Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The European Press Views the Middle East: European Press; Mitchell Report Offers Little Hope

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The European Press Views the Middle East: European Press; Mitchell Report Offers Little Hope

Article excerpt

THE EUROPEAN PRESS VIEWS THE MIDDLE EAST: European Press; Mitchell Report Offers Little Hope

Lucy Jones is a free-lance journalist based in London.

The Mitchell Commission report on the Middle East published May 21 was greeted in Europe with scant optimism. The committee headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell called for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire, to be followed by "confidence-building measures" and, after a cooling-off period, the resumption of peace negotiations. On the Palestinian side, these confidence-building measures included an all-out effort to prevent terrorism and punish perpetrators. For the Israelis, the most significant recommendation was for a total ban on settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza.

On that issue, Britain's Independent of May 24 called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's insistence on continuing to build settlements to allow for natural growth "unacceptable and implausible." The editorial continued: "Israel has thousands of empty properties on the West Bank--enough, calculate Israel's Peace Now activists, to absorb nearly three years of growth without building a single new home. It is clear that Israel's relentless settlement building during the Oslo era did much to undermine Arab faith in the peace process; the Palestinians now say that it is one of the driving forces behind their intifada."

London's Economist on June 1 also criticized Sharon's settlement policy. "The settlements negate all chance of Palestinian-Israeli peaceful co-existence, and understandably so: which self-respecting people would allow their land to be thus expropriated?"

Britain's Financial Times on May 22 cautioned that the Mitchell report is only an outline. "There is no timetable and no mechanism for implementing the steps to peace," the paper editorialized. "It will be difficult to put the recommendations into practice."

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau of the same date agreed: "The tender sprig of peace in the Middle East could still be buried under the victims of suicide and missile attacks. Never since the Oslo peace accord has war between Israel and the Palestinians seemed so likely," said the newspaper. "And never before has the world stood so helplessly by. Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, prisoners of their own biographies, are playing with the fire of escalation--a fire they no longer have under control."

Italy's La Repubblica also added to the gloom on May 22, writing: "There is now another peace plan, after hundreds, even thousands, in the last 50 years that cover the bodies of the dead like a burial shroud."

But the Economist on June 1, acknowledging that the Mitchell report may only bring about a temporary stop in fighting, said, "Never mind: stopping the slaughter is worth doing for its own sake. The killing is leading to nothing good. It's a tragedy in itself."


By mid June, however, there was a glimmer of hope that the Middle East situation could improve, following the acceptance by the Palestinians and Israelis of a cease-fire drawn up by American CIA director George Tenet. "Despite continuing doubts about the prospects for a sustainable cease-fire," wrote London's Guardian on June 13, "some observers have a little more hope than they would have had in recent days." This despite the fact, it continued, that the Palestinians have accused Israel of seeking to add amendments to the Tenet plan which, they charged, were intended to block implementation of the proposals put forward in the Mitchell report. Moreover, should any violation of the cease-fire occur during the six-week-period, Israel would probably begin counting again from day one. This worries Palestinian officials, who think Israel could use this device to avoid moving to the confidence-building stage, which includes a freeze on Israeli settlement activity--a key Palestinian goal.

Wrote Italy's La Repubblica on June 13, "Although the present situation in the Middle East is extremely volatile, one could nonetheless call it a cease-fire. …

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