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Western Press Review: Bush Mideast Speech Draws Western Press Fire

Prague, 26 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- European editorial comment today focuses on U.S. President George W. Bush's speech on 24 June on the Middle East. Opinions range from approval to a commentary in "The Guardian" headlined, "George W.'s Bloody Folly."


Wolfgang Gunter Lerch, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," comments that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is a flawed figure. However, Lerch writes: "The catastrophic situation is no less a result of Israeli occupation -- the construction of settlements and connecting roads, the cramming of Palestinians onto reservations that are cut off from one another, the unresolved question of refugees and the endless harassment and humiliations. Mr. Sharon opposed the Oslo accords signed in 1993. Was he promoting peace in September 2000, when he visited Temple Mount? Mr. Bush's speech would be more effective if Israel had a different prime minister."


An editorial in "The Times" of Britain approves of the speech in part, but says also that Bush has left himself open to charges of vagueness as to means. "When the advantage is clear, Mr. Bush should send Colin Powell, his secretary of state, back to the region. Much depends on whether Mr. Arafat really cares about the plight of ordinary Palestinians; if his concern is genuine, he will work towards the creation of a new leadership. If his obsession remains his own hold on power, a Palestinian state and peace in the Middle East will never be a reality."


"The Independent" writes in an editorial that this week's Bush speech differs categorically from one he made on the Middle East two months ago. "Gone were the calls for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory; gone, too, were calls for an immediate halt to the building of settlements."

The newspaper says, "By calling directly for new Palestinian leaders, and recommending new elections, new courts, new business practices -- everything, in fact, short of new people -- Mr. Bush broke the first rule of statesmanship: non-interference in other people's internal affairs."

It concludes: "Not for the first time, Mr. Bush may learn the hard way that a 21st-century U.S. president must play not just to Peoria, but to a wider world. Constructive Middle East engagement needs a broader perspective than the Rose Garden offers and a vision that goes beyond the next election."


Under the headline "George W.'s Bloody Folly," Jonathan Freedland comments in "The Guardian": "If [Bush] were a Democrat, both the Washington press corps and Congress already would be racking [his speech] up alongside the unextinguished threat from Al-Qaeda and the continued freedom from captivity of Osama bin Laden. Those failures, and now the guarantee of further slaughter in the Middle East, should be prompting hard questions about Bush and his war on terror. American needs to snap out of its post-9/11 torpor of consensus and realize there is a leadership problem in the United States -- and his name is George Bush."


An editorial in "The Daily Telegraph" calls the speech "potentially the most radical address on the Middle East ever delivered by an American leader." "For the first time, the fostering of democracy and free institutions are to be the lodestars of American policy towards a part of the region. Hitherto, liberty has been low down the scale of priorities of successive American presidents. The main thing has been to prop up local rulers who kept the oil flowing and the American bases and other interests in place."


The "Financial Times" editorializes that Bush has presented a vision without a plan. "Mr. Bush can urge [the Palestinians] to change but he cannot dictate the outcome. If new elections endorse Mr. Arafat and his fellow Fatah leaders they are the people with whom peace will have to be negotiated."

The editorial says: "By putting so much of the emphasis on a change in the Palestinian leadership, Mr. Bush is giving Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, what he wants. There is no immediate pressure on him to embark on a political process: he can continue to pursue the path of military might, and territorial occupation, to suppress Palestinian militancy."


Another commentary in "The Daily Telegraph" says there are signs the Palestinians might be ready, under acceptable conditions, to dump Arafat. Patrick Bishop writes: "President Bush has told the Palestinians that, if they stick with Arafat, they condemn themselves to more suffering and that the pain will bring no reward. It is a bleak prospect for even the most zealous nationalist. The lack of opposition to the Israeli re-occupation of West Bank towns this week in reaction to the latest suicide bombs was perhaps a sign that exhaustion is setting in. But for any move to dump Arafat to have a chance of success, Palestinians would have to be persuaded that the American peace plan is acceptable and -- equally important -- that Washington is committed, as never before, to seeing that it is implemented."


The reaction of some U.S. press commentary to the Bush speech is guardedly favorable. Writing in "The New York Times," Dennis Ross, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says that the U.S. president has notified the Palestinians that they are not entitled to an independent state; they must earn it.

The commentary says: "The Palestinians have to show the world that there will be only one authority and that independent militias with their own agendas and weapons will not be tolerated. This is the best test of whether statehood is possible in the near future."

Ross writes: "If the Palestinians are not ready to accept this challenge, the probable outcome will be Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian areas or unilateral separation. The former is not sustainable over time, and the latter, though more likely, would be an admission that diplomatic solutions are simply unavailable for the foreseeable future. In such a circumstance, the wall that the Israelis have begun to build in the West Bank will be more than just an obstacle to terrorists; it will also dash Palestinian hopes for a viable state any time soon."


In "The Washington Post," Michael Kelly offers four predictions of events to follow the speech:

First, that "Yasser Arafat will be gone as the leader of the Palestinian Authority within a year -- probably about six months -- [forced out] by his own long-suffering people."

Second, that "the Palestinians will elect leaders who at least credibly promise a representative government of laws."

Third, that "Israel and the United States will respond by supporting the development of something that never has existed in history, a functioning Palestinian state."

And fourth, that "in a matter of only a few years, Palestine will be one of two new Arab democratic states."


Columnist George F. Will writes in "The Washington Post" that "President Bush's Monday statement was the most clear-sighted U.S. intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in the 35 years since the 1967 war, and perhaps in the 54 years since the founding of Israel. It enunciated a policy that makes eventual peace at least conceivable, and meanwhile frees the president to pursue the global antiterrorism agenda articulated in five other speeches in the past year."


Author and international relations scholar Marwan Bishara writes in a commentary published by the "International Herald Tribune" that "this [U.S. administration of President Bush] is repeating the mistakes of that past instead of charting a truly new vision for the future."

Bishara writes: "At Israel's behest, Bush chose to ignore two important briefing papers lying on his desk -- one describing a comprehensive Arab initiative that charts a peaceful future free of occupation, the other from Yasser Arafat, the only elected Palestinian leader, accepting as a framework for future negotiations the ideas put forward by President Bill Clinton in December 2000."

The commentary concludes: "If Washington continues to block the implementation of international law that rules inadmissible the holding of territory by force, it will feed Israel's culture of impunity, which in turn is nurturing the Palestinian culture of suicide bombings. If the only earthly laws that apply in their land are those of the jungle -- rule by brute force -- then both sides will become more inclined to apply religious interpretations and laws. A religious and communitarian conflict would have grave consequences on both peoples for a long time to come."


Several press commentaries today anticipate discussions at this week's G-8 summit on dealing with Africa's deepening poverty.

"The New York Times" says in an editorial: "Africa has enjoyed too few of globalization's benefits and suffered too many of its costs. The continent's future should get the attention it deserves at this week's summit of Group of Eight democracies in Canada. On the table will be an African proposal for a new economic bargain that should push President Bush, the leaders of seven other industrialized nations and the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, and possibly Algeria beyond the usual platitudes about cooperation."

The editorial concludes: "Two spokesmen for the proposed new economic partnership with the West, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, have damaged their credibility by failing to press effectively for new elections in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mbeki also sabotaged health care in his country by opposing, until very recently, the use of drugs that block transmission from mothers to children of the virus that causes AIDS, while Mr. Obasanjo has failed to curb corruption and has tolerated serious human rights abuses by Nigeria's armed forces. The G-8 leaders need to raise these issues with their African guests, although Mr. Bush seems to be the only one inclined to do so. They should also be prepared to direct ample resources to Africa's decently governed countries."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" identifies what it calls "three main channels" of African assistance to be discussed: One is an aid plan proposed by African leaders, another is an educational initiative, and the third is trade.

Of the last, the newspaper says: "Meanwhile in Washington, there is something that could make a difference. Congress needs to revive presidential trade promotion authority, which has passed both chambers but which has yet to go to conference. The chief obstacle is the refusal of Representative Bill Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to accept reasonable Democratic proposals to help workers who lose jobs as a result of trade. Unless Mr. Thomas relents, he may lack the votes to get the trade measure through the House after the conference negotiations. The midterm elections are approaching, and time is running out. Mr. Thomas, a smart champion of trade, should not let his views on unemployment insurance become yet another obstacle to Africa's advancement."


Hamish McRae writes in a commentary in Britain's daily "The Independent" that true economic relief for Africa would be good news for the rest of the world. "Economic summits come round every summer but the tally of achievement is pretty meager. Some 820 million people in Africa hope that this one will be different. The rest of us should hope so to."

The commentator says: "Personally the statistic I find the most disturbing is that much of sub-Saharan Africa has lower living standards than Europe had at the time of the Roman Empire. It is as though 2,000 years of progress have entirely passed this continent by."

McRae writes: "Now you may say that countries like Algeria and Nigeria are hardly world class in the human rights league. You could point to South Africa's failure to engage successfully in Zimbabwe. But at least there is an acute awareness that the behavior of some -- indeed, too many -- African states is deeply damaging to the interests of the rest."

He continues: "Private investment is the key to growth, but investors are shy animals and a fright on one side of the continent will scatter the creatures on another. Investors, like the rest of us, need to differentiate -- not to bundle the whole continent together and label it a basket case. There are success stories in Africa. I have just been looking at a league table of economic, as opposed to political, freedom. One country, Botswana, is well up the table, tying with France. It also happens to be one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. It can be done."