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SWEDEN



Published: Mon, April 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm, March 27: Can the Arab summit in Beirut in two days solve some of the half-century old fundamental antagonism that has fed the 18-month-old second intifada? It doesn't seem likely.

The Israelis cannot enter negotiations before the Palestinians stop their acts of violence and the Palestinians cannot enter negotiations before the Israelis have withdrawn the troops from the occupied territories.

Negotiations: The holy war's supporters in the states that want to fight until the last Palestinian are not likely to suddenly turn into angels of peace. The protection that Israel can obtain will be fragile. Yet there is only one road to the implementation of the U.N.'s resolutions on an Israeli withdrawal in exchange for peace and security -- through the negotiating table, which is Israel's best bet at avoiding continued bloodshed and isolation.

BRITAIN

The Independent, London, March 26: The meeting commands attention as the first assembly of Arab leaders since the terrorist atrocities of 11 Sept. and the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Primarily, though, the summit will be worth following as the first real test of what has become known as the Saudi peace plan for the Middle East.

In its first, rather vague, outline, the plan advanced by Crown Prince Abdullah proposed a return to the basic principle of "land for peace," offering formal recognition of Israel by all Arab states in return for Israel's withdrawal from all occupied territory. Since its first appearance, the plan has become more clearly defined for better, and worse.

'Right of return' The diplomatic recognition that seemed to be on offer to Israel at the outset has been diluted to an offer to pronounce the Arab-Israel conflict over and acceptance that Arabs and Israelis can live alongside each other, pending negotiation of a peace treaty. The vexed issue of the Palestinians' "right of return" -- absent from the early version -- is now spelled out as a demand for all those Palestinians and their descendants who wish to return to be able to do so.

This demand, along with disagreement about the status of Jerusalem, scuppered U.S. mediation efforts 18 months ago, and it is unclear whether the Saudi proposal has more latitude now than was in the Palestinian position then. Mr. Arafat may not be in Beirut to present the Palestinian case. Leave for him to travel depends on his willingness, or ability, to arrest Palestinians wanted by Israel -- a condition that underlines how little real power his Palestinian Authority wields.

At this point, however, Mr. Arafat's freedom to travel is less important than whether Arab leaders collectively back the Saudi plan. Which is why we should take notice of what happens in Beirut this week.

JORDAN

Jordan Times, Amman, March 26: All eyes are on Beirut? Yes, in as much as they were on Amman and Cairo when Arab leaders met for summits that were to address the same issues that will dominate the agenda of the Beirut conference on Wednesday: The Palestinian issue and Iraq.

It is already clear that the summit will produce no breakthrough in efforts to bridge the widening gap between Iraq and Kuwait. Beyond reasserting the Arabs' rejection of a U.S. attack on Baghdad, the Arab summit is expected to offer no formulas for ending the rift between the two countries.

Public opinion: On the Palestinian issue, however, the Arab leaders can make a difference. The Saudi peace initiative offers them a chance to succeed on a front where the Arab record has been less impressive: International public opinion. Throughout the years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel has won the battle for the support of international public opinion. Israel has succeeded in distorting the facts and portraying the Arabs as aggressors when it was violating every basic human and political right of the Palestinian people.

The Saudi initiative will push (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon into a corner. The Arab summit can tighten the noose around his political career by adopting the initiative without defeating its purpose by turning it into a detailed peace plan.

That's what the Arab leaders can, and should, do on Wednesday.




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