The Middle East peace summit at Camp David between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat dominated the world’s editorial pages in a slow news week, even though it is, in the words of the Times of London, “hardly cursed with excessive expectations.” A leader in Britain’s Independent said, “Total agreement … is virtually out of the question, and total failure is as likely as partial success.” It concluded, “So deep are the differences that they may defy even Mr Clinton’s unmatched ability to fudge, blur and cajole.” The departure of three key parties from Barak’s ruling coalition Sunday night, troubles within Arafat’s administration, and the impending departure of President Clinton led the Times to declare, “This is the summit of the wounded dove, the uncertain hawk and the lame duck.”
An editorial in the Irish Times painted an admiring portrait of the battered Barak, noting that his “determination to pursue peace talks at Camp David marks him out as a politician bent on controversial action rather than woolly compromise.” The paper speculated that Barak’s domestic problems might “in a curious way” strengthen his negotiating position because “it will remind his interlocutors that he must look over his shoulder at gathering opposition at home.” It continued:
Some Arab observers have gone so far as to suggest that he may have deliberately engineered the political crisis to achieve this result. This appears unlikely. It is more reasonable to suggest that if the crisis was planned, it was done by the coalition parties in order to prevent Mr Barak making territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
An op-ed in the same paper speculated that Arafat’s “mindset” might prove to be a more important factor than Israel’s internal politics:
Will he be prepared to moderate his positions, in recognition of the fact that Mr Barak may be offering him the best deal he can ever hope to win from an Israeli leader? Or, sensing Mr Barak’s political weakness, will he hold firm to demands for an Israeli pullout from 100 per cent of the occupied territory and other maximalist positions?
They will have to make Arafat understand that Barak simply has no breath left, and that his political isolation is not a ploy, but a reflection of Israel’s domestic situation in all its fragility.… In the wake of the government crisis in Israel, which will hover over Camp David like a shadow, Arafat must reach sober conclusions about how much room Barak has to maneuver. The prime minister’s declared positions, leaked on the eve of the summit, allude to more willingness to compromise than any Israeli leader before him. But Barak has come very close to the practical limits of his own flexibility.
[T]he burden is squarely on the Israelis to deliver. Their oft-repeated “no” (on Jerusalem, refugees, water and borders) and their reckless appeasement of extremist aspirations through settlement and road expansion have placed successive governments in a box of their own making.
Soccer shenanigans: The vote last Friday on the venue for the 2006 soccer World Cup has led to so much controversy that a summit may be needed to settle the matter. South Africa had been the favorite to get the nod from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, but a delegate from New Zealand, Charles Dempsey, abstained in the final round of voting, thus handing the cup to Germany. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologized to the people of South Africa, expressed regret that her government did not do more to persuade the delegate to support their bid, and now plans to pressure FIFA to get Dempsey’s ballot changed.
Many papers speculated as to Dempsey’s motives. An editorial in the Scotsman opened by saying:
There’s no fool like an old fool, but we can be sure that 78-year-old Charles Dempsey was no-one’s fool when the FIFA delegate abstained from voting on where the 2006 football World Cup should be held. The New Zealand-based Scot knew exactly what he was doing.
The Independent claimed that racism was behind Dempsey’s unexpected behavior—specifically his “close association” with Lennart Johansson, the Swedish head of the European football federation, who, according to the paper is “deeply unpopular in Africa, where he has been accused more than once of racism.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung acknowledged the taint of corruption and implied that Germany’s reputation has been sullied too: “People who win contests in which fraud is commonplace can only claim to be innocent, but can never prove it.”
Headline of the week: Scoring points for both tastelessness and offensiveness, a piece in South Africa’s Independent about a new campaign to clean up the 10 tons of dog merde that hit the streets of Paris every day was headed, “Super pooper-scoopers to fight turd reich.”