The war in Israel supersedes the war in Afghanistan in the international press this week. On Tuesday, Israel retaliated for the weekend’s spate of suicide bombings by destroying three of Yasser Arafat’s helicopters, wrecking the landing strip of Gaza Airport, and razing a Palestinian Authority security post in the West Bank about 100 yards from where Arafat was working. Britain’s Guardian reported that the air raids killed two people, including a 15-year-old boy who was fleeing from the bombers. The paper claimed that the air attacks were designed to force Arafat to round up and jail militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad members. The Palestinian Authority has placed the Hamas leader under house arrest and has detained around 120 people, but Israel demanded that at least 30 more be taken into custody. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz said, “In practical terms, [Tuesday’s] attack on Gaza and Jenin had little significance, but the Palestinian leaders and people have clearly got the message from Israel that it can and will humiliate them.”
Several papers declared the Arafat era over. The Times of London described a “forlorn” Arafat, who was now a “virtual prisoner inside his own office,” and speculated that Arafat’s “fleet of Mercedes” would be Israel’s next target. Britain’s Daily Telegraph summarized his political career as “a dismal catalogue of misjudgments, wasted opportunities, cynicism and incompetence.” It added, “The wonder is that Israel and the outside world have retained faith in Mr Arafat for so long. In any fully democratic society, he would have been voted out of office for betraying a cause that enjoyed wide support.”
An op-ed in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest-circulation daily, dismissed reports of Arafat’s political demise: “Strange as it may sound, the State of Israel has gone to war against one man, not an organization, an entity or an ideology, but against Yasser Arafat, our Osama bin Laden. But the aim of the war, so far, is not to eliminate Arafat but to educate him.” (Translation courtesy of Lebanon’s Daily Star.)
For a columnist in the Jerusalem Post, Arafat’s flaw was that he had failed to eliminate Hamas in the same way that Egypt, Syria, and Jordan have suppressed, often brutally, Islamist groups. “The only Arab leader who found it convenient to coexist with an extremist Islamist organization such as Hamas has been Arafat: he had a double strategy toward them. By allowing their public activity, he was avoiding confrontation with radical elements within his own society; and by turning a blind eye to their terrorist activities, he could use them strategically to maximize pressure on Israel.” Arafat is now paying the price: He cannot control Hamas, and his own legitimacy has now been undermined.
Still, there was support for the new, more violent phase of the intifada. Iraq’s Al Jumhuriya declared suicide bombings the “only way to liberate Palestine. … What has been taken away by force can only be taken back by force and through sacrifices.” (Translation from the Jordan Times.)
On top of the world, Mao: Britain’s Independent published a dispatch from Katmandu describing the contradictions of Nepal, where “[f]or most of the past six years the Himalayan kingdom has managed to keep up the pretence of a tourist Shangri La while at the same time it is beset with an uprising by anti-monarchist Maoists, which has cost 2,000 lives.” Two hundred people have been killed in the last two weeks, and last week King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency. Police posts on popular trekking and climbing routes have been abandoned because of the violence, so now tourists pay fewer bribes. “Rampant corruption among police and government officials is a major factor in explaining sympathy for the Maoist cause. Thatched homes surrounded by flowers, a buffalo or two and fecund terraces may look idyllic but there is grinding poverty in the hill districts.”
The cult of Putin: Move over Anna Kournikova, Russia’s hottest 2002 calendar features portraits of President Vladimir Putin. Although none of the 1,000 copies of the Putin calendar were available for sale to the general public—the artists presented them to bureaucrats in the Duma and the Kremlin—Moscow’s art lovers could view the originals in the exhibition “The 12 Moods of the President.” The Moscow Times reported that the moods include “sad, happy, worried and querulous—or perhaps constipated, as one visitor suggested.” It concluded, “Although Putin has publicly asked not to be immortalized in works of art, he has become the object of eulogistic pop culture since becoming president: His image has been woven into carpet, his head wrought in clay and he has even been put in children’s books.” The Times of London interpreted this as “the latest evidence of a growing cult of personality surrounding Mr Putin.”
The first wives club: Many of the respectful tributes to former South African first lady Marike de Klerk, whose body was discovered Tuesday, mentioned the deep unhappiness she felt when her husband left her for another woman. The most caustic response came from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, whose ex-husband Nelson Mandela shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk. According to South Africa’s Star, she declared, “As a woman, I can identify with the exhaustion of her emotional resources in shaping her former husband’s career. He attained his dream and she became expendable; she died a lonely death while he jetted around the world. At the end of the day this is the plight of so many women, irrespective of their background.”