhaps because of economic or security concerns. Another possible interpretation of their absence may be that Mubarak and Abdullah are disenchanted by the lack of U.S. influence on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

But the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says whatever the underlying causes behind the non-attendance of these influential officials, one thing is clear: There are no signs of hope for a peaceful future in the Middle East.


Syndicated columnist William Pfaff of the "Los Angeles Times" discusses international aid and poverty in a piece reprinted today in the "International Herald Tribune." He notes that at March's UN antipoverty conference in Monterrey, Mexico, the United States argued that "market development is better for poor countries than assistance or loans from the international development agencies leading to state action."

But Pfaff says this is not entirely true: "Obviously, it is better to provide people with the mechanisms of self-improvement than to hand out charity." Pfaff says the "microloan technique," which provides small loans to people to create small enterprises, "gets certain communities more effectively out of poverty than certain top-down development projects [traditionally] favored by the international lending agencies." But on the other hand, he says, "you can't attack the grave social ills of lack of education, public health and corruption, or create infrastructure, with microloans."

He notes that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush believes foreign investment is the cure for poverty, through "drawing societies into the international economy." But this has both negative and positive consequences, Pfaff says. Investors are initially lured by the "low-cost and docile labor" available in poor countries, but if the investment and development are successful, this labor market diminishes -- and investors move on.

Pfaff concludes that economic development "is not spontaneous. It has to be directed." And this fact, he says, should have been acknowledged by the U.S. at Monterrey.


An editorial in "The Washington Times" says the Bucharest summit on 25-26 March of the prime ministers of the "Vilnius 10" prospective NATO members focused too much on which nations would be accepted into the alliance this November in Prague, and not enough on defining "NATO's new mission in a post-September 11 world in which the alliance has been on the sidelines." This issue should have been the true focus of the meeting, the paper says.

But the editorial notes that NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson did emphasize NATO's need to adapt its strategy and to delineate its new cooperation with Russia. Furthermore, he "challenged Europe to make the sacrifices needed to counter the new threats." Robertson suggested that the way to be prepared was for Europe to increase its defense budgets and to make smarter investments.

"The Washington Times" agrees. Robertson "is absolutely right," it says. "Only countries that have shown signs of making those adjustments should be assured consideration [for membership] in the next round. In the meantime, both the United States and NATO's current European members should focus [more] on defense spending, military preparedness and greater trans-Atlantic military cooperation needed to face the new threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Unless NATO redefines its mission, the benefits of the alliance's broader membership will be wasted."


Columnist Jacques Amalric writes in France's daily "Liberation" that the sliver of hope that peace might be achieved in the Middle East has now been quelched. He says all parties involved share some of the responsibility for the resumption of hostilities. First, says Amalric, is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: He promised his people security but does not seem to believe in anything but the might of the Israeli Army. His decision to confine Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Ramallah instead of allowing him to travel to Beirut for the Arab League summit was a mistake, says Amalric.

He goes on to write that the Saudi peace proposal had no chance of being influential without "resolute support from the White House." But the U.S., he says, may never really have had much faith in the proposal. Only U.S. determination would have been able to, in his words, "overcome not only the obvious Israeli misgivings but also the lack of enthusiasm of Egypt and, to a lesser degree, Jordan."

Amalric goes on to say that assigning responsibility for the failure of these recent attempts at peace would not be complete without special mention of Yasser Arafat. He says that more and more often, the suicide attacks targeting Israeli civilians are committed not by fanatics and madmen, but by activists close to Arafat's Fatah movement.


The German daily "Die Welt" also carries a commentary on the Arab League summit. Columnist Dietrich Alexander says it proved "meaningless" and "a farce before it even began" due to the absence of so many key Arab leaders. He believes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon chose the worse of two options in setting the stakes so high by preventing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from traveling to Beirut to attend the summit. Alexander says Sharon should have let Arafat attend -- then he could have put to the test the Saudi Arabian plan for a peaceful settlement. Alexander notes that this opinion is shared by Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Elieser, as well as by U.S. President George W. Bush. He concludes that given the lack of support from Arab countries, Bush can definitely dismiss any thought of winning their support for military operations in Iraq.


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," Kate Connolly discusses filmmaker Danis Tanovic's Oscar award win for his antiwar satire, "No Man's Land." Connolly says for the citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina, "who have spent years trying to rebuild their country's war-torn state and seek recognition as a talent-filled land, Danis Tanovic's Oscar award this week for best foreign film took on a significance that far exceeded the importance of the award itself." She describes the film as a "bittersweet" satire, "a tragi-comic look at the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Hercegovina, [which] has touched a chord with most of Tanovic's fellow citizens as an investigation into the stupidity of war, which cleverly cuts across ethnic divides." The movie tells the story of two soldiers -- a Bosnian Muslim and a Serb -- who end up in a trench together. One of the soldiers is lying on a live mine that will explode if he is moved. Connolly says that Tanovic's success "has served to highlight the tragedy of the brain drain, which has been sucking the post-war and economically-troubled Balkans dry for years. It is hoped, though, that the Balkan's first-ever Oscar will now draw potential film financiers to the region, and act as something of a stopgap to keep the talent at home." She adds that following the film's success at numerous film festivals, including Cannes, it is "likely to have an impact throughout the world."


In "The Washington Times," chief political correspondent Donald Lambro looks at the prospect of a trade war arising between the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. recently levied a 30 percent tariff on steel imports in order to protect its sagging domestic steel industry. This prompted the EU to raise import taxes of their own, for fear of steel formerly bound for the U.S. flooding their markets. In addition, the EU has begun World Trade Organization proceedings to win $2 billion from the U.S. to compensate for the higher tariffs. Lambro says this sum may take the form of lower U.S. tariffs on other European goods. "But in the event no compensatory agreement is reached, the EU has prepared a lengthy list of U.S. exports -- from textiles to citrus fruits -- that would be hit with higher tariffs."

Lambro says once begun, "a trade protectionist war has a rippling effect around the world," one that could spread to the Pacific Rim and hinder global economic recovery. He says by levying the steel tariffs, the U.S. took a risky step, "without fully knowing all its ramifications in the increasingly interdependent global economy."

Lambro says the U.S. steel industry "knows it must modernize to lower its costs and become more competitive. [Higher] tariffs will only delay U.S. steel from making the hard cost-cutting steps needed to become lean and mean."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)