Drawing a Line in the Desert

Drawing a Line in the Desert

Drawing a Line in the Desert

What the foreign papers are saying.
May 24 2001 9:00 PM

Drawing a Line in the Desert

The Mitchell Commission report on the Middle East was greeted with skepticism in the region and optimism in the rest of the world. The committee headed by former Sen. George Mitchell published its report Monday, calling for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire, to be followed by "confidence-building measures" and, after a cooling-off period, the resumption of peace negotiations. On the Palestinian side, the confidence-building measures include an all-out effort to prevent terrorism and punish perpetrators, on the Israeli side the most significant concession is a total ban on settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza.

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The Jerusalem Post likened the report to "cotton candy: It may look substantial, but there is little substance there." The editorial complained that a settlement freeze is more than was required of Israel in the 1993 Oslo peace accords and should only be "offered in exchange for an equally significant Palestinian gesture that goes beyond the requirements of that signed agreement." If Israel conceded on the settlements, the Palestinians would be rewarded "for their eight-month armed offensive." The paper went so far as to suggest that the Al-Aqsa intifada "was launched to force Israel to walk out of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza as it did out of Lebanon, or to improve on the offers the Palestinians rejected at Camp David and Taba." A Post op-ed made a similar point:

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

Since the Palestinian Authority rejected the Barak and Clinton peace offers, initiated the violence, greatly stepped up incitement, and carried out officially sanctioned terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens and territory, the idea that ending the fighting requires a unilateral Israeli concession and no Palestinian compromises would be a rather strange outcome to the situation.

Canada's National Post, which is co-owned by Jerusalem Post proprietor Conrad Black, declared that "Mitchell is misguided." Pointing out that Yasser Arafat pledged "nearly a decade ago to crack down on violence … the Bush administration is asking Jerusalem to make a sweeping concession while letting Mr. Arafat off the hook."

The onus is on Mr. Arafat to jail the terrorists he released on to the streets and make significant progress toward fulfilling his previous promises in the Oslo accords before demanding further concessions. Halting the violence or "enforcing" cessation is not a "confidence-building measure"; it is an essential pre-condition to progress on all fronts by both sides.

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In Britain, the Independent said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's insistence on continuing to build the settlements to allow for "natural growth" is "unacceptable and implausible." The editorial continued:

Israel has thousands of empty properties on the West Bank—enough, calculate Israel's Peace Now activists, to absorb nearly three years of growth without building a single new home. It is clear that Israel's relentless settlement building during the Oslo era did much to undermine Arab faith in the peace process; the Palestinians now say that it is one of the driving forces behind their intifada.

The Sydney Morning Herald pointed out that, in the years since the Oslo accords were signed, the number of settlers has doubled to 200,000 (according to the BBC, there are also 200,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem); and that of the 145 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, 15 have been built since Sharon came to power in February.

Palestinians, not surprisingly, view the settlements as an encroachment on the land of their future state of Palestine, and on their lives. With the Israeli settlers come the Israeli military, to confirm the reality of Palestinian subjection and impotence, and their inability to establish an economic life independent of the Israeli definition of Jewish security requirements. If Mr Sharon truly wants peace and security he will move first, in full and open compliance with the Mitchell report's call for a freeze on settlements. He must know that a stiff-necked response to this call is bound to perpetuate Palestinian resentment and violence.

Medellín.com: The mayor of Medellín plans to transform its image from the cocaine capital of the world to the technology hub of Latin America by buying 200,000 computers to encourage the city's youth to become nerds rather than gunmen. According to the Financial Times, the horrific level of violence in Colombia's second city—in 1998 there were 3,000 murders in a population of 2 million, a homicide rate 22 times the United States'—has driven away legitimate businesses. A rival plan would invest in training rather than computer hardware—although only 20 percent to 25 percent of Colombia has telephone coverage, backers say its educated workforce, low costs, and lightly accented Spanish would make it a great location for a telephone call center serving Latin America and the United States.

Look-alike lockout: The Korean Advertising Review Board has put a crimp in the career of a professional Kim Jong-il impersonator. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported that after winning a "Dear Leader lookalike contest," Bae Eun-shik of Seoul, South Korea, gave up his job as a construction worker for a life in show business. Bae has portrayed the North Korean leader in fashion magazine shoots, television shows, and a forthcoming film, while most of his work was in newspaper ads. Although he claims to have been offered parts in 10 TV commercials, the ad board says he must get written approval from Kim before he can proceed. An official told the paper, "Although an atmosphere of reconciliation is being created between South and North Korea … the public is not ready to accept the North Korean leader being the subject of ads on public airwaves."