European Press Reacts with Dismay to Election of Ariel Sharon

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European Press Reacts With Dismay to Election of Ariel Sharon

Israelis elected Ariel Sharon as their fifth prime minister in less than six years on Feb. 6 by a 26-point margin of victory--the widest in any election since Israel's independence in 1948. That margin, however, is offset by the fact that the 62 percent turnout was the lowest in Israel's history.

Most European newspapers viewed Sharon's victory with dismay. "Israel, by a massive landslide, turned to a man who has spent two decades as an international byword for extremism--a global hate-figure--and elevated him to the country's top job....For anyone who wishes peace for that nation and its neighbors, today is among the darkest of days," said a writer in London's Guardian of Feb. 7.

Le Monde of Paris on the same day called Barak's downfall "a terrible waste," and concluded, "Mr. Barak lacked political talent, not historical vision. Sharon's success is that of demagoguery over the sense of history."

Also on the day following the election, the Italian paper La Repubblica said the fact that the Israelis voted en masse for the former army general means they have made the path to a solution for the Middle East conflict all the more difficult. According to the Swiss paper the Basler Zeitung of Feb. 7, the election result was a protest vote. "[Sharon] is a man of yesteryear, who made more of a name for himself in war than in the cause of peace," said the newspaper.

Madrid's ABC newspaper said on the same day that Sharon's victory means a hawk is now in office, one "with a dark past full of death and destruction. Israel faces a turbulent future."

The British tabloid The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, was one of the few newspapers to defend Sharon. "More than ever, Israel needs a tough guy as its leader. You would, too, if you lived in a small country like Israel surrounded by hostile and undemocratic forces," proclaimed an editorial the day after the election.

The Feb. 7 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung conceded, "The election of `bulldozer' Ariel Sharon is not a disaster."

The Times of London attempted to explain why the Israelis voted for Sharon. "The perceived threat to their personal security was more important than the continuation of political dialogue in which a compromise seemed impossible," said the newspaper on Feb. 7.

MIXED RESPONSE TO U.S.-BRITISH STRIKES ON IRAQ

The U.S.-British bombing of Iraqi radar stations Feb. 16 elicited a backfire of comment in the European press. Saddam Hussain's regime won the public relations battle, many papers claimed. The Independent of London said on Feb. 17 that Saddam "can use the sanctions as an excuse for his own incompetent and ruthless leadership in Iraq. He and his people have been given a common enemy. He must be delighted that Mr. Bush is displaying a crude lack of subtlety....Saddam Hussain is a murderous tyrant. Iraq and the world would be well rid of him. But by their action, George Bush and Tony Blair have made Saddam even more secure."

Madrid's El Pais of Feb. 18 declared that airstrikes "kill innocent people, provide the dictator with excuses, and don't do anything except dangerously distance Washington and London from the rest of their Western allies."

Le Monde of France suggested on the same day that the president was "finishing his father's work." Other newspapers thought the attacks would lead to a worsening of the Middle East peace process. "The belief on the Arab streets is that President Bush has used the pretext of Iraq upgrading its air defense to punish Saddam for the vocal and material support he is providing to the Palestinian intifada," said the Observer of London on Feb. 19.

A handful of papers supported President Bush. On Feb. 19 ABC newspaper of Spain thundered, "Interpreting the bombing of Baghdad as the attack of an imperialist power against a defenseless nation is a cynical exercise in irresponsible demagoguery that gives a distorted picture of the situation. …