Prague, 29 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses overwhelmingly on the Middle East conflict, following the conclusion yesterday of the Arab League summit in Beirut. The summit yielded an official endorsement of the Saudi peace initiative, which offers normalized relations between Arab states and Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Other subjects of discussion today include the brewing transatlantic trade war, Russia's so-called propaganda industry for its war in Chechnya, the situation in Afghanistan, and the European Union's satellite navigation project, Galileo.
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" suggests that the "land-for-peace" initiative proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah is currently the best chance for bringing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians -- although even this remains a feeble hope, it says.
The paper says the fact that the offer "was made at all, and initiated by the richest and most Islam-centric nation, is the one peace hope the U.S. must now cling to. It's a weak olive branch, and one both sides may whip each other with for a while. But for now, it's the only hope in town."
The paper notes that anxieties dominate on all sides of the divide: "Arab leaders are anxious that the Mideast and their fragile regimes are at risk if the U.S. ousts Saddam Hussein and installs a democracy in Iraq. The U.S. is anxious that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain a recruitment poster for anti-U.S. terrorists. And Israel is anxious over more and more attacks on its people."
The "Monitor" concludes that, "Somehow, in all that anxiety lies enough fatigue with the status quo and dreams of peaceful prosperity that a deal can be struck." But it adds that the U.S., "with its might and now-dwindling credibility, must make it happen."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger discusses in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" what is being viewed as a brewing transatlantic trade war. The row followed a decision by the U.S. administration to levy 30 percent tariffs on steel imports in order to protect the inefficient U.S. steel industry. The European Commission in Brussels responded by levying its own protectionist tariffs on steel, in order to protect its markets from being flooded with the steel originally intended for the U.S.
But this move on the part of the EC was not particularly sound economic policy, says Frankenberger. He writes: "Even if Brussels was merely warning Washington that the Europeans will not be pushed around simply to suit America's economic interests, there is the risk that this kind of tit-for-tat will spiral out of control and turn a trade dispute into a trade war."
He says a trade war between Europe and the U.S. would have "serious consequences for the German economy, which could use a jump-start from the Americans right now." He suggests that U.S.-European Union relations are currently strained for several reasons. A conflict over protectionist tariffs, he says, "[would] place yet another burden of discontent on transatlantic relations that are tense enough as it is."
A Stratfor commentary says the EU's decision to allocate $392 million for the development of the Galileo satellite navigation system -- similar to the American Global Positioning System, or GPS -- "is an important step for Brussels' efforts to reduce its military dependence on the United States."
European military forces do have access to the GPS, notes Stratfor, but "their access is fully controlled by the [U.S.] Pentagon. Galileo would presumably free them from such dependence." The commentary says the system "has come to symbolize Europe's willingness to bridge the military technology gap with the United Sates." But it posits that ultimately, the Galileo system "will do little on its own to improve Europe's independent defense capabilities."
Stratfor goes on to discuss American reservations regarding the development of the Galileo system. "From a military standpoint, Washington fears that a rival navigation system is a potential security threat." The Pentagon has argued that hostile forces could use "a civilian-run European system [to] hit U.S. or allied targets with much greater precision."
Stratfor adds that "as much as Washington wants Europe to expand its military capacity and technology, it prefers to see that happen within the rubric of NATO."
"A little dependence is a good thing," it writes, and controlling the one-of-a-kind GPS "is a powerful tool to limit Europe's ambitions."
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
An editorial comment in "The Boston Globe" says the shortcomings of the 27-28 March Arab League summit were matched by failures in U.S. diplomatic efforts. The paper says hopes that the summit might help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "were dashed before the deliberations began, when the Bush administration failed to persuade Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to let Yasser Arafat travel to Lebanon." The "Globe" calls this an "unacknowledged humiliation for American diplomacy."
The paper says "all parties [were] working at cross-purposes." Arafat, for his part, "did not or could not enforce a cease-fire on the Palestinian side, appearing to validate one of the two excuses Sharon gave for keeping Arafat in Ramallah. The second excuse, the one Arafat cited for deciding not to visit Beirut, was Sharon's warning that he might prevent Arafat from returning home after the summit."
As a result, the paper writes, "The world saw Arafat and Sharon, each in his own way, refuse to do American bidding. This is what comes of President Bush's reluctance to summon all the powers and prerogatives of U.S. diplomacy to herd Israelis and Palestinians toward a negotiated agreement that can save thousands of lives. [American] diplomatic clout can be a use-it-or-lose-it asset. By letting the violence and madness loosed on both sides spiral out of control, Bush has made it much harder than it would have been a year ago for Washington to bring the belligerents to the negotiating table."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah "was obliged to water down" his Mideast peace proposal to please hard-line governments at the Arab League summit concluded yesterday in Beirut. The paper says Abdullah's "supposedly bold idea has devolved into an orthodox restatement of longstanding Arab positions, instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with Middle East diplomacy as a nonstarter. Yet even this declaration won only partial support from the summit meeting; only about half of the heads of state bothered to attend, and a few of those who did had entirely different ideas. President Bashar Assad of Syria, for example, suggested that the Arab states that currently have relations with Israel break them as a way of kicking off the initiative."
But the editorial says that, "So pressed is the Bush administration in its belated effort to head off a full-scale Israeli-Palestinian war that it has seized on the Saudi initiative, flaws and all."
In France's daily "Liberation," staff writer Alexandra Schwartzbrod writes from Jerusalem of the effects the ongoing wave of suicide attacks is having on Israeli society. After a year and a half of intifada, she says, the Israelis seem to increasingly doubt themselves and the ability of their leaders to end the painful struggle with the Palestinians. Many feel defeated, she says. She cites an unnamed woman from Tel Aviv as saying that meeting for coffee or in a restaurant evokes fear, that people can speak of nothing except the attacks. Schwartzbrod notes that bar-keepers and restaurateurs in Jerusalem have demonstrated against the slump that is now hitting their businesses -- they want the authorities to protect their establishments.
Schwartzbrod says, "[T]he hopes for peace aroused at regular intervals by the Americans, the Europeans or, this week, by the Arab countries, are taken seriously only with difficulty. They merely create an impression of deja vu, which adds to the despair," she writes. Schwartzbrod says the Israeli political left, which supports a peaceful solution to the conflict, does seem to have renewed vigor -- but it is divided and lacks a leader. But she says more and more Israelis are appreciating the "firm and courageous" calls from Ami Ayalon, former head of the internal intelligence service, for a dismantling of the settlements and the opening of true peace negotiations.
In the British daily "The Guardian," staff writer Ian Traynor says the scenes depicted in the Russian media of the war in Chechnya are a far cry from the war's realities. He describes a new Russian TV serial as portraying Russian commandos -- equipped with state-of-the-art communications equipment and "crisp uniforms" -- battling alleged "evil Muslim extremists" in the breakaway province.
Similar portrayals of the Chechen conflict, he writes, can be seen in Russian films. But Traynor notes that Russia's "Komsomolskaya Pravda" newspaper offers a very different view of the situation in Chechnya for Russian troops. He says the military is faced with "'pitiful' equipment, 'clerks' sitting behind desks trying to run a military campaign, huge corruption and incompetence and rank insubordination."
Traynor says the paper further revealed that Russian units "are increasingly refusing to do combat duty [in] Chechnya, embittered by the wretched conditions, poor pay and the corruption of the Russian officer class. [The] picture they painted of the situation [was] a far cry from the uplifting scenes depicted in the new patriotism of the TV serial" and popular films. He writes: "Day by grinding day, the Russians are sustaining heavy casualties, although the issue is barely publicized and there has been no public uproar." But "On television and in the cinema, the Russians, of course, are winning the war."
In the regional daily "Eurasia View," Todd Diamond says the international community is falling short of its attempts to provide security to Afghanistan. He looks at the UN Security Council decision on 28 March to establish a new mission in Afghanistan to focus on political and humanitarian issues, but says the resolution "does not address security in Afghanistan, confirming that the Security Council is unwilling to expand the UN international peacekeeping force."
He notes that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also indicated, in Diamond's words, that the Security Council's "reluctance to back reconstruction efforts with an enhanced security initiative questions the ability of the international community to provide effective assistance to the Afghans."
Despite requests from interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and others, Diamond says diplomats maintain that deploying peacekeepers outside Kabul is too risky. UN member nations are reluctant to contribute more troops to reinforce the International Security Assistance Force, he says. Diamond goes on to cite a recent report by the British government on ISAF that says two major concerns in Afghanistan have yet to be addressed: "the lack of a functioning legal system and the lack of a disarmament program to demobilize militia group members."