International Papers

Who’s the Wimp?

“There have never been elections in Israel that focused so explicitly on the personality and leadership of an incumbent prime minister,” A. B. Yihoshua, a distinguished Israeli author and sometime political commentator, wrote Monday in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot. “The main issue that got this campaign going was not the final status agreement with the Palestinians … but the prime minister’s problematic personality.” In the same paper, Emuna Elon wrote that Israel could not trust Labor Party leader Ehud Barak: “Israel wants change, but Israel cannot settle for a non-leader like Barak, a man who until two months ago was said, even by his supporters, to be ‘not taking off’ until he was suddenly reinforced by a battalion of expensive American advisers who taught him to recite some slogans convincingly.”

As opinion polls showed Benjamin Netanyahu likely to lose in Monday’s national elections in Israel, the liberal daily Ha’aretz urged a large turnout by voters opposed to him, so as to ensure his defeat. It described his statements in the final days of the campaign as “further proof of his lack of responsibility.” The conservative Jerusalem Post said a pall had been cast over the campaign by the death on Saturday of a Likud campaigner during an altercation with a Labor supporter who had been trying to deface a Netanyahu poster and replace it with one of Barak. Representatives of both parties deplored the incident and described it as murder. La Repubblica of Rome Monday described Netanyahu in a front-page comment as “the worst of all the heads of government that the Jewish state has had in its half-century of existence.”

A flurry of diplomatic activity within NATO to reassess its Kosovo strategy dominated war coverage in the British press Monday. The Times of London led its front page with a Newsweek report of the Pentagon warning President Clinton that the Kosovo war cannot be won without the use of ground troops. In an editorial, it continued to bang the drum for ground troops and said British Prime Minister Tony Blair must “convince a reluctant President Clinton to take those steps that might render plausible an integrated air-ground campaign in Kosovo. … Mr Clinton, the candidate who memorably ‘smoked but did not inhale’ is for now the Commander-in-Chief who ‘bombed but would not fight,’ ” the editorial said. “The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary must now convince the President that his reputation, and NATO’s future credibility, rests upon a willingness to use the tools at his disposal.”

A day earlier, the Sunday Times, quoting a British government source, said Blair is feeling “a deep sense of frustration” with Clinton after failing to persuade him to commit ground troops to Kosovo. But in another British Sunday paper, the Observer, Blair dismissed claims of a divide between the president and himself. “The vast bulk of this military operation is being carried out by US forces, although Kosovo is a very long way from Kansas,” he said in an interview. “Their commitment and leadership is something for which President Clinton should be praised, rather than the sneers he receives from the Right in this country.”

The Independent led Monday with the angle that Blair is isolated on the ground war issue. It quoted a “senior Nato source” as saying that not only the United States but also Germany is still against committing ground troops because it could lead to “unknown repercussions from Russia” and “cause governments to fall in Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic.” It quoted a British government source as saying there is “no threat to the Bill and Tony relationship” but that Britain wants NATO “to get a move on” and “face up to the decision.” In an editorial, the Independent said that Blair, a “hawk without wings,” has been allowed to become isolated by Clinton “as the US reluctance to commit ground troops has hardened rather than softened and the President has followed the line of least resistance.”

The moderate Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova told Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Monday that the joint declaration he signed last April in Belgrade with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was “without meaning.” It demanded, among other things, an immediate end to the NATO airstrikes. Rugova, who was recently allowed by Milosevic to leave Yugoslavia for Western Europe, said in an interview that he had only signed to give his family some space, since he was effectively a prisoner of Belgrade. He said he wanted the air offensive to continue until Serb troops leave Kosovo and are replaced by a NATO-led peacekeeping force.

The main Italian newspapers led on NATO’s rejection of a proposal by Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema that the bombing should stop if there is agreement in the U.N. Security Council on a Kosovo resolution supported by both Russia and China. La Repubblica reported from Brussels that NATO spokesman Jamie Shea has reiterated that Milosevic must accept the alliance’s conditions before the offensive can be halted. D’Alema discussed his proposal with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at a meeting in Bari, Italy, on Monday. Corriere della Sera of Milan said Germany’s peace initiatives have also been cold-shouldered by the alliance.

China’s leading newspaper, the People’s Daily, ran an editorial Sunday headed “Stopping Bombing–Precondition for Any Political Solution.” The government organ said that while the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade provoked widespread indignation, NATO leaders, instead of changing their stand, “have continued the barbaric raids on an even larger scale against Yugoslavia.” It said, “It is well known that the Kosovo issue is an internal affair of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia involving complex ethnic and religious contradictions. … Events over the past 50 days have demonstrated that the lunatic bombing of Yugoslavia by U.S.-led NATO has not solved the Kosovo crisis. Instead, it has caused a larger exodus of refugees and seriously devastated stability and peace in the Balkans and even Europe.”

On the failed impeachment of President Boris Yeltsin by the Russian Duma, the daily Segodnya said that the “hearings in the Duma have proved beyond doubt that Boris Yeltsin hardly has a match among politicians.” But other Russian papers said the president has little to be proud of. Novaya Gazeta noted that “not a word in support of the president has been said in the three days of parliamentary hearings.” Moskovsky Komsomolets said that “even those who opposed the impeachment could not find a good word to say about Yeltsin and spoke against the impeachment solely in the interests of preserving a semblance of stability in the country.”