Prague, 8 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today and over the weekend focuses on the ongoing fighting in the Middle East, as the Israeli Army continues to assert control over Palestinian areas in the West Bank. Other analysis discusses the precarious status of Kaliningrad, NATO expansion, military forces in Afghanistan, and the weekend meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush, as the two leaders attempt to reach a joint solution on issues such as the Mideast and intervention in Iraq.
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" discusses Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, currently isolated by the Israeli Army in a section of his Ramallah headquarters. The paper says that observers of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis hold widely ranging views of the Palestinian leader, viewing him as "either a terrorist, a partner for peace, a living martyr, a symbol of statehood, [or] a puppet of forces he can't control." Arafat "has been viewed as the hinge of peace for so long that he's learned how to bend to others' expectations." Israel's desire to undermine him as a leader "has rallied other nations to rise up and save him for their own purposes." But the paper says, "Trying to turn this symbol of Palestinian statehood into its deliverer has failed over the past decade of active peacemaking. To rely so much on the personality of one man has been as much a mistake as it was to rely on any one Israeli prime minister."
The editorial concludes that creating a viable peace will require the United States and other international actors "to work directly with the Palestinians, beyond Arafat, and bring them a viable state quickly while persuading Arab leaders to denounce the suicide bombings."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial from the 7 April edition of "The Washington Post" suggests there is much to be gained by issuing invitations for NATO membership to several Central and Eastern European nations at the alliance's November summit. But the editorial says expansion also "raises several tricky questions, ranging from the readiness of several of the candidates to meet Western norms of democracy and military professionalism to whether NATO is getting weaker as well as bigger. Nevertheless, the initiative makes sense, both for Europe and for the United States."
The editorial says the real benefit of NATO expansion "lies in the leverage it offers to shape the political and economic development of European countries where democracy and free markets are not yet taken for granted. In order to win NATO membership, the candidate countries have agreed to long agendas of reforms, ranging from ensuring free press and fair elections to protecting minorities and acting against drug trafficking and corruption." The paper says while there is no guarantee that the reforms will work, "admission to NATO will maximize the chances that Central and Eastern Europe will, for the first time in its history, become a region of stable and pro-Western governments. That won't solve NATO's problems in defining its missions or end the transatlantic disputes over military capabilities and political cooperation. But a large and successful expansion would nevertheless be a major achievement."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Jasper von Altenbockum looks at the issue of Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave that will be surrounded by the European Union when Poland and Lithuania become members. Von Altenbockum raises the question of what Kaliningrad's status will be when this happens -- will it still be considered a part of Russia? He writes: "When Kaliningrad becomes part of the EU, will not Russia become a part as well? Moscow could thus get its foot in the EU door and come to have a say in EU affairs. But just as Moscow refuses to discuss loosening its stranglehold on Kaliningrad with the EU, Brussels must resist such Russian ambitions."
But he says Russia "has come to realize that the EU will be its most important and stable trade partner for the foreseeable future. In addition, EU efforts to create a common security and foreign policy alongside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization make relations with Brussels all the more important." And Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown the first signs of being willing to discuss the region's status. "Every effort has been made to give Moscow no reason to suspect the West of trying to pry the region away from Russia," von Altenbockum remarks. But he says the Kaliningrad region "must be given the freedom to achieve a European standard of living."
President George W. Bush's latest pronouncements on the Middle East are the subject of a commentary in the German "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" today. The paper notes that Bush's increasingly emphatic words calling for Israeli forces to withdraw from Palestinian cities "without delay" are meeting with little response. Bush is still under the illusion that peace can be assured in the Middle East during a blitzkrieg, it says.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refuses and cannot afford to obey U.S. demands because this would spell his defeat in the eyes of the Israelis. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is even more reluctant to comply and finds no words to condemn the "reprehensible terror" of those allied with him.
Bush is playing a highly risky game, says the paper, as he too has failed to answer a few crucial questions: Who does he want to negotiate with in Ramallah besides Arafat? What will he do if Sharon refuses to withdraw from the Palestinian territories?
"Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is merely regaining influence as he embarks on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East and Europe, aimed at halting the violence between the Israelis and Palestinians. The results of his trip will demonstrate whether Bush still wields authority. The editorial suggests that "maybe Bush should take to heart analyses recommending he be less direct and try taking into account shades of meaning."
An editorial in the April 22 edition of the U.S. magazine "The Nation" says even while violence rages in the Middle East, the conditions for achieving peace are "tantalizingly real." Most notable, it says, "was the declaration by the Arab nations meeting in Beirut of their willingness to recognize Israel, after 50 years of denial of its right to exist." But "predictably brushing aside the Arab vision," Israeli Prime Minister Sharon prepared for a military solution, "declaring a 'state of war' with the Palestinians and invading the West Bank."
"The Nation" says the road down which Sharon is taking his people "leads to more deaths, more brutalizing of civilians, more violations of human rights -- and answering violence and anger by the Palestinians, with more suicide bombers making barbarous war on Israeli civilians. The other road, the road to peace, leads toward the goal, articulated anew in Beirut, of a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, making way for a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, in return for normalization of relations with the Arab states."
The editorial says President Bush "still could choose the road to peace" by reaffirming U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and Sharon's withdrawal from Palestinian cities. And it says Secretary of State Colin Powell's anticipated visit to the region should include introducing a plan "backed up by firm promises of monitors and the material and financial resources necessary to make it work."
An editorial in the "Financial Times" looks at the trip this week of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Mideast. It says unless Prime Minister Sharon quickly heeds the appeals of the U.S. to withdraw from Palestinian territories, he "will shatter Mr. Powell's delicate mission."
The "Financial Times" says U.S. re-engagement in the conflict "is a hopeful sign, [but] Israelis and Palestinians have been left on their own for so long that any attempt to contain the conflict now faces daunting challenges. [Even] if Israel begins to withdraw soon, the scars of its biggest military offensive in 20 years will undermine the search for a durable cease-fire."
The editorial notes that no plans have yet been made for Powell to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But it says: "Any hope of restoring calm surely requires the U.S. to be speaking to both sides. The problem is that Mr. Sharon insists [that] the Palestinian Authority has sponsored attacks against Israelis and must therefore be dismantled. Closing down the PA might, indeed, be in Mr. Sharon's interest: he has in any case shown no inclination to contemplate a political solution to the crisis. But it is not in the interest of the U.S. Even the State Department believes that the alternative to the PA is a far more radical leadership."
In France's daily "Le Monde," Patrick Jarreau says that pressure from the Europeans, the Arab world and the U.S. media played a determining role in the recent policy shift of the American president on the Middle East. U.S. support for Israel has been tempered by President Bush's recent calls for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories. The effects that Israeli policy was having in Arab nations, particularly those allied with the United States, also increased the pressure. Jarreau says what became a priority was "the fear that Arab public opinion would turn against these governments if they continued their relations with American leaders." The absence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah from the Arab League conference in Beirut "sent a signal to Washington," he says, that even countries that have peace agreements with Israel were avoiding too much involvement in the current situation.
Essentially, says Jarreau, the Israeli prime minister began a process of destabilization that also threatened the credibility of American leadership and its policies, which were at times seen to be "stubborn" and even "clumsy." The idea of a future offensive against Iraq is now in the background, says Jarreau, unless Secretary of State Powell succeeds in reducing Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," William Arkin of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies suggests pursuing a broad spectrum of goals in Afghanistan besides military aims. He says Afghans are "a dazed and dislocated population struggling to meet essential needs." He suggests that now, "in the transition between military victory and whatever comes next, [the] United States needs to think more clearly. What it is doing now may not achieve lasting results."
He says American military components working on reconstruction "are following a tradition that dates back to the post-World War Two occupation in Germany and Japan, a tradition that is both laudable and laughable when translated to present-day Afghanistan. It has none of the technological or social foundations that enabled Europe and Japan to rise from their own ashes. And the U.S. commitment here is uncertain at best. The soldiers involved in rebuilding are doing good deeds, but their efforts pale in comparison with those of the larger number of NGOs operating in Afghanistan. The latter were in the country before the Americans came and will likely remain long after President Bush pulls the plug."
Arkin says the non-governmental organizations are right to criticize the U.S. for focusing too much on purely military matters. He writes: "In the long run, for instance, the status of the family and the position of women in Afghan society seem more central to this country's future than just about any military goal."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)