Serial setbacks this week presage “a hard summer ahead” for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Financial Times declared Wednesday. The selection of Moshe Katsav as president, rather than Barak’s preferred candidate, three-time Prime Minister Shimon Peres, was described as “a bitter snub” by Tageblatt of Luxembourg. “[A] depressing commentary on the prospects for peace after the collapse of the Camp David summit,” said Britain’s Independent. Israeli papers, while agreeing that the Knesset’s choice was “a searing, possibly fatal defeat” for the prime minister ( Globes), had positive words for Katsav. Born in Iran 55 years ago and reared in a transit camp, Katsav is the first Israeli president to have immigrated to the state after its establishment. He represents a new generation of Israeli leaders, Ha’aretz reported:
For 52 years the state has been led by one limited, centralized and power-oriented group. … But the fact is that a large segment of the population feels that this group, to whom the label “the elites” sticks like the mark of Cain, banned them from the centers of power and of influence in every possible sphere. Moshe Katsav, because of his life story, his pronunciation, and the skullcap he wore to be sworn in as president … is for many a symbol of this population. And the president of Israel is above all a symbol. The vote for Katsav was a vote for a symbol that expresses the real change that is occurring in Israeli society.
The resignation of Foreign Minister David Levy adds to the departures from Barak’s government: Fourteen of his 22 ministers have quit in the last six weeks, and 11 positions remain open. Le Temps of Switzerland said: “[Barak] is a one-man band in an almost nonexistent government. The ship of state looks more like a ghost craft.” Levy walked because of the “extravagant” concessions offered by Barak at the Camp David summit, particularly the potential division of Jerusalem, and because the prime minister refused to approach the rightist Likud Party about forming a “national unity government.” The Jerusalem Post described such a government as the “best chance for peace.” It said that although Likud leaders such as Ariel Sharon have publicly ruled out a coalition with the Barak government, they have done so because of the prime minister’s inflexibility, “The moment Barak indicates that he is willing to negotiate … Likud would likely feel bound to participate.” According to the Post editorial, a national unity government would show Yasser Arafat that Israel has reached “the end of the road of concessions.” It concluded:
The only way Barak can signal that he will go no further than he did at Camp David is to start going the other direction. … A unity government in which the Left understands that unlimited concessions only encourage the other side to hold out for more, and the Right understands that Israel cannot have peace for free, could convince the Palestinians that Israel could be pushed no further.
More than 100 people were killed in six different Kashmiri villages Tuesday, the “worst ever carnage perpetrated by Kashmiri militants” according to the Times of India. The attacks were apparently intended to jeopardize recent peace initiatives, but they may have improved the chances of a settlement. Last week, the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest separatist group, declared a cease-fire, and India ceased its military operations against it. The Kashmir Times speculated that smaller insurgent groups fear peace: “[M]ilitancy in our state has turned out to be a profitable industry for many and, along with the militants, many in our security forces, bureaucracy and political arena, at different levels, have also their fingers in that pie.” The Financial Times said that the violence should not be allowed to derail the peace process, which has its best chance of success in many years, though both sides must make concessions:
India will have to overcome the constitutional constraint that describes Kashmir as an inalienable part of India. Pakistan will have to find a way round its long-standing policy of insisting on a self-determination referendum in the territory.
Republicans are from Mars: Much of the European coverage of the Republican National Convention focused on what the Guardian called the party’s “cuddly new image.” An op-ed in the London Times contrasted this week’s moderation with the Newt Gingrich era: “In place of the doctrinaire Contract, Mr Bush is offering voters his Candlelit Dinner With America.” Writing in Canada’s National Post, Mark Steyn blew the party’s cover:
Presumably the idea is that in Los Angeles in two weeks’ time viewers will tune in, see a bunch of blacks and gays attacking the Republicans, and go, “Hey, this is a rerun. What else is on?” … [T]he GOP’s decision to stage the Democratic Convention two weeks early is a stroke of genius.