Ha'aretz complained Wednesday about the lack of support within Israel's coalition government for Prime Minister Ehud Barak's peace negotiations with Syria. He went to Washington "without a hearty send-off from all his political partners," the paper said in an editorial. "Three parties represented in the government temporarily joined the opposition, which refused to place its trust in the prime minister who promised that he would 'do everything to achieve the best agreement possible for Israel.' " The editorial concluded, "If they don't trust him enough to give him a hearty send-off, they don't belong in the government." The Jerusalem Post's editorial criticized the desire of "considerable numbers of Israelis" to negate the influence of Israeli Arab votes in an eventual referendum on the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. "It is wrong … to single out any group as somehow disqualified to influence decisions, even critical ones, that are being decided democratically," the paper said.
In another alarm about the peace negotiations, the Jerusalem Post predicted that Iran will step up terrorist activities around the world in order to foil a settlement. This was the conclusion of an Israeli intelligence assessment delivered Tuesday to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, it said. The general tone of the Israeli press remained positive, however. An analysis in Ha'aretz by Aluf Ben said that Israel regards the public handshake between Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara as the principal achievement of the Washington summit. "The photo of them together will become the Rubicon from which there is no turning back," Ben wrote. "That was always the main card that the Syrians held closest to their chest in the poker game of peace negotiations. … Barak won his photo-opportunity, even at the relatively low level of the Syrian foreign minister, on the basis of secret understanding with the Syrians and Americans--and without having to announce his withdrawal lines."
In a report from New York, the Jerusalem Post said there are problems deciding who will benefit from Germany's agreement to disburse $5.1 billion in compensation to slave laborers of the Nazi regime. The paper said that approximately 130,000 Jewish survivors will be eligible to draw from the fund but that a distinction between slave and forced laborers is "a sore point" with central and eastern European governments. It quoted an unnamed Czech official involved in the talks as saying that while no one denies that the slave laborers, who were in concentration camps, suffered more than the forced laborers, the latter "should get compensation that is dignified." The Czech official said infighting among different sets of victims has already begun, and he dreads the talks on allocating the funds. "I have heard things I really didn't want to hear," he said. "The most unfortunate thing would be if it became a fight between Jewish and non-Jewish victims. But this approach--to set up a lump sum--really asks for it."
The deal received little play in the German press--and seemingly none at all in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which led its front page Wednesday with Russian troops closing in on the Chechen capital, Grozny. Also leading on the Chechen war, the Guardian of London reported, "The damage the Chechen campaign is wreaking on Russia's relations with the West was accentuated by criticism of the West by the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, while Javier Solana, the European Union security policy supremo and former Nato Secretary-General, said publicly that President Boris Yeltsin was not in his right mind." His comment on Catalan TV was widely noted across Europe as the most outspoken yet by a western official. "Yeltsin is not in possession of all his faculties," Solana said. "We've seen it on television across the world, and nobody can hide it." Le Monde of Paris also led Wednesday on Chechnya, but with an opinion poll showing that a majority of French people want economic sanctions imposed on Russia, and 60 percent of them think its behavior in Chechnya is much the same as that of Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo.
In Russia, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Joseph Stalin is making a comeback in the parliamentary elections next Sunday. His name will be on the ballot, and his picture is on posters and billboards all over the city, it said. A party called the Stalinist Bloc for the USSR is hoping to break through the 5 percent barrier that would give it members of the Duma. A recent opinion poll showed that if Stalin were alive, 7 percent of the Russian people would choose him as president.
As Portugal prepares to hand over its colony Macau to the Chinese, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong forecast a new area of disagreement between China and the United States. In a report from Washington Wednesday, the paper said that next spring the Clinton administration will redouble efforts to get Congress to pass the Macau Policy Act, which will formalize American support for Macau's freedoms, culture, and autonomy. But it quoted the Chinese Embassy in Washington as saying, "We will brook no foreign intervention. … [T]he issue of Macau and the affairs of Macau will be purely China's domestic affair."
In an editorial, the SCMP said it was a pity that the Macau Policy Act wasn't passed before the Christmas recess, because that would have ensured the continuance of the territory's vital textile exports to the United States. It also warned Congress, when it reconvenes, not "to slant the act too heavily on political issues. China has not intervened directly in Hong Kong's domestic affairs. There is reason to suppose it will pursue the same policy with Macau. A non-confrontational approach is the best way to support Macau as it moves into a new era." The SCMP also reported Wednesday that China and the Vatican have finally reached an understanding on establishing diplomatic ties. Quoting unidentified sources, it said the Vatican has agreed to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan as part of the deal.
All the British newspapers ran photographs of former Beatle Paul McCartney performing at the tiny Cavern Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles began and where he last appeared 36 years ago. The event even made the front page of Le Figaro of Paris under the headline "Liverpool's Heart Beats for Paul McCartney." The Daily Mirror of London reported that around 500 million Beatles fans tried to watch the concert on the Internet, but many found it jammed.