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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

December 24, 2003

December 24, 2003





**  Sharon's "vague plan" seeks "nothing short of disengagement" from the peace process.


**  Washington's "careful" reaction to Sharon's speech sparked varying responses.


**  Sharon's critics claim even IDF elite oppose "continued subjugation" of the Palestinians. 


**  The attack on Egyptian FM Maher came because "Palestinian anger is so uncontainable."




Sharon 'failed to clarify what he really means' by his proposal--  Global papers predicted that Sharon will continue to "talk about 'painful concessions' without explaining what they really are."  France's right-of-center Le Figaro added that Sharon's speech "ended up causing confusion."  Critics dismissed Sharon's plan as "his usual nonsense," with the center-left Irish Times stating that Israel "cannot be allowed to dictate" a settlement.  Muslim writers assailed the "colonial scheme based on Israeli maximum interests"; the UAE's pro-government Gulf News termed it "evidence...Sharon is not interested in peace."      


The U.S. must still be the 'chief mediator'--  Writers split on their interpretation of the U.S. response to Sharon's speech.  Russian and Muslim writers said the U.S. had welcomed Sharon's plan "with open arms."  The West Bank's independent Al-Ayyam held that "American acceptance of the speech" means the U.S. believes Sharon's plan "is a fulfillment of Bush's two-state vision."  Pakistan's center-left Dawn stressed the U.S.' " see to it that Israel is not allowed to derail" the roadmap.  But rightist Israeli papers joined French and moderate Arab dailies in noting the "demands of the Americans" upon Israel; Israel's Hatzofe accused Sharon of surrendering "Israeli sovereignty" to the U.S.


A 'growing number of Israelis' oppose Sharon's policies--  Papers in Germany and Jordan called the refusal by 13 Israeli troops to serve in the territories a rejection of "actions which disrespect the human rights of Palestinians."  Germany's centrist Suedwest Presse concluded the Israeli public is "more willing to make concessions" than Sharon's government.  Israeli writers disagreed along partisan lines:  left-leaning Ha'aretz cited the soldiers' "determined" stance as proof Israelis are "losing their motivation" to fight for Sharon's goals; a conservative assailed the "clear-cut recipe for the IDF's destruction" and urged "punishment" for dissidents.


The 'ferocious reaction' against Maher at Al-Aqsa shows 'peace is very far away'--  The conservative Jerusalem Post blamed "Palestinian intransigence and extremism" for the attack, agreeing with an Italian observer that the PA is "alone and weak."  Italy's centrist La Stampa countered that such "anger-driven...fanaticism" is expected given the "impossible" Palestinian situation.  Lebanon's moderate An-Nahar blasted the attack as proof of the "absence of a united Arab policy," terming the event a "free gift to the enemies of the Arabs."


EDITOR:  Ben Goldberg


EDITOR'S NOTE:  This analysis was based on 44 reports from 20 countries over 19 - 24  December 2003.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.




FRANCE:  “Sharon Wants To Avoid Friction With Bush”


Marc Henry wrote in right-of-center Le Figaro (12/19):  “Torn between the demands of the Americans, of the far-right, the opposition and his public opinion, Prime Minister Sharon ended up causing confusion among his followers as well as his adversaries....  Before his speech, President Bush, who feared a fait accompli, warned that he would oppose all ‘unilateral measures'....  According to Israeli radio, Sharon wanted to be so cautious that he allegedly submitted his speech to the White House two hours before he delivered it....  Sharon is in no hurry to dissipate the confusion and will continue to talk about ‘painful concessions’ without explaining what they are, ‘for strategic regions.'”


GERMANY:  "Vanished Hopes"


Wolfgang Guenter Lerch opined in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (12/23):  "Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are able to win their 'asymmetric' wars.  Those among them who recently initiated the Geneva initiative know this.  Unfortunately, there is no direct path from this initiative to practical policy.  But it is remarkable that 13 members of the elite in Israel's military no longer want to take part in actions which disrespect the human rights of the Palestinians....  There may be many more soldiers who think the same, but who shy away from the last step.  It makes us sad that such self doubts are considered 'treason' among the Palestinians, at least if they are made in public.  Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin has no confidence in Israel's leader Sharon and vice versa.  And this will remain so for the time being."




Dietrich Alexander penned in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (12/23):  "Occupation destroys the structures and self-understanding of every army of a free country.  The appeal of the 13 is an action of despair over the fact that they have to carry out orders that sometimes run counter to the principles of soldiers living in a democratic state.  If it is right that the armed forces mirror society, then the same moral conflict that has haunted the soldiers, should also be deeply embedded in Israel's society.  It is obviously split in its view which is the right policy towards the Palestinians and the Jewish settlements on the West Bank."


"Something Is Moving"


Centrist Suedwest Presse of Ulm argued (12/23):  "There is no doubt:  something is moving in Israel's society.  In this situation, it seems advisable that Israel's Premier Sharon at least pretends that he is moving, too.  His threat to take 'unilateral steps' does not create hope for lasting peace.  The majority of Israel is more willing to make concessions in return for a long hoped for agreement with the Palestinians than their government.  As important as the 13 objectors are, the carpenter for the Sharon government's coffin must be of a different caliber.  But the look to the ranks of the opposition forces, which are at odds with each other, has a sobering effect."


ITALY:  "Abu Ala Risks Remaining Alone"


Antonio Ferrari commented in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (12/23):  "A group of Palestinian religious extremists yesterday physically assaulted the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Maher who had entered the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem to pray....  This was an outrage for three reasons: because the victim is a Muslim diplomat who was struck in the heart of the third most sacred Islamic site; because violence was used against an ambassador of peace who had come to Israel to discuss with Sharon's government the (modest) results achieved in Cairo to obtain a truce from the Palestinian radical organizations; and because there was no hesitation in insulting the envoy of one of the very few Arab countries that are working to save the Road Map and to support the efforts of the Palestinian National Authority. If President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, known as Abu Ala, were to lose Hosni Mubarak's support, it would be a real catastrophe....  The ferocious reaction of the protesters demonstrates how much hatred has grown against all those who are eagerly working to revitalize the peace process....  The assault on Maher is obviously a slap on the will of those who continue to mediate, where realism prevails over the emotions. Since yesterday the PNA is ever more alone and weak, and incapable of guaranteeing the security of its friends and allies. This is why it is necessary, if we want to reanimate the Road Map and avoid uncontrollable hatred, to double diplomatic efforts without giving in to the temptation of indifference or of disengagement."


"The Egyptian Minister Assaulted Inside Al Aqsa"


Fiamma Nirenstein maintained in centrist, influential La Stampa (12/23):  "The injuring of Egypt's representative in Jerusalem was a blow for Palestinians, given that one of them hit the Egyptian friend, who comes from the same national Arab pride, that nourished Arafat for many years and that continues to nourish him. He who hit Maher is a typical representative of religious intolerance, of a fanaticism that distances negotiations and political advancements. He's a terrorist, one who takes part in an abnormal and limitless thrill, and is anger-driven....  But even for Sharon it is not a good thing that Maher was assaulted while he was here on a peace mission, that Israel was not able to defend him, that the conflict has proven to be impossible, unmanageable, and that Palestinian anger is so uncontainable. The message that stems from this is that peace is very far away, impossible, and that the situation in Jerusalem is very difficult and that Egypt ought to think hard before coming to see Sharon. To put it bluntly, we are in the middle of the war that is no longer willing to listen to words, and that does not consider diplomacy. The Islamic extremists make the headlines today as well in the Middle East, and it's bad news for everyone."


"Sharon, The U.S. Should Reconsider"


Daniele Mastrogiacomo commented  in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (12/22):  "As it often happens with Middle Eastern issues, in the end Ariel Sharon's speech gathered more consensus abroad than at home. But the most surprising turn around comes from Washington. After having rejected Sharon's unilateral  disengagement plan at the Herzliya convention, the White House has toned down its criticism to welcome the project with open arms. 'We are very satisfied  with the speech,' rectified the spokesperson Scott McClellan. 'The Prime  Minister has underlined an aspect which is comforting to us. He reiterated and reaffirmed his support of the road map and the commitments he took on  at the Aqaba Summit.' And yet only 24 hours earlier, McClellan had reiterated Bush's and Rice's official position: 'The U.S. believes that an  agreement must be negotiated'....  A half day of pondering, with ears and eyes  turned to the Middle East led the White House staff to leave an open door.  The closure of the night before had provoked resentment in the Israeli government, that was risking isolation, vis-à-vis the tough protests it  got at home."


"Israel Challenges The Road Map"


Leading business-oriented Il Sole-24 Ore observed (12/19):  "If the peace process does not make any progress, Israel will implement a unilateral security plan. Ariel Sharon's threat came down hard on the already tense situation of negotiations....  The Israeli premier claimed that if the peace process based on the road map does not move forward within a few months, he will reinforce his security plan, in the Territories, including the Jewish settlements. The objective will be separation from the Palestinians. Reactions to Sharon's speech came quickly. The PNA defined Sharon's plan inapplicable, while Palestinian PM Abu Ala said he was 'disappointed' by Sharon's threats....  The U.S. warned Israel that unilateral actions could hamper negotiations. White House spokesperson Scott McClellan renewed the Bush Administration's invitation for Abu Ala and Sharon to meet unconditionally, as early as possible."


"America Warns Jerusalem: No Unilateral Steps"


Maurizio Molinari held in centrist, influential La Stampa (12/19):  "Washington is critical of 'unilateral' actions because it fears that such a decision could weaken the Road Map, but it favorably views the decision to begin dismantling the colonies in the Territories. The White House reaction to the Israeli PM Sharon's speech is careful in separating the judgment on the colony issue in the West Bank and Gaza from the announcement of the unilateral method. [The U.S.] made an appeal to Ariel Sharon and Abu Ala to resume talks shortly in order to continue the path begun in Aqaba....  In an attempt to prevent criticism from the White House, in his speech, Sharon often referred to the Road Map, but it wasn't enough to dispel worries. U.S. President George Bush, on occasion of the recent visit to the State Department by Yossi Beilin and Abdel Rabbo--the promoters of the peace initiative in Geneva--had stressed that it was not possible to give up the Road Map and 'that positive developments can come only after the end of terrorist attacks.'"


RUSSIA:  "Bush Should Have Dealt With Israel And Palestine First"


Olga Dmitriyeva maintained in official Rossiyskaya Gazeta (12/22):  "Rather than going to war in Iraq, Bush should have dealt with Israel and Palestine first, as suggested by Blair.  Though U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell last week showed interest in the Geneva accord, a product of the Israeli-Palestinian peace camp, Bush has left no doubt whatsoever that the United States is not an independent arbiter in this conflict.  He stands by Sharon.  Bush says that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state but does nothing to use his country's political and financial sway with Israel to back his words."


AUSTRIA:  “Sharon’s Plan”


Gudrun Harrer argued in liberal Der Standard (12/21):  "Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon made it absolutely clear in his speech last week which course he wants Israel to take.  It is less clear, however, whether he will be able to realize his plan, given that there are two major opposing forces:  the US and the Israeli settlers’ lobby. Still, it would be wise to take Sharon seriously....  Quite obviously, negotiating a Mideast peace would mean far greater concessions for Israel than a unilateral withdrawal....  But the question remains whether Sharon can afford to deal with a US veto or to risk escalation at home when closing down some of the settlements....  And of course, the Palestinians, too, refuse to believe that the ‘security barrier,’ behind which Israel would retreat, is not political and thus reversible. Sharon made no effort to hide the truth from them....  Still, from a diplomatic point of view Sharon’s speech was brilliant: The ball is now in the Palestinians’ court...he has given the settlers time to get used to the fact that there will be no ‘Greater Israel';  and he repeatedly stated his recognition for the US Middle East vision....  On top of that, he has offered the Israeli people a new way out. Whether it will lead to peace and security, however, is more than doubtful.”


BELGIUM:   “An Ultimatum To Play For Time?”


Baudouin Loos maintained in left-of-center Le Soir (12/20):  "Sharon’s vague plan is meant to answer several needs that Ariel Sharon feels: breaking with the inaction that has characterized his policy at the moment when alternatives are surfacing--like the Geneva Initiative--and when his popularity is decreasing, without upsetting the radical right wing of his Government, remaining in the Americans’ good graces, and, consequently, trying to blame the Palestinians for the failure of the Road Map, which he anticipates.  Sharon had promised peace and security to the Israelis. He failed on both fronts. Can he believe that his plan can solve the Palestinian question--or at least bring peace and security to the Israelis--by locking a population of 3 millions Palestinians in reservations and by annexing territories? It is obvious that the Palestinians will never accept that their rights be flouted. Sharon, who is a good analyst, cannot ignore this."


IRELAND:  "An Alternative To Sharon's Plan"


The center-left Irish Times editorialized (12/22):  "The plan has had a hostile reception internationally, precisely because of its unilateralism. Israel cannot be allowed to dictate the terms of a settlement like this, instead of negotiating them, according to United States, United Nations, European Union and Russian representatives, speaking on behalf of the road map's authors. Palestinian spokesmen say they cannot respond to such ultimatums. But Mr Sharon knows there is unlikely to be real pressure on him from the Bush administration in an election year and hopes to gauge this when he visits Washington next month. In the meantime he is content to have shifted the agenda in Israeli politics by repositioning himself towards the pragmatic centre, based on a commitment to withdraw from the West Bank and an apparently more open mind on negotiations with the Palestinians. There has been no Israeli-Palestinian peace dividend from the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, but rather an intensification of the conflict. On both sides there are ample signs of popular exhaustion and a willingness to explore alternatives to violence. This needs active encouragement and pressure by all the road map's authors. The United States cannot be left as the only one to mount it....  European political pressure is needed to match the scale of its aid and Europe's vulnerability to instability from this festering conflict. If the Bush administration is genuine about its desire to improve transatlantic relations it will not resist such initiatives."


NORWAY:  “When Peace Becomes A Threat”


Independent Dagbladet declared (12/21):  “The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the world’s most dangerous....  For weeks Sharon has built up expectations about his peace initiative....  Earlier this week, UN Special Delegate in the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen, in an interview with Dagbladet, said that the conflict could end in a new bloodbath. But there are ways to avoid this. The Roadmap for Peace and the Geneva Initiative point the way. Then both sides must have leaders who show historic boldness.”


SPAIN:  "Sharon's Dangerous Nonsense"


Conservative ABC opined (12/22):  "It becomes each time clearer that Ariel Sharon is a problem for building peace in the Middle East, where Israel has become the only nation with nuclear arsenals....  With tiresome insistence, Israel's Prime Minister seems decided to undermine the negotiating efforts of those who want to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with their good offices.  Actually, his cultivation of nonsense is irritating, even for the friends Israel has in the United States and Europe.  His recent proposal is another example of this....  Israel cannot continue stirring up new offenses.  No one questions that Israel has the right to safeguard its security.  But this should not be made at the expense of Palestinians' dignity and security.  Israel is paying for Sharon's excesses, which are weakening Western support.  Above all because his usual nonsense has repercussions, like a shock wave of differing intensity and frequency, on the complex and hypersensitive architecture of the Arab world and Islam."




ISRAEL:  "Maher's Humiliation"


Conservative, independent Jerusalem Post editorialized (12/24):  "When [Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed] Maher was violently accosted and branded a traitor, he came face to face with the frightening aspect of Palestinian intransigence and extremism.  Those who continue to murder Israelis even if they thereby damage their own cause, are also those who assaulted Maher.  They are not a marginal minority.  They embody the situation Israel is up against.  Israel is pressured to make concessions by no self-appointed mediator more than by Egypt.  Yet these same brokers refuse to own up to the implacable hate which Israel endures and which is bound to undo any compromise under consideration....  For Egypt to pooh-pooh the episode is to display hypocrisy which calls into question its claim to honest-broker status.  For Israel to paper over this ugly reality is to take existential gambles which may lead to national suicide....  The lesson is that Egypt must stop throwing bones and granting victories to the radicals and stand more squarely on the side of peace.  The more Egypt lets itself be intimidated by the radicals, the more it will be attacked.  If Mubarak and Maher are genuinely interested in peace, they should campaign against such peace-impeding fanaticism.  If instead they propose to abet, excuse, and cover it up, while redoubling their efforts to elicit concessions from Israel, they disqualify themselves as mediators."


"Lawn-Leader Leadership"


Yoel Marcus wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (12/23):  "Sharon's speech was neither mountain nor molehill....  If, until now, we were under the illusion that he who buildeth up is also he who will knocketh down, Sharon has made it clear to his people in this word-laundering speech of his that all he is capable of doing is buying time with unilateral action.  He will not be able to make the painful decisions expected of him as a leader....  Sharon did not sketch any historic vision of Israel with permanent borders because he has no intention of ever reaching that point during his term of office.  For a speech like that you don't win the Nobel Peace Prize. You don't even get an Oscar....  With the country falling apart in his hands; with pilots and reservists from elite commando units, the creme de la creme of the Israel Defense Forces, losing their motivation to fight for a goal dictated by the minority, Sharon still can't free himself from the mentality of stalling and putting off painful decisions.  Ariel Sharon may be a great soldier, but as a leader, his vision never rises above lawn level."


"'The Rejectionist Front'"


The late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assistant Eytan Haber opined in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (12/23):  "The behavior of the pilots over two months ago, and that of their comrades from the Sayeret Matkal [General Staff Reconnaissance Unit] this week, denies them and the Left any moral basis for present and future claims against IDF soldiers or commanders who would refuse to share the hard work of evacuating settlers from their homes in the Land of Israel [Israel, including the territories].  The Left has objectors.  The Right will have its own.  Thus, this is a clear-cut recipe for destruction of the IDF and critical damage to Israel's social fabric.  The objectors from the Left are burying the hope for better days....  The response to objection of every kind, from Left and perhaps from Right, must be tough."


"The Red Line Detectors"


Liberal B. Michael held in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (12/23):  "Objectors and other conscience-stubborn--opponents of either the occupation or the evacuation [of settlements]--play an important role.  Without (unduly) exaggerating, one can say that the various objectors...are part of a system of checks and balances.  They--the determined, obstinate, seething fistful endowed with quick responses--are the first sensors of any moral minefield being approached by the government....  [But] this does not mean that objection is exempt from punishment."


"Sharon's Speech"


Conservative, independent Jerusalem Post editorialized (12/21):  "The communities of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip [i.e. the settlements] are right to wrap themselves in the Israeli flag, both in terms of the sacrifices they have made for this country and because successive Israeli governments sent them there.  But this cuts both ways: settlers cannot argue that the government is legitimate when it sends them to the hilltops, and illegitimate if it decides that altered circumstances demand they be relocated.  The Right asks, if the road map fails because of the Palestinian Authority, why are settlements being dismantled, instead of the PA?  To the extent that the U.S. balks at creating territorial consequences for the PA's refusal to make peace, this is exactly the alternative that should be presented to Sharon's disengagement plan.  Disengagement is a substitute born of the American and Israeli refusal to carry out U.S. President  George W. Bush's own call for a new Palestinian leadership.  We should remember that neither the road map nor disengagement will bring peace absent real Palestinian regime change."


"From Darkness Unto Light"


Liberal writer Ofer Shelach commented in pluralist, mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot (12/22):  "In the present condition of the IDF and Israel, illuminating the dark corners of conscience, into which Israelis have been pushing the occupation and its consequences for 35 years....  For 35 years, [IDF} officers have been justifying their actions by saying: 'If we're not here, somebody worse than us will be here.'  For 35 years, based on that statement, they have carried out actions that represent almost the worst.  The incremented influence of those facts rocks the joint basis on which the army is built--no less than any act of objection....  Over the past 35 years, the IDF has turned into an army, tens of thousands of whose fighters have already experienced manhunts after young boys, taking out old men from their beds and messing up the cupboards of a family in front of its children.  After the objectors are judged and objection has been condemned, someone will eventually have to ask himself where all this is leading the IDF and Israel."


"The Speech Was Dictated In Washington"


Former Editor-in-Chief Moshe Ishon noted in nationalist Hatzofe (12/22):  "In the White House, they are very pleased by Sharon's speech.  President Bush's close advisers are not concealing the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister coordinated the contents of his speech with the President, and also that he pledged that all the diplomatic moves Israel would make in the future would also be coordinated in advance with the White House.  If we are not wrong, this is not the first time that an Israeli prime minister has received a political dictate from the White House.  In other words, he [Sharon] is giving up Israel's sovereignty to decide independently regarding its diplomatic and security affairs.  Mr. Sharon has apparently not learned from Mr. Begin: when President Reagan tried to dictate to him some diplomatic move, he returned the letter to him with a note: 'Mr. President, Israel isn't a 'banana republic.'  Since then, there was been no pressure from Washington on Jerusalem."


WEST BANK:  "The Attack On Maher And The Sharon Aggression In Rafah"


Hani Habib stated in independent Al-Ayyam (12/24):  “The news about the vicious attack on Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher has not merely stolen the spotlight from the Egyptian efforts [to reach an Israeli promise to calm the situation and open negotiations] but...did the same to the Israeli malicious aggression on Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. This [Israeli] aggression, which ended the lives of eight people, received secondary coverage which indeed served the Israeli military forces.”


"The Roadmap Plan To Sharon's Plan"


Jawad Bashiti noted in independent Al-Ayyam (12/23):  “Sharon knows that the Bush administration is now busy with a political and electoral climate that does not allow it to undermine any actual obstacles, meaning Israeli obstacles, to roadmap implementation.  Therefore the time limit [set for negotiations with Palestinians] will end with no facts on the ground to prevent Sharon from announcing that the Palestinians have failed to fulfill the conditions for resuming negotiations that would lead to roadmap implementation....  We need also to bear in mind that the roadmap plan and the Bush promise of a Palestinian state by the year 2005 might go with the wind if the Republican president fails in the upcoming presidential elections.”


"Sharon's Plan:  Consequences And Risks"


Talal Okal stated in independent Al-Ayyam (12/22):  "The American administration has welcomed Sharon's speech....  It would be naïve to think that America's satisfaction with this speech is a tactical stand to pressure the Palestinian Authority.  It actually indicates that previous agreement and planning took place between the U.S. and Israel, exactly as stated by President Arafat.  The American acceptance of the speech also indicates that the American administration accepts [PM Sharon's] plan as a fulfillment of President Bush's two-state vision....  This plan is basically a serious threat, to which the Palestinians must stand up."


"The Sharon Plan:  Risking The Future"


Ashraf Ajrami noted in independent Al-Ayyam (12/22):  "[PM Sharon's disengagement plan] directly affects the future of Sharon and his government.  If he moves ahead with his plan, he will lose his right-wing allies, who have ties with the settler movement, and this will eventually cause the fall of his government....  Furthermore, if the plan is implemented unilaterally and without Palestinian acceptance, despite Sharon's repeated threats to continue building the separation wall, the Palestinians can actually benefit from it as it would offer them a stronger position in the upcoming negotiations."


"Seriousness Of The American Restraction"


Yusef Qazzaz stated in official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (12/21):  “The political significance of Washington's approbation of Sharon's speech is clear.  It means the Bush administration supports Sharon in bypassing its so-called road map, giving him free rein to dispose of the Palestinian territories as he pleases, and to impose a solution on the Palestinian people, detached from all international resolutions regarding a solution to the conflict and divorced from their consideration of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”


"Sharon's Suggestions Were Predictable"


Independent Al-Quds declared (12/19):  "Despite the ambiguity surrounding the real meaning of Israeli PM Sharon’s unilateral measures, many politicians and observers have expressed optimism about his speech, mainly on the basis that merely stating ‘painful concessions’ by Sharon may be an indication of a substantial change in his positions.  Such optimism is also built on the fact that the U.S. is closely monitoring his actions on the ground, going as far as repeatedly warning him against creating facts on the ground that would hinder the establishment of the Palestinian state or undermine the implementation of the Roadmap.  Washington has indeed criticized more than once the route of the racist wall, which is being built deep into the West Bank away from the Green Line.  However, Sharon’s long-awaited speech in Herzliya last night has disappointed the optimists and pessimists alike.  The speech did not include anything new and failed to clarify what he really means by ‘unilateral measures'....  Furthermore, Sharon’s suggestions, even if they were carried out, will not help revive the peace process, nor will they even result in a state of ‘no peace and no war.’  Instead, such unilateral actions will probably result in strengthening and expanding the larger settlements.”


SAUDI ARABIA:  "Recipe For Violence"


Jeddah's English-language pro-government Arab News held (12/22):  "When Ariel Sharon declared that, should there be no progress along the road map, he would go it alone and declare a unilateral settlement, there were immediate fears of more violence. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei has since said he is committed to his side of the road map. He added a warning of his own: A unilateral Israeli settlement would only make things worse.  In the same vein albeit in more circumspect terms, the United States too warned Israel against any attempt to impose a settlement outside the road map. The fact that this White House has such close relations with Sharon makes criticism of him all the more striking....  Jewish settlers, once a bedrock of support for Sharon, are just as opposed to the prime minister’s plan....  But the figures suggest that what meets the eye is very different from what the settlers see is coming.  Sharon did not mention any specific settlements by name, and reports say that in the long term whatever happens will only affect 15-20 settlements--many of them little more than a collection of shipping containers or caravans....  But one thing Sharon has been crystal clear on is the wall of separation, insisting that work on it will even be speeded up, regardless what happens in the peace process. The construction of the barrier has been criticized by the UN for also cutting off hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their jobs, fields, hospitals and schools.  Sharon has not set out any specific timetable for his possible unilateral move, just an ultimatum of a few months....  The premier seems determined to carry out his own version of a final settlement--with or without the Palestinians.  But because there is so much resistance to his plan, the United States as the chief mediator will then have an opportunity to tell Sharon in person that any attempt to throw away the road map and design a settlement by himself is unacceptable."


JORDAN:  "Growing Voices Of Dissent"


The independent, English-language Jordan Times editorialized (12/23):  "The refusal of 13 Israeli serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip comes on the heels of the refusal of 27 Israeli air force pilots to take part in military activities against the Palestinians....  Here is evidence that there is a growing number of Israelis who are opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and the continued subjugation of the Palestinians. It is the moral dimension that motivated these Israeli military personnel to speak out and take a rebellious stand against their country's policies towards the Palestinians. And it is not only these few Israeli soldiers who are defying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's perspective on the peace process in the Middle East.  As long as the Israeli conscience is speaking out against Israeli policy, there will be hope that conditions may indeed change on the peace front with the Palestinians. What is needed now is a show of Israeli solidarity with this manifestation of opposition to the occupation of Palestinian territories....  Sharon must heed these dissenting voices and take into account that many Israeli citizens are now turning against him. Democracy dictates that the Israeli government must respect the growing Israeli sentiment against the status quo on the Palestinian front. Sharon's pledge to go it alone in defining Israeli borders if the Palestinians don't play ball by his rules is not the sort of initiative that the Israeli public is looking for. This is not to mention what the Palestinians expect from Israel after all these long decades of occupation. Perhaps now Sharon might start taking more seriously the growing tide of international resentment towards his failed policies in the Middle East."


"Sharon's Unilateralism"


Hassan A. Barari declared in the independent, English-language Jordan Times (12/23):  "In what sounds like political expediency, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged that Israel would unilaterally disengage from the Palestinians, redeploy the Israeli army to new lines, and relocate some settlements. To please the United States, he has paid lip service to the roadmap plan....  What he failed to state clearly, however, was that this plan is a de facto annexation of around 50 per cent of the occupied West Bank. Although the speech was wrapped in an ideological tone aimed at uniting the Israeli society behind the notion of a Jewish democratic Israel, it offers no solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His ultimatum, that Israel will take unilateral steps if the Palestinians do not live up to their commitments as stated in the roadmap, is outrageous. One remembers very well how much Sharon tried to duck out of it....  The plan, if it is ever implemented, will determine the political borders of Israel as seen by Sharon....  It is ridiculous to expect the Palestinians to come to terms with such a threat. From a Palestinian standpoint, this plan is simply a non-starter. There is barely a Palestinian who does not view it as a colonial scheme based on Israeli maximum interests in the West Bank and Gaza. The main problem remains, however, the continuation of the Israeli colonial and apartheid security fence. It is on this that the Palestinians should focus their attention. Certainly the Palestinians would be naive to believe that peace with Sharon is possible....  The Americans have done almost nothing to exercise pressure on Sharon to cease the construction of the apartheid wall....  Following Sharon's assertion, which is tantamount to a declaration of war, the Arabs, and particularly the Palestinians, do not seem to be able to fix their situation. The Palestinians have been systematically advised to deprive Sharon of the pretext to continue his uncompromising policies. On many occasions it was argued that cajoling Sharon's government into peace negotiations would be the best way of exposing his real anti-peace face. The Egyptians' belated efforts aiming at that end should be encouraged."   


"No Time For Showmanship"


The independent, English-language Jordan Times declared (12/21):  "The speech of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the prospects for peace on the Palestinian front was nothing but a discourse on the prospects of continued stalemate between Israel and the Palestinian side. Threatening to make unilateral moves designed to disengage the military from some parts of the Palestinian territories is nothing short of disengagement by Israel from the peace process altogether. The Palestinian side cannot be expected to be drawn into genuine peace negotiations with threats hanging over their heads. Sharon was simply telling the Palestinian Authority that unless it moves faster in the implementation of the roadmap it risks retrieving less of their territories.  Of course the Israeli prime minister said nothing about his own foot-dragging on efforts to implement the roadmap....  The reason or reasons why the roadmap is still a map have a great deal to do with Israel's own policy. It is too easy to place the blame on the Palestinian side and warn that unless they are more earnestly about its implementation, Israel would be left with no choice but to go it alone....  Sharon can dismantle Jewish settlements here and there in a show of "good faith," but unless major Jewish settlements are dismantled and Jewish settlers are removed, whatever unilateral moves Sharon takes would amount to little.  The Palestinians would also welcome effective Israeli withdrawals from their lands, but unless they receive ironclad assurances that all such withdrawals are permanent, they will surely view Israeli disengagements with suspicion. The real test of Israeli intentions would be if it were to move more expeditiously in the direction of the implementation of the roadmap by negotiating more sincerely with Palestinian leaders. This is no time for showmanship--it is a time for real peace that is enduring."


LEBANON:  "The Peak Of Arab Degradation"


Gebran Tueni opined in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar (2/24):  "What happened with the Egyptian Foreign Minister is considered...the peak of Arab degradation!  The attack against Ahmad Maher is a free gift to the enemies of the Arabs, particularly Israel.  Again, we find that the most dangerous enemies of the Arabs are Arabs....  How many times did these Arabs serve Israel?  How many times did they save Sharon himself?....  If we look around, we find that the Arab attacks against Arabs are much more than the Arab-Israeli wars....  The losses that Arabs sustained as a result of Arab-Arab struggles on all levels have surpassed the losses they sustained as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict....  The biggest loss, though, is the absence of a united Arab policy."


"The Summit Of Marking Time...And Caution, And Palestinian Anger In The Face Of Maher"


Awni Kaak observed in pro-Syrian Ash-Sharq (12/23):  "The incident (with Maher) is in principal absolutely refused and denounced.  The doors of worshiping sites are open to all believers and should not be forbidden to anybody.  But if we skip the principles and evaluate the incident with its exceptional circumstances, we would see it was an impulsive expression of a general mood that prevails among the Palestinian people....  It is the right of Palestinians who are lost in the circle of oppression to lose confidence in everyone, and to spite everyone, and to accuse everyone as long as they have no hope except in their arms and exploding bodies to terrorize the occupying enemy.  It is also very normal for it to rage at the sight of Egypt's Foreign Minister attempting to enter the Aqsa Mosque.  Egypt which left this people alone and headed for a unilateral peace with its rapist enemy....  Can a people suffering all the injustice and that is facing extermination and displacement be blamed for losing its temper and expressing its rage and distrust in what is being cooked for it in the backstage of the world?"


SYRIA:  "Sharon's Disengagement Plan Provokes Condemnation"


Fouad Mardoud, chief editor of the English-language government-owned Syria Times, declared (12/23):  "Sharon's plan for disengagement with Palestinians and his determination to continue building the separation wall have actually plunged the Bush Administration into a profound diplomatic and political quagmire as the US struggles to sooth Arab rage over the occupation of Iraq and to salvage its own Roadmap....  According to Colin Powell and President Bush, this should be done without getting into a public dispute with Israel before the US presidential elections.  In so many previous times, US officials were publicly and privately furious at Israel's acts of provocation, expansion and aggression. But this time, the Bush Administration has made the decision not to play the blame game, though the Sharon government is deliberately pushing the US into a bloody mess in the Middle East....  From the Bush Administration's point of view, the timing of Sharon's plan could hardly have been worse. US soldiers in Iraq are fighting daily bloody battles, and many of them are really fighting for their own safety. The US policy in the region faces real challenges. Sharon's plans have added to the murk."


"Sharonite Threats"


Mufid Khansa wrote in government-owned Al-Thawra (12/21):  "The deceitful Sharon has endeavored by his speech that his plan for disengagement with Palestinians will be carried out in full cooperation with the US. Washington hurried to announce its objection of any unilateral Israeli steps thus removing the cover under which Sharon hides. Sharon seeks to drag the US Administration into an impasse, which the hawks of the US administration, who have strategic links with Israel, are using to involve their administration with fulfilling Israeli interests at the expense of US-American relations even US interests as the SAA has proven....  The US Administration's retracted objection of the Sharon's plan prove the influence of extremist right on US decision-maker which has made the US Administration changes its position overnight....  The contradiction is in the US administration's submission to the pressure of extremist rightists. It quickly shifted from opposing Sharon's plans to praising them.  All this is happening at a time Syria expressing its persistence in the principle of dialogue out of its concern about maintaining balanced relations with the US and confirming its readiness to resume the peace process from where they stopped, while Israel is trying to foil the peace process threatening to use its WMD and its strategic relation with the U.S."


"Israeli Mockery"


Government-owned Al-Ba'th commented (12/21):  "Sharon's offer for a unilateral separation from Palestinians in case of failure of the Roadmap is an unprecedented challenge not only to Palestinians and Arabs, but also to the whole world community in general and to the Quartet in specific....  In fact the unilateral plan does not need much discussion to show the shallow and feeble bases on which it is based. It aims to seize as much as possible of the Palestinian territories as stated in the Roadmap and previously stated in the relevant UNSC resolutions. The plan cannot be separated from the Sharon's racist complex to swallow Palestinian territories, encourage settlements and reject a Palestinian states....  The prestige of the world community and the Quartet is facing a difficult test due to this flagrant Israeli mockery of the peace efforts."


UAE:  "Sharon Insists On Doing It 'His Way'"


The English-langugage pro-government Gulf News editorialized (12/21):  "Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a master at distracting everyone from the central route to find peace in Palestine.  In the end, peace can only come through a fair and comprehensive settlement, based on the premise of a complete return of the land to the Palestinians.  Last week Sharon unilaterally published a plan for the physical separation of Israel from Palestine, which will yet again reduce Palestinian-controlled territory, if it is implemented. The plan is a decisive break on Israel's part with the plans for the roadmap....  The rejection of the roadmap will weaken Sharon's standing with George W. Bush, but it has also attracted strong negative comment from Jewish settlers who have accused him of betrayal, and the Palestinians who have totally rejected the plan.  Sharon...has taken the negotiating focus away from the Geneva Accord and the roadmap. The Accord had managed to open up some discussion of controversial but fundamental points which will have to be aired if there is to be eventual peace. This process was helping to build a series of initiatives, which could have greatly strengthened the road map.  Sharon is profoundly opposed to any such development, and his new ploy has distracted the negotiators from these developments, and has built another layer of confusion over the essential route to peace. The Sharon plan should be seen for what it is, a dangerous distraction, and further evidence that Sharon is not interested in peace."




INDONESIA:  “The Road Map To Peace Remains A Mere Concept”


Mustafa Abd Rahman concluded in leading independent Kompas (12/23):  “The Road Map actually holds a very strategic meaning. Not only does it pledge the birth of a Palestinian state in 2005, but it is part of the new, post-September 11, U.S. policy towards the Middle East....  However, in reality, it is difficult to implement the phases as scheduled....  One of the reasons is that there is no evaluation by the Quartet regarding its implementation and no international monitors have been sent to Palestine....  Another factor, externally, is that the U.S. cannot disentangle itself from siding with Israel nor could it freely pressure that country. This would become more difficult as Bush starts to campaign for 2004, when he badly needs votes from Jews to remain as president for a second term....  So, the Road Map is now left alone in the dark, losing its course, and not knowing where it will end up.” 


INDIA:  "Turning The Roadmap Around"


An editorial in the nationalist Hindustan Times read (12/23):  "Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech last week marks anything but the unfolding of a new phase of West Asian peace-making--as he would like everyone to believe. In fact, his warning that Israel may go it alone in enforcing a settlement with the Palestinians...can only push the region deeper into trouble, and amount to an effective reversal of the Oslo process....  The US-backed probably the best bet for bringing peace to the region. But it has been bogged down in wave after vicious wave of violence...and the precipitating Palestinian political crisis....  Sharon may be counting on Palestinian PM Ahmed Qureia's government falling soon, in which case he would want to have an action plan to substitute for talks.  Never mind if that involves breaking away from negotiations and enforcing a settlement on the Palestinians. And never mind either if that would leave Palestinians with self-rule on little more than what they already have--minus sovereignty, Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. The perfect recipe for fomenting more trouble."


PAKISTAN:  "Trifling With The Roadmap"


Karachi-based center-left independent English-language Dawn maintained (12/24):  "Israel, for now, seems to have heeded the warning given by the U.S. the other day asking Tel Aviv to desist from taking any unilateral action that might jeopardize the Middle East roadmap.  This is not the first time that Washington has let its opposition known to the controversial fence being built by the Sharon government with the intention of cutting off Palestinian territories from Israel....  As a guarantor of the peace plan, it is the duty of the U.S. to see to it that Israel is not allowed to derail this last meaningful effort to achieve a peace settlement in the Middle East that is acceptable to all concerned." 




BRAZIL:  "Capitulating"


Center-right O Globo observed (12/20):  "Prime Minister Sharon threatens to accelerate the construction of the West Bank wall and to take other radical measures on his own, if the Palestinians fail to fulfill their part in the Road Map of Peace within three months.  If Sharon carries out his threat he will be surrendering to terror.  Palestinians--those who have always preached armed confrontation with Israel, to the detriment of the efforts of moderates on both sides, will have then prevailed.  And there will be physical barriers to protect Israel indefinitely from terrorist attacks.”


"Sharon's Threat"


An editorial in liberal Folha de S. Paulo read (12/20):  "There are two ways to interpret Ariel Sharon's threat of breaking all ties with the Palestinians should advances in the peace process not occur in the coming months. If Sharon has made such a statement with the exclusive intention of bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiation table, then Sharon may be right....  If his threat is real and Israel does want to implement the Palestinians' physical segregation, the results will tend to be disastrous for the Palestinians, for Israel and for the region. Sustainable peace means the creation of an autonomous and economically feasible Palestinian state. Without such requisites, Israel will hardly live in security. To separate the Palestinians from Israel by using a complex system of fences and barriers does not help the creation of a sustainable Palestinian state."


"Recipe For More Violence And Anarchy"


Sergio Malbergier stated in liberal Folha de S. Paulo (12/19):  "Ariel Sharon's threat to withdraw Israeli troops unilaterally from part of the Palestinian territories serves three purposes of the prime minister: to pressure the Palestinians to fight terrorism and resume negotiations with less demands; to satisfy the majority of Israelis who are anxious for advances in the peace process; and to disarm the so-called 'demographic bomb'--an Arab majority both in the territories and in Israel ruled by an Israeli minority....  It is impossible to see any type of justice in unilateral measures taken by any of the parties involved in a complex conflict. The idea is intrinsically wrong....  Sharon is one of the major architects of the (illegal) settlements both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank....  With age, he is increasingly becoming more pragmatic and less idealistic....  There is little President Bush can do to dissuade his ally Sharon from acting unilaterally. The presidential elections in November have tied all candidates to the powerful Jewish lobby....  If Sharon's plan is implemented, the Palestinians will have even more motives to rebel against the occupation. The possibility of anarchy will be enormous and may generate an explosion beyond the wall."  


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