As Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat met in Paris, hoping to halt the ongoing Middle East violence, the world's editorial pages cast about for someone to blame. Who triggered these new, brutal clashes? Who'll finally bring a real peace?
In London, the Daily Telegraph is in a generous mood: It blames everybody. "The immediate cause of the outburst ... was the visit to the Temple Mount last Thursday by the Likud leader Ariel Sharon," the Telegraph writes. "Mr Sharon wished to demonstrate that he was tougher than Mr Barak on the future of Jerusalem." But Barak gets off no easier: "The former general has not excelled in the art of managing a notoriously difficult political assembly." As for Arafat: "Vain, corrupt and oppressive, he has once again proved a dismal embodiment of Palestinian aspirations."
The Times of London mourns the leadership vacuum. Though "there is little doubt that [Sharon's visit] provoked the first clashes," and other factors are also to blame (Arafat's stubbornness, Israeli distrust of the bargaining process, recent economic hardship for Palestinians), the real culprit is clear: "lack of leadership and sense of drift." Barak is "now perceived as weak, inconsistent and politically naive" and is trusted by neither the left nor the right. Arafat is "denounced by many Palestinians as an Israeli puppet." And most importantly, America will likely drop the ball. The upcoming election "has undermined the role of the U.S. President, the one mediator with the authority to enforce compromise." An opinion piece in the Guardian agrees that the United States must ultimately take charge: "As usual, it is the Americans who are in the driving seat, and there is every chance that the hard decisions that are needed will be made not in Paris, Israel or Palestine, but in Washington."
In Israel, an op-ed in Ha'aretz says Sharon's not the problem, despite his provocative actions. It's Barak who created this mess. "The fact is that since Barak came to power, not one agreement on any basic issue has been reached with the Palestinians, and Barak has accomodated them even less than Netanyahu (who implemented the Hebron agreement). ... If anyone is responsible for the dishonorable burying of the Oslo accords and a possible chaotic collapse in the territories, it is Prime Minister Barak." Meanwhile, an essay in the Jerusalem Post says Israel, not Palestine, must lead the way. As the "stronger power" it is Israel who has "the ability to change the situation. The Palestinians of the West Bank and the Arab citizens of Israel are dependent on us to take the initiative and grant them their rights and their independence."
Tofu or Not Tofu: Japan's Asahi Shimbun runs an essay pegged to "Tofu Day," a new holiday cooked up by the Japan Tofu Association. Tofu consumption is way down, plummeting to 77 tofu cakes for the average Japanese household last year. In response, manufacturers have jazzed tofu up, crafting it into doughnuts and cream puffs. This has the author getting a little philosophical: "Gazing at all these creative tofu concoctions, it occurred to me that the essentially bland but versatile nature of tofu could be likened to the Japanese people themselves, who have traditionally excelled at adapting foreign ideas and technologies." The downside? Tofu has exchanged its base properties (high in protein, low in calories) for flashier goals. "In the same way that such tofu products have traded in much of their true value for superficial novelty, I cannot resist the admittedly cynical thought that today's Japanese may too have traded in some of their identity by being too adaptable."
Could It Work for Nader?: The Moscow Times reports on the strange disappearance of a gubernatorial candidate in Kamchatka. Georgy Greshnykh "disappeared just three days before he planned to hold a news conference in Moscow to reveal compromising materials about the local administration and law enforcement officials." A friend claims he saw Greshnykh hauled off by men in camouflage. The plot thickens: Regional police insist the abduction was staged as a campaign stunt to draw votes. "I think he has very little chance of winning," said a police chief. "So this is probably an election-campaign show."
What If They Banned Vodka?: A separate Moscow Times piece covers Aeroflot's resistance to a U.S. law banning smoking "on all flights to and from the United States, regardless of the carrier and country of origin." Aeroflot has yet to comply, and it's one of the last airlines in the world to allow smoking during flights. " 'If we do it [ban smoking], every passenger would have the right to sue us for an infringement on his or her freedom,' said the head of the Aeroflot legal department, Boris Yeliseyev." Hmm, smokers dictating policy. Is it Russia, or ... Bizarro World???