September 16, 1999


Breaking with the pessimism and cynicism that have long characterized press commentary on the Middle East peace process, pundits saw reason for hope and optimism in Monday's start of final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Most writers judged that while "formidable" disagreements between the parties remain, "conditions are ripe for an end to the conflict." Some even spoke of a "renewed hope that one of the most intractable problems of the 20th century will be solved soon after the dawn of the new millennium." Most analysts expected the future of Jerusalem to be the main sticking point. Nevertheless, the general consensus was that the talks so far had been "positive" enough to allow the renewal of talks between Israel and Syria. The independent Jerusalem Post expressed the view of many, that "maybe on this final status journey, the Middle East could decide to rise to the occasion and finally come of age." Writers credited the new momentum for peace to the "courage" of Israel's new Barak government and the "key role" the U.S. played in nudging the Israelis and Palestinians toward peace. Following are the salient points:

JERUSALEM: Pundits everywhere judged that the greatest difficulty will be deciding on the future of Jerusalem. Tel Aviv's popular, pluralist Maariv deemed that "it would be hard to imagine an Israeli leader who would bring for Knesset approval or a referendum any element pertaining to a division of Jerusalem." An Egyptian writer declared that for the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims "the issue of an issue on which there is no bargaining." A Qatari paper flatly suggested that the Palestinians "should refuse to negotiate" the issue. Nevertheless, some conciliatory tones were struck. Maariv judged that "Israel must make a far-reaching move stemming from its interest in effectively uniting the city." Manama's semi-independent Akhbar Al-Khalij suggested that "the current peace process may not give the Palestinians and the Arabs all they want, but it is a stage which can be used to build a future; while Hamas' actions are just destructive tools which destroy everything except, of course, Israel." Palestinian papers, though not specifically mentioning the Jerusalem issue, appealed to fellow Arabs for a strong show of unity concerning Palestinian aspirations.

SYRIA TRACK: Anticipating the resumption of talks between Israel and Syria, writers conveyed the sense that progress could not be achieved without the U.S. The government-owned Syria Times spoke of "a window of opportunity for Washington to advance the type of comprehensive peace settlement that Secretary Albright had talked about" on her recent visit to the region. Tel Aviv's independent Ha'aretz reported that "both Barak and Assad feel that, at least for the decisive first step of renewing the talks, presidential action is needed. The White House is apparently aware of this.... (President Clinton) is therefore likely to become directly involved in the process." London's independent Financial Times judged, "Reaching peace with Syria will be tricky, but easier than with the Palestinians. The U.S. can help. It should work on a statement that each side can interpret as its position, and thus use as the basis for restarting negotiations."

EDITOR: Gail Hamer Burke

EDITOR'S NOTE: This survey is based on 27 reports from 19 countries, September 11-27. The following editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.

To Go Directly To Quotes By Region, Click Below



ISRAEL: "It Is Now Jerusalem's Turn"

Popular, pluralist Maariv editorialized (9/16): "Simultaneously with the formal opening of the final status talks, the two most difficult issues--the (Palestinians') right of return and Jerusalem--have appeared on the public agenda.... There is no significant debate in Israel on the position that Jerusalem should not be divided again; it would be hard to imagine an Israeli leader who would bring for Knesset approval or a referendum any element pertaining to a division of Jerusalem.... It is very important, even vital that...a formula with which the Palestinians, as well as the nations of world, can live be devised: This is what the final status designers will be toiling over. At this stage, the most urgent matter is what can be done in East Jerusalem.... No one is deluding himself that, were the level of services and infrastructure to be equal in the whole city, East Jerusalem residents would become lovers of Israel.... But Israel must make a far-reaching move stemming from its interest in effectively uniting the city."

"Toward A Final Status Agreement"

Independent Ha'aretz editorialized (9/14): "The government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak is embarking on the final status agreement negotiations with the backing of quite a broad coalition and the enthusiastic support of the U.S., Egypt, Jordan and Europe. The meticulous implementation of the first stage of the Sharm agreement--the withdrawal and the release of the prisoners--has helped to improve the atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians. The conditions are ripe for an end to the conflict. There is no room for further procrastination."

"Finally, Final Status"

The independent Jerusalem Post commented in its lead editorial (9/14): "The moment of truth for the Middle East dawned Monday.... It is a clash of wills and expectations that will define the Middle East of the next century. No one should expect this to be a noble effort between two peoples who mutually respect one another.... Expectations at the start of these talks are muted. The target date of a year from now for the conclusion to a 100-year-old conflict seems extremely ambitious.... Maybe (all negotiators) can face a historic challenge to build a solution that is an edifice greater by far than the sum of the stumbling blocks. Maybe on this final status journey, the Middle East could decide to rise to the occasion and finally come of age."

"A Loaded Arrangement"

Popular, pluralist Maariv editorialized (9/14): "The time factor is most important in the final status. There has already been a considerable adjournment in the calendar set in Oslo. Several times, Arafat was about to proclaim statehood unilaterally; his threat still has not been lifted.... If Barak can complete both phases of the arrangement as he has committed himself to and reach an agreement that can be accepted by the majority of the Israeli public, he will indeed be able to complete the historic move of reconciliation between the two peoples. The alternative would not be a freeze, but a disastrous breakdown."

"Clinton Likely To Intervene"

Washington correspondent Nitzan Horowitz wrote in independent Ha'aretz (9/13): "President Clinton is likely to intervene if mediation efforts by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

and her 'peace team' fail to restart talks between Israel and Syria, U.S. officials say.... Both Barak and Assad feel that, at least for the decisive first step of renewing the talks, presidential action is needed. The White House is apparently aware of this.... (President Clinton) is therefore likely to become directly involved in the process."

WEST BANK: "Fearing The American Master"

Columnist Hasan El-Kashif commented in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (9/14): "Among all of the final-status issues, the issue of the return of [Palestinian] refugees is one on which all Arabs agree. The return of refugees is a national Palestinian solution as well as an international one. It is also a solution favorable to many of the Arab [states], which fear the impact of the permanent settlement of Palestinian [refugees] in their countries on their population structure. But the real fear is that this favorable solution would counter that of the American master. We fear that the Arab voices against settling the refugees [in their countries or elsewhere in the world] would be silenced once the American master demands it."

"A Palestinian Problem Is An Arab Problem"

In a front-page editorial, semi-official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida wrote (9/13): "We have heard a lot of talk about the hard, decisive and dangerous times that confront the Arabs in the future. We have seen numerous recommendations and decisions coming out of the Arab League meetings, all of which emphasized Arab unity and whatever leads to unity. It is time now for all this to be translated into a real action that can change the status quo. The Palestinian question is entering the decisive phase of final status talks. This requires all the help we can get from our Arab brethren because the Palestinian problem is by logic an Arab problem."

SYRIA: "The Tactic Of The Bazaar"

Fouad Mardoud, chief editor of the government-owned Syria Times, stated (9/15): "It would be constructive for the United States to make clear its willingness to help resume the peace talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks by publicly announcing all facts about the deposit it received during the Wye Plantation talks. Washington knows how fragile prospects for peace can be in the Middle East; Israel can continue employing the 'tactics of the bazaar' and miscalculations. The peace process would be greatly furthered if Israel was convinced, or even pressured by the United States (to believe) that peace is for the benefit of all, and the train of peace would not swiftly move without a full commitment from all parties, though 'unstoppable.' The United States possesses both the stick and carrot. What remains is when and how Washington uses them."

"The Window Of Opportunity Should Not Be Closed"

Fouad Mardoud, chief editor of the government-owned Syria Times, commented (9/14): "It is important for America to now confirm that the talks on the Syrian track should be launched from the point from where they stopped and to confirm that the United States is not ready to abandon its efforts or diminish its role in the peace process. The United States has to seek a new Israeli commitment because peace won't be lasting unless it is fair and comprehensive. The framework and the vehicle are in place (UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 425).... There is a window of opportunity for Washington to advance the type of comprehensive peace settlement that Secretary Albright had talked about (on her visit) and which has eluded the Middle East for the past five decades, if it is able to fulfill these requirements (the UN resolutions)."

EGYPT: "Pitched Battle Ahead"

Columnist Mohammed Abu El Hadid remarked in pro-government Gomhouriya (9/16) concerning the final status talks: "Israel entered previous battles with states that have internationally recognized borders and are countries that are capable of regaining their own rights. But with the Palestinians it is a different matter. Israel changes the negotiations from a battle over borders and rights to a battle over streets, buildings, symbols, inches, pieces of lands and drops of water. Israel will mobilize all its forces and means of pressure in this battle, including American Jews. All this has to be put before the Palestinian negotiator, the Egyptian supporter, and before the Arab and Islamic world, so that there is a clear concept about what should be done and what are the Palestinians' strong points. The same thing must be done for the Syrians so that we enter the new century with a honorable, just and comprehensive peace."

"What Does Barak Mean By An 'Interim' Palestinian State?"

Pro-government Akhbar opined (9/15): "The Palestinians are saying: We can not strike a deal with Israel and sell Jerusalem and the refugees. The final status talks include very important and very sensitive issues like settlements, borders, water and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Israel's PM Barak made a very vague statement. He said that his government approves the establishment of an 'interim' Palestinian state. What is the meaning of such a statement? This is an extremely important matter, and there cannot be a retreat in matters of such importance, even if this is possible from the Israeli point of view."

"Jerusalem Is An Issue On Which There Is No Bargaining"

Columnist Magdy Mehana wrote in liberal opposition Wafd (9/13): "Even if the Palestinian negotiators manage to solve all the pending problems in the final status talks and do not solve the issue of Jerusalem these talks will fail, because the issue of Jerusalem for the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims is an issue on which there is no bargaining. The issue of the refugees could be as important as that of Jerusalem for some Palestinians, but on the issue of the refugees, I think, concessions will be made. Certainly the PNA will be happier if some of them do not come back."

JORDAN: "Final Status Negotiations Or Final Act Of The Solution?"

Daily columnist Mazen Al-Saket commented in center-left, influential Al-Dustour (9/16): "The fundamental error committed in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations was the gratuitous concession made by the Palestinians in agreeing to defer the essential issues till later. These issues are legitimate demands of the Palestinians for a withdrawal of the occupation, the removal of settlements, the return of Jerusalem, the right of return for the Palestinians, and the right to an independent state with full sovereignty on the totality of the Palestinian soil. The Palestinian and Arab adherence to the crux of the settlement is what will decide the nature of the conflict during the generations to come. Either the Israeli no's will be the final word in the peace process, or the Palestinians and Arabs will make further concessions in the name of pragmatism, which will lead us to a worse and more dangerous situation."

"Is Barak Trying To Bury Final Status Talks Before They Begin?"

Daily columnist Uraib Al-Rantawi commented in center-left, influential Al-Dustour (9/14): "The final status talks had not yet started when Prime Minister Ehud Barak made two proposals as alternatives to the final status agreement. The first of these proposals suggested another agreement similar to that of Oslo, and the other, announced yesterday, suggested creating an interim Palestinian state. Why this flood of alternative proposals? Has Barak decided to content himself with provisional agreements with the Palestinians, in the hope of reaching a settlement with the Syrians and Lebanese, after which he would resume talks with the

Palestinians from a stronger position? No one doubts that the final status talks with the Palestinians will be the most difficult and sensitive. No one doubts either that a peace settlement with Syria has the top priority on the agenda of the Israeli prime minister. Finally, no one doubts that Barak hopes for a second term in office, which leaves him confused between the various Israeli political streams that push him one step forward and two back. So has he begun the retreat from the final status solution before its broad lines have been discussed?"

LEBANON: "Final Status Negotiations: How...And Why?"

A front-page editorial by Aouni El-Kaaki in pro-Syrian Ba'th As-Shark held (9/14): "It is true that the negotiations are limited to Jerusalem, the Palestinian state, Israeli settlers and refugees. It also is true that these points already have been defined in advance by Israel through official declarations: Jerusalem being the eternal capital of Israel, settlers are not going to be moved away, refugees will never return and the Israeli withdrawal will not reach the June 4, 1967 borders. So on what basis is Arafat negotiating?... This is why 'negotiation of the final status' should be replaced by 'continuing negotiations according to the Oslo agreement's resolutions.'... We are going to witness endless negotiation with Israel and this is the trap into which Arafat has fallen when he signed the partial agreement with Israel on the basis of the Oslo accord."

BAHRAIN: "Talks Make More Sense Than Military Action"

Semi-independent Akhbar Al-Khalij ran this comment (9/11) by Omran Salman: "The Palestinian movements tried, for more than 20 years, military action and all forms of struggle, but in the end they realized that peace talks cost less and are more practical than the military option. They also realized that this is more acceptable to the world's nations and in harmony with the requirements of the modern world. Hamas is repeating the mistakes of the past. The current peace process may not give the Palestinians and the Arabs all they want, but it is a stage which can be used to build a future; while Hamas' actions are just destructive tools which destroy everything except, of course, Israel."

QATAR: "Palestinians Should Refuse To Negotiate On Jerusalem"

Semi-independent Al-Rayah held (9/15): "The Palestinians should refuse to negotiate on the final status of Jerusalem and leave it as the capital of the future Palestinian state, just as Israel refuses to end its occupation of the city and refuses to stop calling it Israel's eternal capital. The Palestinians' right to this city is not negotiable. Their right to force Israel to withdraw from Arab land occupied in 1967 is also not negotiable. The only negotiable issue is how the withdrawal will take place and the timetable for that. The negotiation process is based on international legality and UNSC resolutions. Palestinians must hold on to these resolutions. Land for peace is the motto of the peace process."


BRITAIN: "Middle East Ambitions"

The independent Financial Times had this lead editorial (9/13): "Israelis and Palestinians today open talks on a final settlement to the dispute that has torn apart the Middle East for the past 50 years. That the long-delayed negotiations on the most sensitive issues--final borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements on the West Bank--should begin at all is welcome evidence that the peace process is back on track nearly four months after the election Ehud Barak as Israel's prime minister.

"But no one should underestimate how tortuous the months ahead will be and how ambitious is the timetable. The greatest difficulty will be Israel's refusal to yield on the sovereignty of

Jerusalem or allow the return of the 3.6 million Palestinian refugees from camps in neighboring Arab countries. But Israel cannot expect Yasser Arafat to sell a deal to his people betraying the refugees and giving up occupied Arab east Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.... Reaching peace with Syria will be tricky, but easier than with the Palestinians. The U.S. can help. It should work on a statement that each side can interpret as its position and thus use as the basis for restarting negotiations."

GERMANY: "Herculean Task For Just One Year"

Right-of-center Nuernberger Nachrichten declared (9/15), "Without U.S. assistance, problems of the following caliber must be resolved: What kind of rights will the Palestinian state get? What will be the final borders of this state, and where will the capital be? What will happen to the approximately 160 Jewish settlements which are distributed across the country? Who will control the most precious commodity in the Middle East, the scarce water resources? The two sides think that they will resolve this Herculean task within a year, although both sides know that they have just begun to tackle the core of their differences which are responsible for decades of the shedding of much blood and tears."

SPAIN: "Middle East Peace In The New Millennium?"

Liberal El Pais observed (9/15): "Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is masterfully managing the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians that began last Monday. According to the terms of the new agreement, the parties have committed to devising a peace plan by September 13, 2000, or at least attempting to do so in good faith, even though it may initially be only provisional in nature. In the year to come, Barak has requested Yasser Arafat to negotiate everything but the two matters that most separate the two sides: Jerusalem's final status and the fate of four million Palestinian refugees. Arafat's response has been ambiguous because, while he accepts negotiations on those terms, he cannot guarantee that what results from them will satisfy his pretensions. At the same time, and to sweeten the pill, Barak has intimated to Arafat that he can proclaim an independent Palestinian state, even before a final peace agreement is reached."


INDIA: "The Promise Of Peace"

An editorial in the centrist Hindu (9/13) stated, "The Middle East is seeing the return of the promise of peace after three years of violence and turmoil. With Israel, under a new leader, Ehud Barak, demonstrating the courage to take 'painful' decisions in the quest for peace, hope in the form of concrete steps has come back to the region.... Barak promised to move the peace process forward within two months of taking office and has kept his word....

"The Middle East is again demonstrating that given its determination, courage and

vision, no hurdles are insurmountable. But time is not on its side.... The emergence of Mr. Barak and his policy pursuits are also helping to break the ice with another aging leader, Syria's Mr. Hafez Al-Assad who holds the destiny also of Lebanon in his hands.... The democratic process which in an ironic twist undermined a burgeoning peace in the Middle East three years ago by returning a hardliner in Israel is thus making amends. An international community with its attention so exclusively riveted on the Kosovos, Congos and East Timors has let this historic turnaround in the Middle East remain off the spotlight, confirming that peace is not half as attractive or glamorous as war."

PAKISTAN: "Off To A Good Start"

An editorial in the Karachi-based independent national daily Dawn said (9/14), "Mercifully, the Middle East peace process is back on the rails.... Mr. Ehud Barak, the Labor leader who won the election on a peace vote, is quite determined to end this state of no-war-no-peace in the Middle East.... Evidently, the United States will have to continue to play a key role in pushing forward the peace process. Now that the American government is no more willing to be blackmailed by the Jewish lobby back home, it finds itself in a stronger position to exert pressure on Israel whenever the latter is inclined to be recalcitrant on key issues. The beginning has so far been positive."

NEPAL: "Signs Of A Settlement To The Years-Old Dispute"

Government-owned Gorkhapatra (v/d, 9/11) in an opinion piece commented, "The latest Cairo accord between Israel and Palestinian officials appear to have identified the solution of the problem.... It has opened the way to prepare bases for talks about Palestinian rights and recognition of the Palestinian state.... Although Israel is prepared in principle to recognize the Palestinian state, it wants, for security reasons, to put forward some conditions.... How the plan works has become a matter of concern for all as there are hardline groups on both sides.... However, signs of a settlement of the years-old struggles are beginning to appear in the Middle East.... If it works, it will also help establish lasting amity also with Syria and Lebanon."

SRI LANKA: "Middle East Peace Process Moves Forward Again"

The opposition English-language weekly Sunday Island published this op-ed page

article by Dr. Stanley Kalpage (9/12): "There are formidable challenges ahead, and many obstacles to overcome. Extremist terrorism can upset the most carefully formulated agreements. But if the deadlines agreed upon at Sham el Sheijh are kept, there is renewed hope that one of the most intractable problems of the twentieth century will be solved soon after the dawn of the new millennium."


CHINA: "Israel And Palestinians Launch Final Status Negotiations"

Qi Deliang and Ma Xiaolin said in the official Beijing municipal Beijing Daily (Beijing Ribao), (9/15): "Israel and Palestine's launching negotiations on final status is a great event in the Middle Peace talks.... However, it is not realistic to expect the two sides to settle the issue easily. Predictably, the negotiations will be extraordinarily arduous."

JAPAN: "Israel Must Implement An Accord On Additional Military Withdrawal"

The moderate Tokyo Shimbun editorialized (9/16), "Israel started withdrawing its troops from the West Bank late last week, following the new accord reached between Israel and the Palestinians concerning further military withdrawals. We hope Israel will implement the agreement faithfully and without delay. Israel's withdrawal of troops will apply to 11 percent of the total area of the West Bank, and will be completed in three stages up to January 20, 2000.

"Both sides have also agreed to reach a final accord on the status of Jerusalem by September 2000 at the last round of 'status talks,' which is to determine the border and capital of the new Palestinian state. We also welcome progress in the long-deadlocked Middle East peace process. In line with the latest accord on the additional military withdrawal, Israel freed last week 199 of the 350 Palestinian political prisoners.

"With the additional Israeli troop pullout, the Palestinian autonomous region will expand to 42 percent of the West Bank. Israel's faithful implementation of the accord will strengthen mutual confidence between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Barak has expressed hope that he will also promote comprehensive Middle East peace talks with Syria and Lebanon. It is now time for Barak to put his wishful thinking into action."


CANADA: "Year Of High Hopes For Mideast Peace"

The liberal Toronto Star (9/13) observed that "Barak's gestures are earning

Israel's new government international respect and trust, and are increasing its stock of goodwill. They also invite a response in kind from Arafat. The Palestinian Authority can do its bit for confidence-building by publicly challenging those in the Palestinian community who continue to preach hatred for Israelis and for Jews. By operating in a democratic, open fashion that respects human rights and puts a higher premium on clean government. And by co-operating more closely with the Israeli side in thwarting terror attacks. Arafat should prepare Palestinian public opinion, as well, for the compromises that will be needed, to secure a final deal. Great difficulties lie ahead, constructing a durable peace among Israel, the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon after 50 years of mistrust, warfare and oppression. But in the seventh year, one is encouraged to hope."

ARGENTINA: "Decisive Dialogue For Peace"

Shlomo Slutzky, Tel Aviv-based correspondent for leading Clarin held (9/13), "The stage which starts today in Erez... is the most arduous and crucial of the process. There is a 12-month term to reach an agreement on points which have not been directly discussed so far."

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