Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Election: "Moment of Truth" Has Arrived, Says Spain's la Razon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Election: "Moment of Truth" Has Arrived, Says Spain's la Razon

Article excerpt

European newspapers were cautiously optimistic following the victory of Mahmoud Abbas in the Jan. 9 Palestinian presidential election. There was a "palpable feeling that something had changed" following the ballot, the London Times opined the following day. "Mr. Abbas starts with several advantages," the newspaper editorialized. "First, he is not Arafat. second, he knows the Israelis well. Third, Mr. Abbas, during his brief and thwarted period as the first Palestinian prime minister, understood well the frustration and anger of ordinary Palestinians at the incompetence [and] rampant corruption... that characterized Arafat's regime." The Times described Abbas as a "realist," by which it meant he "well understands" that no talks with Israel can begin unless Palestinian violence ends.

Abbas needs to overcome four major challenges, France's Le Figaro wrote on Jan. 11. He must resume dialogue with Israel, which, the newspaper said, "cannot be done withoutAmerica s help." Additionally, the newspaper continued, he must "combat terrorism while endeavoring to integrate extremists into Palestinian society," "fight corruption and nepotism" and "deepen democracy, especially through the local and legislative elections planned for the spring."

France's Libération of Jan. 10 feared that the "very average turnout" in the Palestinian presidential poll would not give Abbas the "political capital" he would have enjoyed had the population "rallied behind him." Nonetheless, the newspaper added, "in the Middle Eastern deadlock an unexpected window of opportunity has been opened."

The same day, Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau also doubted how much progress Abbas can make toward achieving peace. In the paper's view, Abbas will only be able to improve Palestinians' living conditions if Israel is prepared to make concessions. "In this regard," it noted, "so far the Israeli government has contented itself with announcements, which have not been followed by deeds."

Austria's Die Presse of Jan. 11 also thought it would take more than Abbas' election to bring about peace. Abbas is not known to be able to "perform magic," the newspaper said, but acknowledged that conditions for a new start are "more favorable" than they have been for a long time.

"The moment of truth has arrived for both sides," wrote Spain's La Razon the same day. Israel's Ariel Sharon "has to show that he really is ready to honor his pledge to withdraw the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip and theWest Bank." And, it added, Abbas "must prove that he has enough authority to convince his people that the only way out is an end to the violence."

Abbas, Sharon Advised to Avoid "Excessive Haste and Excessive Caution"

Following the truce signed on Feb. 8 by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to end four years of violence, the Feb. 12 Economist in London said both sides had to learn "the lessons of previous failures." "Oslo showed the perils of caution. Israel's gradual transfer of some towns and villages to Mr Arafat's control did not foster confidence," the publication argued in its lead editorial. "Camp David, in contrast, showed the perils of impetuosity. Not all the wiles of Mr. Clinton nor all the weight of a superpower were able to close the gap on the wicked issues: how to share Jerusalem, where to draw the border and the fate of the Palestinian refugees of 1948," the magazine stated. This time, the peacekeepers will have to steer a "middle course" between "excessive caution and excessive haste," it continued. "This rules out dealing immediately with the final-status issues of borders, Jerusalem and refugees," it wrote. "Mr. Abbas and Mr. Sharon will not be able to make progress unless each is willing to help the other give his people a part of what they want," it opined.

Iraq Election 'Turned Out Alright," Says Belgium's De Standaard

The Iraqi election held on Jan. 30 to elect a Transitional National Assembly provoked widely differing editorials in Europe's press. …

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