International Papers

The Sharm el-Sheikh Sham

Even the most optimistic readers will be hard-pressed to find a reaction to the Sharm el-Sheikh crisis summit with the emotional thermostat set higher than “gloom and doom.” The Times of London described it as being “among the most dispiriting episodes in the bleak annals of international attempts to dampen down the flames of Arab-Israeli conflict.” The editorial continued, “The American President, who has had to watch seven years of peace-building being torn apart in 20 days, set out to do no more than short-circuit the currents of hatred—but even that was a task almost beyond his charisma and legendary stamina.” Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald took solace in low expectations:

For the moment, about all that can be said is that it was a sort of miracle—given the mood of bleak, bitter pessimism when the 28-hour summit began on Monday—that any result at all was achieved.

The Financial Times declared the summit’s final statement “the best that could have been hoped for given the mood of high tension and mutual recrimination” and concluded, “A new generation of Palestinians has set a new agenda, far removed from previous peace accords. Sharm el-Sheikh is unlikely to deflect them from their goal.” The Irish Times, which has covered more than its share of peace negotiations regarding the troubles in the North, was more hopeful; in addition to lauding increased European Union and U.N. involvement in the process, “to counter the United States’s imbalanced support for Israel,” it proclaimed:

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have come sufficiently close to the brink of negotiating collapse to think twice about propelling themselves over the precipice of potentially much deeper conflict. They both face dreadfully difficult choices about their future and legitimacy should they fail. They are aware that more radical elements are waiting to take the initiative, capable of driving the Middle East region in more dangerous directions.

In Israel, an analysis in the liberal Ha’aretz complained that “the Sharm agreement is no more than a statement of intentions, with each side reserving the right to declare the other side in violation at any moment—a declaration that will have no legal force, since there is no actual agreement.” (The meeting concluded without signed accords, there was merely a statement read by President Bill Clinton.) The Jerusalem Post was forthright:

Enough with equivocation: It is the Palestinians, not Israel that must now prove their desire for peace. This must be immediate and comprehensive, demonstrated by the Palestinian leadership, security apparatus, and the majority of the populace. If not, then all that was achieved at Sharm was a temporary truce. Law and order need not be “restored” in Israel, for it was never lacking. However, it must be instituted in the Palestinian Authority, which is run with a convenient mix of autocracy and anarchy.

Both Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak are in difficult positions, according to the papers. Britain’s Guardian outlined Arafat’s problems:

The deep, unfeigned anger of younger generations of Palestinians at a peace process they see as weighted against their nation’s interests has both wrongfooted and galvanised their corrupt, lacklustre leadership, and stirred the apathetic Arab world beyond. … [Arafat] is increasingly in danger of being seen by them as the stooge of a discredited, US-led scheme to circumvent UN resolutions, stifle Palestine’s legitimate aspirations, and consolidate Israel’s quasi-colonial dominance.

Prime Minister Barak’s attempts to form a national unity government that included the right-wing Likud Party were rebuffed Wednesday by party leader Ariel Sharon. (Sharon’s Sept. 28 visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem set off the latest round of unrest.) The Financial Times said that Likud opposition to parts of the Sharm el-Sheik agreement was the deal-breaker. Barak’s minority government is in danger of being ousted when the Knesset reconvenes later this month if it does not find new coalition partners, but Ha’aretz was gleeful that the overtures to Likud were rejected:

Israel’s most adroit, silver-tongued spokesmen will find it impossible to explain to the world how forging a coalition alliance with politicians who oppose all realistic compromise with the Palestinians represents the proper way of promoting peace.

The Times claimed that “Israelis and Palestinians are colluding in death.” An Amnesty International-sponsored study of the Middle East conflict conducted by a British police expert found that proper policing and crowd control techniques could have prevented the violence of the past three weeks. But, according to the paper, “neither side is interested in saving lives. The Palestinians are seeking martyrdom; the Israelis are bent on punishment.” While the Israelis mount war rather than a police operation, the Palestinian police ignore their duty to prevent children from rushing into danger spots.

Men behaving lamely: According to the Daily Telegraph, “[T]housands of women are having to dance alone because British men are too reserved.” The winners of the United Kingdom’s first merengue championship speculated that chaps can’t handle the close contact and sensuality of Latin American dances and that their inhibitions may be caused by the nation’s cold, wet weather. Over on the European continent, narcissism and performance anxiety are nobbling Italian men. The Guardian reported that a study of 60,000 Italians concluded than only senior citizens, housewives, and civil servants had satisfactory sex lives—apparently because of “the absence of stress or the need to prove themselves.” Italian daily Corriere della Sera declared, “The Latin lover is in decline.”