What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 12 1998 3:30 AM

Newspapers in Arab countries welcomed this weekend's visit to Israel and Gaza by President Clinton--and so, finally, did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after his earlier doubts. The Jordan Times said that although "Israel continues to be the beneficiary of a US double standard," the president's visit to Gaza "represents an important departure from the past and a breakthrough on which we can build for the future." The Daily Star of Lebanon said that the Wye process is "in a shambles." Nevertheless, the visit represents "a major step in the developing US-Palestinian relationship. ... We will continue our struggle for Palestinian statehood and for Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands, somewhat freed of the taboos that have inhibited our efforts for so long."
       The Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu has sent Clinton a letter saying he is looking forward to the visit and thanking him for his willingness to invest so much time and energy to advance the peace process. But it also quoted the prime minister as calling for a "complete change" in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority. "If they mend their ways, we will continue with the process. If they don't mend their ways, we will not," he declared.


In opinion poll published Thursday in the same newspaper showed 38 percent of Israelis believe the president's visit will be "beneficial to the peace process," and 62 percent think it won't be. Asked whether Israel should release Palestinians convicted of violent crimes for the sake of the Wye accord, 17 percent of respondents said yes, but 83 percent said no. Meanwhile, the paper reported that Yasser Arafat insisted, in a speech made in Ramallah, that he will not drop his demand for Israel to release more than just common criminals from prison. "We tell our heroes in the prisons we will not close our eyes until we see them in front of us," he said.
       Reporting Thursday on the political crisis in Israel, Ha'aretz said that opposition Labor leader Shimon Peres, who has long been a proponent of a national unity government to advance the peace process, is now outspokenly hostile to Netanyahu. "The option of a national unity government is dead, it appears," Ha'aretz said. In Italy, Corriere della Sera of Milan said that a wave of violence in the occupied territories "risks annulling the diplomatic successes achieved two months ago at the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Wye Plantation." The story ran under the headline "A second Intifada for Clinton's arrival."

The same Italian newspaper, commenting on the British government's decision to let legal proceedings for Gen. Augusto Pinochet's extradition to Spain go ahead, said that it represented "the new universalist conscience, which, in times of globalization, aspires ever more frequently to justice without boundaries." The paper praised the British government's courage but asked whether it was "right to inflame the nationalism of the Chileans and other Latin American peoples, to endanger difficult processes of reconciliation, and to feed the ever-present authoritarian temptations in a part of the world that is riddled with ex-dictators." In an interview with La Repubblica of Rome, Isabel Allende--not the novelist but the daughter of Salvador Allende, the socialist Chilean president ousted in the 1973 coup led by Pinochet--described the British government's decision as "a triumph for human rights."
       The British press was divided on the issue along predicable lines. The conservative Daily Telegraph said in an editorial that Home Secretary Jack Straw "has pitched this country into a long, messy and costly disaster. ... [T]he case will strain relations with Chile to breaking point, if not beyond. And far from strengthening or clarifying international law, it could easily open up an international free-for-all, in which all sorts of judges and governments will feel able to apply for the arrest of a wide range of former leaders to whom they may have taken a dislike."
       The Times, also a conservative paper, said that the Pinochet affair will now "become an explosive aspect of Chile's presidential election next year" and "a source of enormous instability for that country in the months to come." It said Straw would have done better to court the controversy of sending Pinochet home now rather than risk the course of events that will follow. The liberal Guardian, on the other hand, called his decision "a win for human rights" and said it will "help the democratic process in Chile. ... Far from reversing Chile's democratisation, the general's arrest in London has helped to strengthen the hands of Chile's liberals. ... As the country prepares for presidential elections next year, the general's departure can only lead to a more open campaign."