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March 13, 2003

March 13, 2003




**  Many observers hoped that the "peace process might move forward once again" following the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Palestinian prime minister.

**  Others doubt that the nomination will affect either the "Israeli aggression" or the "unrelenting Palestinian hostility." 

**  A number concluded that the "vicious circle" of violence makes it difficult to create a "climate conducive to resuming the dialogue" between the two sides.



Israel must 'take a step forward' in seeking peace--  Several German and Israeli outlets called on PM Sharon to make a "serious attempt to set up a cease-fire" so that Abbas' "rational voice" is not "drowned out in the current wave of violence."  Others agreed that Abbas is an "accepted leader" who is the "most significant spokesperson of the moderate and rational voices among the Palestinians."  West Bank papers notably praised Abbas as one who can "pave the way for the resumption of diplomatic and political activities" as well as "implement democracy and dialogue."  Egypt's leading Al Ahram hailed the news as signifying the PA's progress from "revolutionary legitimacy to constitutional legitimacy." 


Arafat's eclipse means 'the fundamentalists have bombed their way into leadership'--  Other outlets were pessimistic, believing that "Arafat's end marks a profound change in Palestinian society" in which "the number of Palestinians supporting radical organizations has increased" to a majority.  Several specifically warned of the growing strength of the "fanatical Islamic group in the form of Hamas and Islamic Jihad," with Israel's pluralist Yediot Aharonot refusing to "fantasize about the sobering up of Palestinian society."  A nationalist Israeli dismissed Abbas, saying that beneath the PA's "temporary conciliatory veneer lurks an eternal explosive belt."  Hungary's center-left Nepszadabag agreed Abbas may "simply remain what he has been:  Arafat's faithful page."     


The 'eye-for-an-eye...cycle of violence' goes on--  Outside the region, some still hoped to "transform hatred into energy" to rebuild "peaceful coexistence."  But many Arab and Israeli writers preferred to "blame the other's leader for the breakdown" in peace talks, even as attacks continued.  The West Bank's pro-PA Al-Ayyam predicted that Abbas' nomination "will not stop Israeli aggression."  Other Arab papers demanded international intervention to "bring justice to the occupied territories" in the face of Israel's "persistence in...policies of repression," with a UAE financial paper assailing the "butcher Sharon" in calling for the world to "save the Palestinians from daily annihilation."  Syria's government-owned Al Thawra accused Israel of undertaking "bloody massacres that drowns Gaza in Palestinian blood."  The conservative Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, hoped for the "complete unraveling of the Arafat-led PA;" Yediot Aharonot dismissed any "illusions of peace."

EDITOR:  Ben Goldberg

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This survey is based on 30 reports from 13 countries over 7 - 13 March 2003.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date. 




ISRAEL:   "Prime Minister of What?"


Meron Benvenisti remarked in independent Ha'aretz (3/13):  "After the Israelis have succeeded in bringing about the disintegration of most of the functions of the Palestinian Authority and in destroying its infrastructure, undermining the status of Chairman Yasser Arafat and turning the PA into a 'terrorist organization' that must be fought to the bitter end--after all this, does anyone still think that the appointment of Abu Mazen as prime minister is likely to turn over a new leaf?  It's hard to criticize the Palestinians, whose weakness and despair force them to grab at any straw; but they have to understand that the discussion, the appointment and the celebration serve only the Israeli government....  As long as it is possible to wave around the empty concepts of a 'Palestinian parliament' and a 'prime minister'--and to use the old formulas of the Oslo Accords, which the Sharon government crushed beyond recognition--it is possible to maintain the illusion that there is a chance for a 'diplomatic horizon'....  The welcome with which [Sharon's government] received Abu Mazen is justified: he serves its purposes, without causing any political problem; and it will always be possible to say that he didn't manage to wipe out terror, and therefore must be replaced, and so on.  And perhaps the preoccupation with Abu Mazen stems from other reasons entirely: the despair is so profound that everyone is clutching at any straw."


"Some Illusions Never Die"


Nationalist columnist Emuna Elon wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (3/12):  "For a single, sane moment it seemed that the failure of the Oslo accords had been understood and that a national consensus had evolved around the need to stop wasting time and human lives on illusions of 'peace' that only exacerbate the war....  The important thing is that new hope has been created here, a flickering light at the end of the tunnel of despair, and once again we can let ourselves become addicted to the intoxicating reveries and fantasize about the sobering up of Palestinian society, about a pragmatic enemy who will agree to make do with the ridiculous pieces of 'sovereignty' that the Israeli Left is prepared to give him, and about the disappearance of all the refugees and the terrorists and Arafat behind a sealed fence, or behind a secular government that is headed by a 'pragmatist,' or behind anything so long as we don’t have to cope with reality and try to achieve genuine peace.  The illusions of Oslo are not dead.  They have only been replaced."


"Arafat And Abu Mazen On Collision Course"


Haggai Huberman remarked in nationalist Hatzofe (3/12):  "Abu Mazen's appointment as the first Palestinian prime minister does not mark the end of the disagreements between him and Arafat, but a new point of departure.  It is likely that at least one person in the Middle East greeted Abu Mazen's appointment with displeasure: Yasser Arafat.  The two have been working together for 20 years, and they have not stopped sparring for a moment....  [In the middle of 2001] the paranoid Arafat--though in this case his paranoia might well be justified--began to be suspicious that Abu Mazen was explicitly talking to the Americans about the possibility that he would be Arafat's successor.  Arafat's vengeance was swift: Abu Mazen was distanced from the centers of power, and some of the authorities that he had were taken from him.  It was only European pressure on Arafat that made him change his mind and agree with gritted teeth to appoint a prime minister, and then, with no less gritting of teeth, that the prime minister would be Abu Mazen."


"A Balancing Element"


Hemmi Shalev declared in popular, pluralist Maariv (3/11):  "Even when [Israeli] public opinion enthusiastically supported the Oslo accords--a fact that many prefer to forget nowadays--it continued to dislike Arafat the individual and preferred to see another Palestinian leader succeed him.  Pushing Arafat to the sidelines and replacing him with an accepted leader such as Abu Mazen could produce far-reaching changes in Israeli public opinion, even before violence subsides.  If the Palestinian Authority under his leadership changes its ways and, at the very least, makes an effort to rein in the terror organizations, that change is likely to lead, in the post-Iraq era, to unbearably heavy pressure from both within and without on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government.  Today Sharon can still afford to welcome the appointment but, considering [Sharon's] tough political positions and the hawkish composition of his coalition, Abu Mazen could very well turn into a major problem for him, in the positive sense of the word."


"The Second-Most Important Palestinian"


Former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (3/11):  "Dr. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is not an 'Isrophile' Palestinian leader who has followed with admiration the struggle of the Jewish national movement and the return of the Jews to their land after thousands of years of persecution in the Diaspora.  Not at all....  [But] he has neither hate nor admiration for Israel.  He pragmatically recognizes it as a fact, as something with which an arrangement must be reached--for want of a better alternative....  His willingness to accept the post of a prime minister who is directly subordinate to Arafat is rather surprising in light of his immense efforts to ensure his independence.  But be as they may his reasons to accept that post and its formal powers, he now will become the principal Palestinian address for the world.  His appointment creates an opportunity, perhaps the last one, to reach an historic agreement with the secular and nationalist group in the Palestinian leadership.  Missing that opportunity by means of the arguments that excused the failure to return to the negotiating table ever since Sharon rose to power, will place Israel face to face with the fanatical Islamic group in the form of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, under more difficult demographic conditions for Israel....  Abbas has opened the door to a return to sanity and pragmatism.  Responsibility for shutting it could prove to be very heavy."


"Not New, Not Leadership"


Conservative Jerusalem Post said (3/11):  "As it turned out, there is even less than meets the eye to the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.  The whole American-European-Israeli idea was to transform Yasser Arafat into a figurehead and transfer power to a more palatable replacement.  That, so far, is clearly not what is happening....  The U.S., Europe, and even Israel seem to be seeking a 'moderate' they can anoint, rather than demanding true Palestinian democratization.  This model, it should be recalled, is what led to the reliance on Arafat in the first place....  The significance of Abbas' appointment is not that he represents the 'new leadership' that U.S. President George W. Bush called for in June as the basis of a democratic Palestinian state capable of making peace with Israel.  The appointment matters only if it is a stepping stone to the complete unraveling of the Arafat-led Palestinian Authority and its replacement through real democratic processes."


"The Abu Mazen Delusion"


Nationalist Hagai Segal opined in popular, pluralist Maariv (3/11):  "The difference between Abu Mazen and Arafat is mainly cosmetic....  Before we enthuse over the possibility of their exchanging positions, we should ask ourselves if the United States would be so joyful if Tariq Aziz were to replace Saddam Hussein....  Those who wax enthusiastic over Abu Mazen's moderate affectations and his heart-to-heart talks with Sharon at his Sycamore Farm have missed the point of all that has happened here since the summer of 2000.  They have finally come to the conclusion that Arafat is an evil man, but they still do not understand that the problem is not Arafat, but the unremitting Palestinian hostility against Israel.  The long-range goals of the group in Arafat's Ramallah headquarters will never co-exist with Israel's own existential needs.  The bitter end of the Oslo process has proved that beneath the Palestinian leadership's temporary conciliatory veneer lurks an eternal explosive belt."


"A Chance For Abu Mazen"


Independent Ha'aretz editorialized (3/9): "Abu Mazen's appointment was forced on Arafat; he succumbed to external pressures from the international community and internal pressures from the Fatah, which is the Palestinian ruling party.  The appointment is a clear sign regarding the identity of Arafat's successor, and it is also hoped that this is an attempt to begin moving along a new path.  Abu Mazen is clearly the most significant spokesman of the moderate and rational voices among the Palestinians.  His contribution to the Oslo Accords is well known.  Even now he has not ceased openly voicing his opposition to the Palestinian use of military means--in other words, against terrorism.  The Palestinian intifada, according to Abu Mazen, should proceed by using only non-violent means.  In view of this development, Israel must encourage the process.  Abu Mazen's appointment and his policies are backed by many individuals and groups in the West Bank and Gaza, and they need Israel to undertake steps that prove that the state of Israel is making a genuine effort to break out of the cycle of violence."


WEST BANK:  “New Palestinian Prime Minister Is Honest And Peaceful But Has Teeth Too”


Faisal Abu Khadra commented in independent Al-Quds (3/12):  “A few people know that Mahmoud Abbas may be the only Palestinian who can say ‘no’ to Arafat. Also, Mahmoud Abbas might be the only Palestinian whom Arafat listens to and can actually be convinced by. There is no doubt that Mahmoud Abbas will implement democracy and dialogue and make public interests a priority in managing the new Palestinian government. In addition to being honest, trustworthy and knowledgeable, Abbas has good relations with Washington, Europe, Moscow and all the Arab countries. He believes that peace can replace war.”


“The Legislative Council And The Prime Minister’s Powers”


Hani Al-Masri opined in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (3/11):  “It is wrong to assume that appointing a prime minister is a sign of Palestinian submission or an indication of Palestinian readiness to accept Israeli conditions and dictations.  What belies this opinion is that Israel, in refusing to recognize the current Palestinian leadership, especially President Arafat, as a partner and insisting on not resuming talks before an end to the resistance and the implementation of major administrative, financial, security and political reforms, was betting on the inability of the Palestinians in their current situation to implement any changes.  When the Palestinian leadership started the reforms and approved the ‘Road Map’, appointed Abu Mazen and conducted the Cairo dialogue, it gave the lie to all Israeli claims.  Nevertheless, this will not stop the Israeli aggression.  It [Israel] will bluntly continue and escalate its aggressions, which might result in regaining international support for the Palestinian cause.”


“Prime Minister: Challenges and Complicated Missions”


Ashraf Al-Ajrami stated in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (3/10):  “The appointment of a Palestinian prime minister came in response to international and regional conditions within what is known as the Palestinian reform process.  The reforms are considered a basic condition for the resumption of the political process based on President Bush’s two-state vision.  Meanwhile, appointing a prime minister may be in the interest of the Palestinian internal situation if it is accompanied by serious reforms in response to facts on the ground and in support of continuing the struggle to achieve the national goals and build a democratic and civilized Palestinian state.”


“The Prime Minister Position And The Future Political System”


Samieh Shubieb opined in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (3/7):  “After President [Arafat] approved the creation of the prime minister position, things started moving seriously towards reforming the basic system [of the Palestinian Authority] in response to the call of the ‘Quartet’. These reforms are intended to prepare for...the new developments on the ground, which the ‘Quartet’ presented in order to pave the way for the resumption of diplomatic and political activities. These activities aim at reactivating the ‘Road Map’ and resuming political talks between Palestinians and Israelis.”


EGYPT:  “Facts”


Leading pro-government Al Ahram editor-in-chief Ibrahim Nafie remarked (3/11):  “Palestinians succeeded where Israel failed.  While the Palestinian authority has transferred from revolutionary legitimacy to constitutional legitimacy in preparation for an independent state, Israel is launching an organized war to kill Palestinian resistance leaders...thinking that the current international circumstances are prepared to destroy what remains of the Palestinian Authority....  As we said repeatedly, it is an illusion to think that Palestinians will migrate out from their land under terror, and those illusioned parties haven't taken on board international and regional changes.  That is why the ball is now in the court of the international community after the Palestinian Authority has started reforms.”


“Repression Will Not End The Cycle Of Violence”


Leading pro-government Al Ahram wondered (3/10):  “With its assassination of a leader of Hamas, Israel reveals its persistence in continuing policies of repression and arm-twisting of Palestinians.  Israeli leaders, led by Sharon, believe this escalation will eliminate Palestinian fedaie (commando) operations....  But they are mistaken....  It is no coincidence that the greatest number of Israelis were killed during this period of escalation under Sharon.  International powers should intervene to bring justice to the occupied territories...and the U.S. in particular bears the greatest responsibility.  Will it shoulder it?”


MOROCCO:  "Preventive War Against Sharon"


Amina Talhimet commented in pro-government French-language Liberation (3/10):  "Since the passage of  U.N. resolution 1441, many Palestinians, aged 7 - 77, have been killed and the Palestinian Authority continues to be shut up in Ramallah with more than 3 million Palestinians still under siege....  And for three months, the U.S. Administration continues to do its best to convince the international community to attack Iraq....  American soldiers are sent to free Iraqi people and yet nobody has asked them to do so, while a whole Israeli army is deployed in international illegitimacy, and occupies Palestinian territories.  It is hard not to see that the Iraqi issue was only created by the U.S. government in light of what is taking place on this small land where injustice and hatred of human dignity rage."


"Spiral Of Violence Continues In Palestine"


 Mohamed Aouzal observed in semi-official, French-language Le Matin (3/7):  "In retaliation, the Israeli army led yesterday a hit-and-run attack in Gaza....  Spiral of violence has resumed with a more powerful intensity and proves that comprehensive security, on which Sharon bets, has only worsened the situation and made it more explosive."


SYRIA:  "U.S. Preparedness And Israeli War"


Ali Qasem noted in government-owned Al-Thawra (3/8):  "Even before the UNSC debate on Iraq has been settled, and before the U.S. has announced its war against Iraq, Israel commenced its war by bloody massacres that drowns Gaza in Palestinian blood, giving the world a taste of the catastrophes awaiting the region.  As Israel commences this war, it is paving the way for war throughout the region including detailed scenarios of the coming war....  There is no difference between what Washington is contemplating in Iraq and what Israel is doing in Palestine."


UAE:  "U.S. Silence" 


Abu Dhabi-based pan-Arab Akhbar Al Arab editorialized (3/8):  "The U.S. silence towards the crimes committed by the butcher Sharon and the gang of killers around him must be considered collusion.  In fact, closing the eye from the bloodshed taking place in Palestine represents an actual participation in the continuous crime against our brothers in occupied Palestine."


"Heroic Operation"


Pan-Arab, influential Al Khaleej opined (3/7):  "The heroic operation in Haifa proved with no doubt that all Israeli gambles are always doomed to failure and that no colonialist will be safe or secure as long as the occupation and attacks are still going on."


"International Silence"


Government-owned financial-oriented Al Bayan declared (3/7):  "It won't be a surprise if we are told that the butcher Sharon has ordered more massacres and more Palestinian transfers and banishments.  Arabs' preoccupation with the Iraqi crisis should not make them inadvertent of the Israeli crimes.  An unified Arab move to protect and save the Palestinians from daily annihilation is needed."




GERMANY:  “Hope And Despair”


Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine noted (3/10):  “The latest events in the Middle East conflict point in opposite directions.  The creation of the post of prime minister and the nomination of moderate politician Mahmud Abbas indicate that the obstacles created by Arafat might be overcome and that...the peace process might move forward once again.  The liquidation of a high-ranking Hamas official by the Israeli military, however, points toward escalation....  Even if it came to renewed negotiations between the Palestinian government and Israel, it is very likely that such talks would come too late.  Since Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mound the number of Palestinians supporting radical organizations has increased; they are probably a majority by now, and they are not interested in talking to Israel.”


“Arafat, A Failure”


Peter Muench judged in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (3/10):  “It appears as if Sharon has finally beaten his eternal opponent Arafat.  But at what cost?  He now faces a much more dangerous and unpredictable enemy.  Arafat’s end marks a profound change in Palestinian society:  The fundamentalists, Hamas and Jihad in particular, have bombed their way to leadership.  They cannot be reached with diplomacy, and they cannot be defeated militarily.  Even the killing of their leaders...cannot weaken them in the long run, because they focus on their enemy instead of internal hierarchies.  Every suicide bomber knows how to target Israeli society....  Defeating Arafat will not strengthen Israel just as defeating Saddam will not bring democracy to the region, as claimed by the U.S. administration.  On the contrary.”


“The PLO’s Peaceful Voice”


Left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau stated (3/10):  “Right now, there is only one man who can credibly stand for a change in Palestinian policy: Mahmud Abbas.  He has never courted Arafat’s approval....  He does not want to be an honorary prime minister but demands the authority to conduct political business.  For now, Arafat needs Abbas to survive politically....  If Abbas’ rational voice is not to be drowned out in the current wave of violence, Israel, too, will have to take a step forward.  Now is the time for a serious attempt to set up a cease-fire agreement.”


RUSSIA:  "An Unenviable Position"


Reformist Vremya Novostey carried a piece by Aleksandr Samokhotkin and Yelena Suponina stating (3/11):  "Abu Mazen has the reputation of an indefatigable fighter for an independent Palestine.  He is also a sober-minded politician....  Whoever becomes the PA's first Prime Minister is going to be in an unenviable position.  The situation in the Middle East is extremely complicated, and the concessions the Israelis are expecting from Palestinian leaders may cost them their lives."


"All Over Again"


Grigoriy Asmolov noted in reformist business-oriented Kommersant (3/7):  "Now that it has resumed talks with the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon must find it increasingly hard to decide how to react to terrorist acts.   On the one hand, roughing it seems to conflict with his new policy, what with the United States calling for quiet in the region pending a war in Iraq.   On the other hand, the Prime Minister cannot help retaliating against the terrorists.   An eye-for-an-eye brings the Israelis back to the vicious circle, the cycle of violence taking them farther away from normalization."


HUNGARY:  “A New Palestinian Leader”


Endre Aczel observed in top-circulation center-left Nepszabadsag (3/11):  “They are right who say that the newly elected Palestinian leader, Abu Mazen lacks any charisma.  But, in this case, the truth can’t be spoken in one single sentence.  Under Yasser Arafat’s rule, over the past three decades, it was rather difficult for anybody to emerge as a charismatic politician in Palestine.  And Arafat made sure that nobody else could become a charismatic figure in Palestinian politics.  Now the new man, with a new political tag, is on the Palestinian agenda.  But my advice is to wait and see.  Only time can tell whether Abu is going to become a ‘real’ prime minister or simply remain what he has been: Arafat’s faithful page.  It is equally exciting to see the PLO (which can even be called pro-West) delivering the message of Palestinian power change to the world right at a moment when the U.S. is about to launch a war against Saddam Hussein (who was supported by almost only Yasser Arafat alone some ten years ago). .Isn’t  it interesting?  Or I go further to ask: isn’t it a bit bizarre?”




CHINA:  “The First Prime Minister Of The Palestinians Assumes Office”


Huang Peizhao declared in the official People’s Daily (Renmin Ribao) (3/13):  "Analysts think that if Bush succeeds in ousting Saddam, he will probably take advantage of the favorable situation to overthrow Arafat.  Bush may be attempting to make the development of Israel-Palestinian situation be in keeping with the U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East through rehabilitating the Palestinian internal situation and pushing the two sides to cease violence and resume talks.”


INDONESIA:  “Regeneration Of Palestinian Leadership Likely Smooth”


Leading independent Kompas commented (3/13):  "Most likely Mahmoud Abbas...will assume the position of the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Autonomy Authority. Mazen, President Arafat’s closest aide and confidant, has been long called the future leader of the Palestinian people....  In his position as the Prime Minister, a moderate Mazen is expected to revive the peace process with Israel. Mazen is believed to be able to build a dialog with Israel....  The pressing challenge for Mazan is how to stop waves of violence against Israel, as well as to expedite the process of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. At the same time, Mazen should prepare to take over leadership command from the aging and ailing Arafat.” 




ARGENTINA:  "Blood Escalation In The Middle East"


An editorial in leading Clarin read (3/13):  "How long will new retaliation appear after the most recent criminal assaults in the Middle East?....  It not only comes down to the major risk posed by war with missile weapons. There is also the likelihood that a situation like that of the autonomous Palestinian territories occupied by Israel multiply in other sites of the region, like neighbor Jordan, where two million Palestinians and over 300 thousand Iraqi refugees live. As pointed out by former Labor minister Shlomo Ben Ami, one should not postpone the Arab-Israeli peace until victory is declared, because no victory is likely to happen. The moment will come in which finally political leaders will have to be able to transform hatred into energy to impose disarmament and rebuild a peaceful coexistence between Israel and the Palestinian territory."


BRAZIL:  "Endless War"


Liberal Folha de S. Paulo commented (3/7):  "Despite the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians give the opposite impression, a military solution to the Middle East conflict is unrealistic. The Israelis will not eliminate the Palestinians, and the Palestinians will not push the Israelis into the sea. The two peoples will go on living side by side, in war as today, or in peace as most of the two populations want....  In order to change this situation and reestablish peace, the leaders of the two parties must truly be willing to negotiate. Unfortunately, this is not the case today. Each side blames the other's leader for the breakdown of talks and does not make efforts to create a climate conducive to resuming the dialogue....  As long as Sharon and Arafat--or others who may replace them--do not have the greatness to redeem the past and take a seat at the negotiating table, the Middle East will not have peace."



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