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Western Press Review: The Mideast Conflict, Ukraine's Parliamentary Elections, And NATO

Prague, 1 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the Easter weekend remained focused on the Middle East, as the Israeli Army confines Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a few of his aides and security personnel to two rooms of his Ramallah office compound for a fourth day. Other topics include Ukraine's parliamentary elections yesterday and NATO's changing role.


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says the United States is "the only power deemed capable of preventing [a plunge] into the abyss of war" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Frankenberger says no U.S. decree can prevent the Israeli government from reacting to suicide-bomb attacks or make the Palestinian factions responsible renounce these tactics.

He adds: "And nobody can claim that the efforts of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni hold any promise of success, or that the plan put forward by CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Director George Tenet is still alive. It is sad but true: Third-party mediation always faces an uphill battle against radicalism and premeditated violence."

Frankenberger goes on to say that, "If the Middle East's core conflict cannot be contained, Washington's other foreign policy goals and interests in the region will be frustrated as the United States' allies [refuse] to cooperate on other issues." Specifically, he says, it might be possible -- as has been suggested -- to launch a military campaign against Iraq, "but the political costs would be enormous."

Frankenberger concludes that U.S. President George W. Bush "cannot decree peace, but [he] will have to put all his resources behind a peace initiative to prevent the widespread individual acts of violence from becoming a full-blown war. He needs to push hard for a settlement and to win over both sides to an interim resolution."


In the British daily "The Guardian," staff writer Peter Preston says the Palestinians have found the one weapon that Israel, despite being well equipped with jets and tanks, cannot counter. "The Palestinians possess no such weaponry; they are completely outgunned and outclassed," Preston writes. But their ultimate weapon is suicide, coldly chosen as a last resort. And this weapon, he adds, is "a winner. It has humiliated one of the world's toughest conventional armies. They move in, flattening all before them and, far away, another burger bar or shopping center is blasted to smithereens."

"There are some wars conventional soldiers can't win," Preston writes. "This is the low-tech world's solution to hi-tech: sickening, but sickeningly effective."

Preston says, "[The] weaponry the Pentagon heaps on Israel cannot be brought to bear. The suicide bombs go on and on." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is making "absolutely no headway" in countering this type of attack, while "American power drifts inertly, incapable of bringing a resolution." Preston concludes that U.S. policy has been reduced to "messy infirmity." He writes: "The White House has to try to intervene, to twist in impotence or [side] with the UN [Security Council] majority against Sharon."


An editorial in yesterday's "The Washington Post" says Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has a lot at stake in Ukraine's parliamentary elections on 31 March, the results of which are still being tallied. It says the president has been doing "everything in his power to sway the election toward a pro-government alliance" and "has been willing to use anti-democratic tactics [to] advance his personal cause at the expense of the chance for real reform in Eastern Europe's largest nation."

Reporting by the state-controlled media has favored Kuchma's party, while coverage of opposition rallies "have repeatedly suffered mysterious power blackouts, as have local radio and television stations that have tried to interview opposition leaders." The editorial says it would be "unfortunate" if Kuchma and his supporters remained in power, "not only because of the manifest corruption and unpopularity of Kuchma's regime but because the president is standing in the way [of the] political and economic reforms" achieved by many of Ukraine's postcommunist neighbors. "Ukraine deserves better," the editorial concludes.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says Washington "has taken a renewed interest in NATO, after sidelining the institution in Afghanistan and generally paying it little heed." It adds that the U.S. also seems "more committed to overhauling NATO's internal structures."

But getting these reforms right, it says, still poses a challenge. "Hasty decisions will have lasting consequences for the institution and America's relationship with Europe. Ultimately, the aim must be to keep NATO at the heart of the trans-Atlantic relationship, and relevant to the security needs of today."

Considering membership for Bulgaria and Romania, the largest of the alliance's 10 possible entrants, represents "a push by NATO into the truly vulnerable flank of the continent, Southeastern Europe" -- a region, the paper says, plagued by "organized crime, lawlessness, drugs- and weapons-running, and minor ethnic wars."

The editorial advises that in redefining NATO cooperation with Russia, "the alliance must beware not to undermine NATO's great strength, its cohesion and military backbone. [Membership,] and the pledge of mutual defense, must be taken as seriously as before." It adds that candidates "should be accepted only if they deserve to be members and contribute to the alliance, not weaken it."

NATO, the editorial adds, "has reason to tread carefully" regarding Russia, which has opposed the candidacy of three of the former Soviet republics -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The paper says that although the U.S., NATO and Russia share many common interests, "any deal can't be a sop, real or perceived, to Moscow for abiding enlargement, or a green light to meddle with its former colonies beyond NATO frontiers."


An editorial in "The New York Times," in looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says it has "reservations over the long-range effectiveness of policies that rely heavily on the use of force." Israel, it says, "must look beyond its fury to find a political solution to this conflict. It must realize that no matter how many tanks it sends to the West Bank, only a commitment to withdraw from occupied lands and permit the building of a Palestinian state, in return for normal relations with its Arab neighbors, offers a way out." The paper remarks that "if anything has been learned in 18 blood-soaked months, it is that military responses have caused only minimal interruption to the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, while fanning the flames of anger and resolve."

The paper says it is understandable that Israel does not want to reward terror tactics by starting negotiations before receiving the assurance of a cease-fire. "[But] there are larger principles and interests at stake here," says the editorial. "Israel must make clear that it recognizes the need to relinquish the bulk of the territories it took in 1967. There is no guarantee that a retreat from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the construction of a secure border will end Palestinian terror. But it will greatly reduce it and give the Palestinians a reason to control their own terror groups."


In "The Washington Post," staff writer Lee Hockstader comments on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent pledge to destroy the infrastructure of the terrorist network used by some Palestinian factions. Hockstader writes: "the infrastructure of suicide bombing requires little more than bomb-making know-how and some very basic equipment. If an explosives belt can be assembled in a work shed or a chicken coop or a garage, then destroying the 'infrastructure of terrorism' begins to sound virtually impossible, more a slogan than a battle plan. In fact, there are signs the Israeli government does not know exactly what goal it is pursuing against the Palestinians, or how the endgame might be played out."

He says Israeli security officials have warned that if Arafat is marginalized, "he could become an even greater hero in the Arab world and among Palestinians. If Arafat were killed by Israeli forces, intentionally or not, his death would likely inspire waves of terrorist attacks for years to come." And evicting the Palestinians, as has been suggested by some Israeli hardliners, "would make Israel a pariah state, endanger its relations with the United States, risk a regional war and invite never-ending attacks. Mass arrests have been tried without tremendous success. And the current course, even if followed more intensively, seems unlikely to eradicate terrorist attacks," Hockstader writes.


A "Stratfor Commentary" piece says the current Israeli offensive in Palestinian territories indicates that Israel is preparing for a long, drawn-out campaign.

It writes: "The failure of the Arab summit and a suicide bombing on the eve of Passover [last] week have crystallized Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's belief that military operations are the only way to deal with the Palestinian conflict. A decision Friday [29 March] to mobilize Israeli reservists strongly suggests that the subsequent military actions will be much more extensive that what we have seen thus far."

Stratfor says the Israeli response to recent developments "has been tough but relatively similar to earlier military operations. Israeli troops set up checkpoints and blockades in the Gaza Strip, effectively cutting the territory into three parts. Tanks and troops are moving into the West Bank, clustering around the cities of Tulkarm and Nablus and moving into Ramallah." But Stratfor says "one thing separates this offensive from earlier operations -- the mobilization of Israeli military reserves." The Sharon government has recently approved the mobilization "of an unknown number of reserves who were not scheduled to see action, something that the Israeli military does only in time of war," it says. From this, says the commentary, we can expect "an increase in the breadth and length of Israeli operations. Longer operations running several weeks and covering more cities at once appear to be the order of the day."


An editorial today in France's daily "Le Monde" says that maybe a government reaction was inevitable to the 27 March massacre at Netanya, when a suicide bomber attacked a hotel Seder celebration marking the beginning of the Passover holiday. But it says that Prime Minister Sharon is not credible when he sends his tanks after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, announcing that he will "destroy the terrorist infrastructure."

This is an untruth, says "Le Monde," adding that Sharon is simply pursuing the objective that he has had for a long time -- "to eliminate the Palestinian leader, at least politically; end his national movement; [and] prevent, at all costs, the return of the West Bank and Gaza."

"Le Monde" says the United States is the only nation able to intermediate as a third party in the conflict. But U.S. President George W. Bush has always allowed Sharon free rein, it remarks. Bush wasn't concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until recently, and now he is involved for a single reason: to win over the Arab world before commencing an attack on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as is clearly Bush's intention. The paper says that the two sides in the conflict have been abandoned, left to a bloody and endless confrontation.


An editorial in the British "Financial Times" notes that the UN Security Council has called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories. It says Israeli Prime Minister Sharon "must respect the will of the international community and pull his troops out of newly reoccupied Palestinian areas, [including] Ramallah, where he has confined Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to two rooms in his largely destroyed compound." It says Palestinians and Israelis "must also respond to the United Nations resolution by immediately moving towards a cease-fire."

The paper says Prime Minister Sharon's claim that the solution to the Middle East conflict lies in destroying the Palestinian Authority and isolating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "is dangerously misguided. His reliance on Israel's military power and his refusal to outline a fair vision of peace threatens disaster to the Jewish state, with no Israeli able to feel secure. Israel's policy of undermining the Palestinian Authority has bolstered hardline Palestinian groups' determination to take their fight to Israeli towns and cities. It is difficult to see how Mr Arafat, isolated in Ramallah, could prevent suicide attacks in the current climate."

The paper writes: "Sharon must understand that more occupation, and more humiliation of Palestinians, are no solution to the Middle East tragedy. The elimination of the Palestinian Authority would create a vacuum likely to be filled by a younger generation of angry and yet more radical leaders."