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Western Press Review: International Intervention In Mideast Conflict Draws Commentary

Prague, 230 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press editorials, commentary, and news analyses today focus heavily on the Mideast conflict, especially the topic of international diplomatic intervention in the region.


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" editorializes with evident irony on what it describes as the lack of focus in U.S. Mideast policy.

"Either President [George W.] Bush can't make up his mind, or he is running one of the most devilishly clever Middle East policy acts since Richard Nixon last dined with Henry Kissinger. In Texas, we suppose they'd call the latter interpretation the two-step. On the one hand, Mr. Bush says [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon is a 'man of peace,' and that the U.S. will never abandon Israel."

The editorial goes on: "On the other hand, this weekend Mr. Bush also leaned on Mr. Sharon to release [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat from house arrest in Ramallah, even though the Israeli leader clearly thinks there can be no peace as long as the aging terrorist is the Palestinian leader."

The newspaper concludes, "This is some diplomatic dance, and if it has everyone confused, we can only hope that's the point."


What "The Wall Street Journal Europe" characterizes as a "two-step" U.S. policy, a staff writer for the "International Herald Tribune" labels a "seesaw" in a news analysis.

Brian Knowlton comments: "Just as the Bush administration was congratulating itself for negotiating what it hoped was a breakthrough accord to end the siege of Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, the Israeli army launched a new incursion Monday (yesterday) into the West Bank city of Hebron. The developments Monday illustrated the seesaw that the administration has been riding for the last month as it tried to reassert U.S. influence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve an Israeli military withdrawal from Palestinian territory -- without any harsh crackdown on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon."

The commentator adds: "The [U.S.] national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, termed the weekend agreement "one way to help move the process forward."

Knowlton concludes: "She said the eight-point peace plan that [Saudi Crown Prince] Abdullah laid out for Bush was 'a tremendously powerful tool, and extremely important.' Regarding the proposal, she said that 'every element of it may not be workable,' and some may require negotiation. But the fact that Saudi Arabia was pushing its plan to offer Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Arab lands seized in the 1967 war, Rice said, demonstrated that Saudi Arabia was willing to become 'engaged as Jordan and Egypt have in bringing peace to the region as a whole.'"


Britain's "Financial Times" says in an editorial that Saddam Hussein of Iraq errs if he assumes the United States is delaying action against his regime out of weakness stemming from the Mideast's demands upon U.S. attention.

"The United States' decision to draw up plans for toppling him next year rather than in the autumn gives the Iraqi leader a breathing space. However, negotiations this week over United Nations sanctions should make clear that it is only time that Mr. Saddam has been given. Pressure on the regime to end its policy of making weapons of mass destruction must be maintained and strengthened."

The editorial continues: "Mr. Saddam may see Washington's decision to delay action against Iraq as a sign of weakness when the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has poisoned relations between the U.S. and its Arab allies. That would be a grave error, however. George W. Bush, the U.S. president, remains committed to a 'regime change' in Baghdad. He has recognized that there will be little support in the region for action while the bloodletting continues in Israel."


Columnist Richard Cohen inveighs in "The Washington Post" against people who equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. "If I weren't a Jew, I might be called an anti-Semite. I have occasionally been critical of Israel. I have occasionally taken the Palestinians' side. I have always maintained that the occupation of the West Bank is wrong and while I am, to my marrow, a supporter of Israel, I insist that the Palestinian cause -- although sullied by terrorism -- is a worthy one.

"In Israel itself, these positions would hardly be considered remarkable. People with similar views serve in parliament. They write columns for the newspapers. And while they are sometimes vehemently criticized -- such is the rambunctious nature of Israel's democratic din -- they are not called either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. I cannot say the same about America. Here, criticism of Israel, particularly anti-Zionism, is equated with anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League, one of the most important American Jewish organizations, comes right out and says so."

Cohen continues: "Arab anti-Semitism not only exists, it is often either state-sponsored or state-condoned, and it is only getting worse. It makes the Arabs look like fools. How can anyone take seriously a person who believes that Jews engage in ritual murder? But that hardly means that anti-Zionism -- hating, opposing, fighting Israel -- is the same as anti-Semitism, hating Jews anywhere on account of supposedly inherent characteristics. If I were a Palestinian living in a refugee camp, I might very well hate Israel for my plight -- never mind its actual cause -- and I even might not like Jews in general."


U.S. lawyer Jerome Marcus, commenting in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," argues that charges of Israeli human rights violations in an attack earlier this month on a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin are misguided. The real violators, he says, are the Palestinian terrorists who, in effect, used their countrymen as shields.

"The United Nations is intent on investigating charges that Israeli forces violated the human rights of Palestinians during this month's raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Because noncombatants were killed there, the word 'massacre' is being bandied about in the press. Many in the human rights community, however, have already reached a verdict. 'When we are confronted with the extent of destruction of the Jenin refugee camp,' says Rene Kosirnik of the International Committee of the Red Cross, 'it is difficult to accept that international humanitarian law has been respected.' Amnesty International claims it, too, has evidence of human rights abuses in Jenin.'"

The writer continues: "Mr. Kosirnik and friends are right about one thing: International law was violated in Jenin, and the violations should be investigated. But the law was not broken by Israel, which has responded carefully and proportionately to the daily murder of its citizens. Under international law, the people violating the human rights of Palestinian noncombatants are Palestinian terrorists, who have hidden themselves and their weapons -- without uniforms or other identifying insignia required by the laws of war -- among the civilian population of the West Bank."


Another lawyer, writing in "The Irish Times," makes a similar case. Tom Cooney is a law lecturer at University College in Dublin with an academic interest in international law and human rights issues.

He comments that for Israel, the Jenin operation was a necessary and proportionate response to deal with terrorism. He notes that the Palestinian Authority says there was a massacre there, while the Israeli government is debating whether to allow a United Nations fact-finding team to collect information about the operation.

Though Israel says it has nothing to hide, Cooney says it should be wary of UN intervention: "The UN has rushed to judgment. Key UN officials have already found Israel guilty of war crimes. [They] should have examined both sides of the case and avoided exaggeration. From aerial photographs of Jenin it is obvious that the 'refugee camp' is a small part of the city, and that the part of the camp which was destroyed was about 100 meters square."

Cooney quotes Terje Larsen, the UN's Middle East special envoy, as saying, "The international community cannot permit the indiscriminate killings of Israeli civilians or the wanton killings of Palestinian civilians."

Cooney says: "You would get the impression that there is a moral equivalence in the conflict. When Palestinians massacre Israelis, their violence is 'indiscriminate,' as though more discriminate killings of Israelis are fine. But when Israelis defend themselves, as they are entitled to do under international law and basic morality, they perpetrate 'wanton killings' and 'wage war on civilian populations.' One might as well say that a serial killer and a victim who defends herself against him have moral parity."

Cooney continues: "It suits the UN to blame Israel in order to deflect attention from its own culpability in being an accomplice to Palestinian terrorism. The UN has responsibility for providing relief and social services to the Jenin camp. It allowed the camp to become the center for suicide bombers. The terrorists use young people as bombers in violation of Article 38 of the UN Convention on Children's Rights. Yet neither Terje Larsen nor Peter Hansen, [director-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency], spoke out."


Commenting in "The New York Times," James Bennet says that a U.S.-brokered compromise to end the Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters pleased the Palestinians and worried the Israelis.

"Surprised and pleased, Palestinian officials were hoping today that the American-brokered compromise to break the siege around Yasser Arafat would mark the beginning of even deeper international involvement to end the conflict. Israelis worried that it meant exactly the same thing."

Bennet quotes a leading Israeli parliamentarian as saying: "We are creating a precedent here that might play against us. I think it was a mistake." Bennet then writes: "Under [U.S. President George W.] Bush's proposal, American and British wardens, unarmed civilians, will supervise the imprisonment of six men, five of whom are accused of involvement in the killing of Israel's tourism minister in October. The sixth man, Israel says, masterminded the attempted smuggling of 50 tons of munitions to the Palestinians."

He continues: "But it appears that Mr. Bush, who tried to keep his administration out of this conflict, has now committed at least a couple of Americans to substantial service in the West Bank. Some of these prisoners have been sentenced to 18 years by the Palestinians.

"The American role is narrow and discrete, and limited only to minding Palestinian behavior, not Israeli action. It hews to the administration's guiding principle of not undertaking any monitoring mission unacceptable to either side."