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Western Press Review: Israeli Elections, Russian Press Freedoms, Shifting Trans-Atlantic Alliances

Prague, 24 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at Israel's upcoming election on 27 January and what it will mean for the Mideast peace process; the release from prison yesterday of Russian journalist Grigorii Pasko, who was charged with treason for his reporting; the shifting alliances between the United States and Europe brought on by the controversy over Iraq's weapons programs; and faltering press freedoms in Russia.


Writing in the British daily "The Guardian," Emanuele Ottolenghi of Oxford University's Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies says the Israeli electorate paradoxically wants "a right-wing leader to implement left-wing policies." Ottolenghi says opinion polls suggest that the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, that will emerge after next week's elections will not be fundamentally different. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party is likely to win as the more moderate Labor Party is "unable to cast itself as a credible alternative."

Three factors affecting this outcome are uppermost in voters' minds. First, "and overwhelmingly," is security, Ottolenghi says. Economic concerns are a "distant second," followed by corruption, which he calls "a marginally important factor" to most voters.

Most Israelis are skeptical that an agreement with the current Palestinian leadership would bring peace and security to the region. "Yet they support a solution that includes Israel's withdrawal from most of the territories, the dismantlement of settlements, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. So the public supports a heavy-handed military policy towards Palestinian terrorism, while embracing the notion that there is no military solution."

Ottolenghi says Israelis are "strategic doves -- they want to make peace with their neighbors and are painfully aware of the political price peace entails territorially. But they are also tactical hawks -- they [want] a leadership that will fight until a new opportunity for peace arises."


In the "Financial Times," Joel Peters of Ben Gurion University says "an overwhelming sense of personal insecurity pervades" in Israel. Yet at this "time of national crisis, Israel's politicians have been found wanting, lacking in personal integrity, vision and conviction."

Neither Prime Minister Sharon's Likud Party nor the challenging Labor Party has convinced the public that it holds the solutions to Israel's problems. Thus, Israelis "go to the polls disenchanted with their political leadership." The emergence of a new political leadership is "imperative," says Peters. But such a party must "draw up a vision of a society based on the principles of social justice and a more equitable distribution of resources. It must not promote the interests of one sector of society at the expense of others, and needs to address seriously the socioeconomic divides that beleaguer Israel."

Any new party "must admit that the current security and economic crisis is as much a consequence of mistakes and failed policies as of factors beyond Israel's control. It must argue forcefully that the continuing occupation of Palestinian territories is unsustainable, and that lasting security can be attained only through political negotiations and not through the barrel of the gun." Finally, it must work toward "a just peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution and one that attends to both Israel's security needs and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."


The London-based daily "The Times" discusses the "merciful release" on 23 January of naval journalist Grigorii Pasko. Pasko has spent the last several years fighting espionage charges for collaborating with Japanese reporters in reporting on the Russian navy dumping nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan. But the paper says given Pasko's history of environmental reporting, the charges "were widely seen as an attempt to silence him."

Having served two-thirds of his sentence, Pasko will now be allowed to serve out the remaining 16 months under police surveillance at his home. But he remains determined to appeal his case and clear his name. "The Times" says, "Only when Mr. Pasko's innocence is declared publicly [will] freedom of speech truly have been protected."

Russians that have been "brave -- or foolhardy -- enough" to test the limits of their freedom of speech by reporting on the many environmental problems stemming from Soviet-era military practices have "risked angering the most secretive and conservative members of the Russian Establishment, the intelligence and military fraternity."

Nevertheless, Pasko's release is a step in the right direction, the paper says. "It reflects Russia's increasing stability and confidence in its young democratic institutions," and indicates that environmental cleanup may "soon come to be a job that environmentalists and Establishment can share."


An item in "The New York Times" discusses the dismissal from Gazprom Media on 17 January and departure from NTV on 20 January of the American-born head of Russia's independent NTV television network, Boris Jordan. Many suspect Jordan was fired because NTV coverage was too independent. Russian President Vladimir Putin had indicated his displeasure at the forthright way the network covered October's hostage crisis in a Moscow theater. Moreover, the state-owned natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, which controls NTV, was reportedly unhappy about the network's coverage of corruption in Russia's energy dealings in Kazakhstan.

The paper says the "underlying issue may be that Putin is up for re-election next year, and he wants a more compliant media in place." But if he coerces Russian journalists "to follow a government line," Putin will be sending "a powerful signal" that he maintains the mind set of the Soviet era, when the Kremlin controlled all news coverage.

For the Russian public, "[the] real question is whether NTV -- or any outspoken broadcast enterprise -- can continue to report freely in Russia. [Given] Putin's efforts to muzzle one of the more professional news teams in the country, the prospects at this point for unfettered television news coverage in Russia do not look promising."


David Sanger of "The New York Times" writes today on the shifting map of U.S. alliances in Europe. He says U.S. President George W. Bush "has made no secret of ranking his allies by their fidelity to his missions." Britain remains the number one U.S. ally, even in the face of opposition from the British public. "After that comes Poland," which Sanger calls "the most gung-ho new member of NATO." Next comes Spain, led by conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, followed by in Australia, which is led by another conservative government. Italy under businessman and Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi also pledges support for the United States, as does President Vladimir Putin's Russia.

But Germany removed itself from this list of staunch U.S. allies after Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder won a narrow election victory on an antiwar -- and by implication, anti-U.S. -- platform in September. France joined Germany's U.S. opposition this week, in announcing it would consider vetoing any UN resolution authorizing force in Iraq. Sanger says, "In interviews, German and French officials acknowledge that [the U.S.] goal -- the disarmament of Iraq and ouster of Saddam [Hussein] -- would be best in an ideal world. In the next breath, though, they argue [that] containment of Saddam's power -- with inspectors keeping the Iraqi leader off balance for months -- is a perfectly acceptable second choice."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" expresses surprise that the French government announced this week it would consider vetoing any UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq to enforce Resolution 1441, a resolution "that the French have already voted for, indeed that they helped write." France, the paper notes, was one of 15 nations that unanimously approved for Resolution 1441 in November. "The French in particular spent two excruciating months negotiating every single word with [U.S.] Secretary of State Colin Powell. Yet all of a sudden President Jacques Chirac and his Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, want to forget the words that they themselves endorsed."

The paper goes on to note that paragraph four of the resolution states any "material breach" of the resolution committed by Iraq must be reported to the UN Security Council "for further action and enforcement." Paragraph 10 calls on all council members to give their full support to carrying out this mandate. But the paper says, "Yet instead of urging [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN, France spends its energies urging the U.S. not to do anything about his continuing non-compliance."


Comment in the German press today regarding a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq also discusses the lack of support to be found in part of Europe for the United States and its Iraq policy.

Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says, "The United States and some of its Western allies are heading for a type of confrontation that hasn't been seen often in the past." Such growing strife, he says, would be "a bitter culmination of a series of equally bitter disputes that have increased in both number and intensity since President George W. Bush took office."

On the other hand, the paper warns that Europe should be aware of the political costs of leaving the United States in the lurch. It says, "Berlin's influence in Washington would be reduced to nil; obituaries would have to be written for the Atlantic alliance and the common European security policy would be exposed as a farce. Nobody can want that."


Stefan Ulrich in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also discusses the changing nature of alliances between the United States and Europe. He describes the peaceful situation that has predominated in Europe since World War II by saying, "Out of self-destructive Old Europe a peaceful one has evolved in which football matches and conventional politics have replaced soldiers and arms" -- an achievement that "is, above all, thanks to America."

Now, there are growing calls for peace and resistance to a possible war with Iraq. Germany and France "have taken the lead" in the crusade against war, and Ulrich says this indicates a fundamental disturbance in trans-Atlantic relationships.

Given this situation, France and Germany must tread carefully, he says. These countries must offer more than mere opposition. "Those who wish to prevent the U.S. from going it alone against Baghdad should show America how to retreat while saving face." Ulrich suggests that these nations should "demonstrate that they take seriously America's suspicions with regard to rogue states possessing weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, should the need arise, [they should demonstrate] that they would be willing to come forward and jointly defend any place in the world which proclaims support for ideals of freedom."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Frederick Kempe says "the most critical factor" affecting global events in the 21st century might be the same one that determined those of the 20th century: Europe. By 2003, the European Union will likely become "the world's largest economic power," but it remains uncertain how this will "translate [into] political power." How Europe "comes to terms with itself and the world" may be the most determinant factor for the early part of this century, perhaps even more so than American hegemony -- which Kempe says "won't be sustainable if it can't rally European allies behind it."

The trans-Atlantic relationship will have the most influence on the direction the future will take, says Kempe. "The world will increasingly cry out for global rules of behavior, but no New World Order works with Europe and the U.S. as opponents rather than partners."

Kempe asks: Will Europe "choose to define itself against America or [follow] some global vision that unites it with Washington?" America's actions may influence this debate, "but far-sighted Europeans must drive it."

"Will Europe's constitutional and political reform process make it a more efficient, democratic and value-driven community?" Kempe asks. "Or will it protect unresponsive political structures that either so overreach or so underperform that Europe never takes on global influence comparable to its economic size?"


In France's "Liberation" newspaper, columnist Patrick Sabatier says that U.S. President Bush has already lost the first battle of the second Gulf War: that for international public opinion. Public opinion throughout the world is exceedingly hostile to the idea of launching a war, including in the United States where 63 percent of those recently polled were against military action unless it was sanctioned by the United Nations. Russia, China, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, Turkey, and Arab nations have all made clear that the casus belli for war in Iraq has not been established.

Launching a war against such a backdrop could have dire consequences. The world is now waiting for the results of the report by UN weapons inspectors, due at the Security Council on 27 January. Sabatier says only then will it be clear whether Iraq is complying with Resolution 1441 by providing ample evidence that it has duly disarmed.


In a second "Liberation" piece today, this one by Marc Semo, he summarizes the findings of international polls of public opinion on a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq. In Germany, a December poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey found 71 percent of Germans were opposed to their country's participation in an Iraq war. In France, a January investigation conducted by the IFoP market research group found 76 percent are opposed to U.S. intervention in Iraq, even if the United States acts under a UN mandate. Only 15 percent of the French would approve in their nation taking part in any such action.

In Spain, according to a survey conducted by the "El Pais" (The Nation) daily newspaper, only 2 percent unconditionally support armed intervention, while 60 percent would support it if it were proven that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The Global Attitudes Survey also found that in Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, 87 percent are against a war in Iraq. But Semo notes this percentage is not much lower in Italy, where 83 percent are against military conflict.

In the Netherlands, 11 percent unconditionally support Washington, while 70 percent would be behind a war conducted with UN approval. Portugal is somewhat divided, as 52 percent of those questioned deem an attack against Iraq justifiable, while 42 percent are of the opposite opinion.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)