International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

March 19, 2004

March 19, 2004





**  Israeli dailies demand the IDF "purge Gaza of Hamas" before pulling out. 


**  Muslim writers say a comprehensive peace deal is the "only road to security."


**  A "power vacuum" in Gaza could lead to more "factional disputes."


**  The U.S. needs to give assurances on "implementing the roadmap," say critics. 




Israel 'does not have the luxury of abandoning operations' in Gaza--  Israeli writers demanded continued "ground operations" and "precise strikes" in Gaza.  A liberal outlet termed "selective assassinations" an "unavoidable necessity" to prevent "Hamas and its cohorts" from portraying Israel's withdrawal as a "triumph of Palestinian power."  Left-leaning Ha'aretz described the Ashdod suicide bombings as part of a "concerted effort" by Palestinians to show "Israel is retreating under military pressure."  Pluralist Novosty Nedely backed Sharon's plan to disengage "unilaterally" without any "coordination with Palestinians" because any bilateral deal would "force Israel to make more significant concessions."


'The tougher the Israeli attacks, the more support' for Hamas--  Arab and German outlets advised Israel against "mounting military campaigns" ahead of any pullout.  German broadsheets urged Israel to restrain itself from "further escalation" that would only "nurture terrorism"; left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau opined that Hamas is already "the strongest political and social force in Gaza."  Palestinian analysts agreed that "peace is the only road to security," with independent Al-Quds declaring that "stability can never be achieved by means of military solutions."


'Events in Gaza reflect the disunity of Palestinians'--  Alluding to the internecine struggle "among Palestinian factions" in Gaza, Arab dailies cautioned that a "lack of unity will only strengthen the enemy."  London-based moderate Al-Sharq Al-Awsat described the PA as "too weak to keep law and order" in Gaza, and foresaw "renewed violence between Hamas and armed groups loyal" to Arafat.  Given the concern that a Israeli unilateral withdrawal would create a "power vacuum" in Gaza, several papers welcomed Egypt's "readiness" to deploy its army on the border with Gaza to provide "effective" security.


Sharon is destroying the roadmap 'with the support of the U.S.'--  Critical Arab writers demanded a more "objective stand" from the U.S.  Saudi Arabia's moderate Al-Jazirah alleged that Sharon is seeking to "please Americans by ignoring...Arafat's government," while the government-owned Syria Times accused the U.S. of giving "top priority to Israeli interests" by accepting Israel's unilateral steps.  The elite Jordan Times took a gentler line, praising the U.S. for wanting the "unilateral disengagement" to "include major chunks of the West Bank as well."


EDITOR:  Ben Goldberg


EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis is based on 36 reports from 9 countries over 14 - 19 March 2004.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.




GERMANY:  "The Hour Of Agents Provocateurs"


Peter Muench said in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (3/18):  "Both sides are serious in Gaza.  A bloody final is to be fought between the Israeli army and Palestinian terror groups....  Both sides want this battle, both sides are ready, and so the coming days and weeks could become disastrous....  As a matter of fact, Israel's Premier Sharon opened this confrontation when he promised Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip....  But this announcement alone has put enormous pressure on both sides.  Today the fighting starts for the time after.  Radical Palestinians want to turn Israel's withdrawal into their victory....  But this claim for power cannot be in Israel's interests.  It must now avoid creating the impression of having been expelled from Gaza by force, since the radicals can consider this an encouragement for their fight on the West Bank.  This is why every reaction to an attack must be even harder than usual.  In addition, Israel must be interested in destroying the terrorist infrastructure as good as possible before finally withdrawing....  This is why, within a brief period, the tragic of this conflict has been revealed again:  With a withdrawal plan that could have been a ray of hope, a further escalation of the situation has developed.  Thus the use of force is turning everything upside down."




Erik-Michael Bader noted in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (3/18):  "Like Palestinian suicide attacks will not force the free independent Palestinian state, nor will Israeli murderous actions...prevent future Palestinian attacks.  The opposite is rather true: it may be possible that a few attacks will be prevented or postponed, but the angry reaction that follows every demolition of houses will lead to new supporters for the terrorists.  In both cases, experience would require…and end to these activities.  Instead we can observe a kind of obsessive culmination.  On the Palestinian side, this does not seem to be so surprising:  these are terrorists, religiously and chauvinist young fanatics, guided by criminal cynical power politicians.  But that a democratic state that is based on the rule of law succumbs to such a degree of counter violence is really surprising.  In view of how this does nurture terrorism, which of course is not based on this source alone, we can only express our astonishment."


"Deadly Strategy"


Inge Guenther stated in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (3/18):  "Israel's Premier Sharon is planning to deal the death blow to Hamas before his immature plans for a removal of settlements can become a reality.  But he will hardly succeed.  Hamas is not only a guerilla force, but it is likely that is has turned into the strongest political and social force on the Gaza Strip.  The tougher the Israeli attacks, the more support it will get among Palestinians....  Another dilemma: we can expect the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip at the earliest after the U.S. presidential elections.  This is why there is a great risk that Israel, instead of pulling out from Gaza, will sink even deeper in the quagmire of occupation--with fatal consequences for both sides."


"Sharon's Alibi"


Business-oriented Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf noted (3/16):  "A direct contact between Israel's Premier Sharon and Palestinian leader Qurei would now have been more necessary than ever...since the war has reached a new quality with the latest attacks.  For the first time since the beginning of the second intifada...the attackers came from the Gaza Strip and not from the West Bank.  For the Palestinians, this may be the demonstrative evidence that even a region that has been sealed off completely like the Gaza Strip...cannot stop the activities of the 'fighters.'  And this is all the more true for a security fence along the border to the West Bank.  But the fighters have now freely offered Sharon two arguments:  He can at least modify his plan for a unilateral removal from the Gaza Strip thus soothing the temper among opponents in his own ranks. And, this is not less important, during his upcoming trip to Washington, he can now counter criticism of his strategy that has become louder over the past few weeks."


ITALY:  “Suicide Bombers Return To Israel: 11 Dead”


Aldo Baquis stated in centrist, influential La Stampa (3/15):  “Eleven Israeli workers were killed in an incursion carried out yesterday in the Port of Ashdod by two Palestinian suicide bombers....  The Hezbollah TV station Manar, in Lebanon, broadcast the claim of responsibility for the attack. This confirms the level of contiguity of the Lebanese (Shiite) and the Palestinian guerrillas (Sunnite). This is an element that will have to be evaluated by Israeli leaders just as Sharon is about to order the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip....  This is precisely what Sharon was going to discuss in his meeting (now cancelled) with Abu Ala. According to the U.S., it’s important that a power vacuum not be created in Gaza for fundamentalist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to take advantage. Washington believes that there must be an orderly and gradual transfer of powers from Israel to the PNA. But according to Sharon, the fact that al-Fatah has also claimed responsibility for the attack means that Israel currently has no valid interlocutor among the Palestinians. Hamas has made it known that not even a withdrawal from Gaza would diminish the intensity of the Palestinian battle.”




ISRAEL:  "George Bush, Insurance Corp."


Nahum Barnea wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (3/19):  "For Sharon to be able to pass the withdrawal plan in the government and the Likud, he needs a festive reception in the U.S., perhaps on the ranch in Texas, perhaps at Camp David, perhaps in a historic ceremony on the White House lawn.  Mainly he needs a presidential declaration that he can flourish.  But before the president makes his declaration, he needs to be sure that Sharon will make his plan pass in the Israeli political establishment.  Otherwise, his efforts will have been to no avail.  Sharon's great, Sisyphean task now is to achieve synchronization between Danny Ben Lulu's [a Likud Central Committee member] electoral aspirations and George Bush's electoral aspirations."


"Waiting For An Invitation"


Alex Fishman held in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (3/19):  "Even if the Americans are starting to digest the [disengagement plan] idea they are still withholding Sharon's invitation to Washington.  And the Prime Minister is impatiently waiting for this invitation in order to bring what Israel needs in order to begin the move: American public support, an economic compensation and 'back wind' against the majority in his government, who oppose the plan.  An American recognition, even a general one, for settlement blocks in the West Bank, would help him greatly.  The Minister of Defense [Shaul Mofaz] tried to satisfy the Americans by using a general formula: supporting the large settlement blocks does not contradict the traditional American policy, which talks about strategic depth and defensible borders....  The Americans listened and did not answer.  They will give their answers--if and when--to the Prime Minister.  And it is unnecessary to say that if Sharon returns from Bush with empty hands, the move won't take place." 


"How To Get Out Of Gaza"


Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized (3/18): "The Palestinians have a powerful interest in presenting a different version of the narrative of the withdrawal from Gaza.  Sharon wants to present it as the tale of an independent Israeli decision whose purpose is to improve Israel's military capabilities in years to come.  Hamas and its cohorts want to frame the withdrawal in a different context, presenting it as a triumph of Palestinian power that culminated in the removal of Jewish settlements and the expulsion of the IDF.  The terror attacks, which peaked early this week in the double suicide bombing at the Ashdod port, are intended to restore to the Palestinians both operational initiative in the field, and the ability to dictate the narrative to the world.... Since it is tremendously difficult for security forces to thwart terror attacks once suicide bombers and explosives have been smuggled into Israeli territory, Israel does not have the luxury of abandoning operations in the Gaza Strip altogether.  Under such circumstances, selective assassinations of those responsible for planning future terror strikes and for implementing them (as opposed to punishing those responsible for past attacks) are an unavoidable necessity.  The same is true of ground operations when there is no way of carrying out precise strikes against defined targets....  Operations proposed by military officials to the political leadership are less problematic than the verbal wrapping in which government spokesmen have packaged the plans for marketing to the public.  Posturing and threats do not enhance Israel's deterrent power.  They can actually backfire, leading to a general escalation and producing one of two bad results: enhancing the credibility of the Palestinian version of Israel's withdrawal under force, or the failure of the plan to withdraw from Gaza."


"Going To Gaza"


Chief Economic Editor Sever Plotker wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (3/17):  "The most recent wave of terror attacks by Hamas was launched to prove that Israel is withdrawing from Gaza because of Ashdod, that Al Qaida's 'Madrid method' (terror prompts withdrawal) has met with success here as well. Israel, in response, has decided to purge Gaza of Hamas and to deal Hamas a deathblow....  There can be no disputing the need to pay Hamas back what it duly deserves. However, the root of all evil does not lie with this terror organization. Hamas is capable of launching such a large scope of terror attacks against Israel only because it is backed by Palestinian militias that are loyal to Arafat.  Arafat perceives Hamas to be his long-range strategic arm.  He wants to be cast as the liberator of Gaza.  As such, as long as Arafat is around, it is doubtful that the Israeli withdrawal will take place.  And it is also doubtful whether the blow being dealt to Hamas--lethal as it may be--will achieve its desired goals.  We cannot--either morally or politically--drown Gaza either in the sea or in blood.  But Arafat can be expelled."


"Child Sacrifice"


Conservative, independent Jerusalem Post declared (3/17):  "Israel was shaken Monday.  It wasn't because of a terrorist atrocity actually perpetrated, but because of one thankfully preempted.  Front pages were dominated by the story of 11-year-old Abdullah Quran, who carried a powerful bomb in his schoolbag....  This is not 'just' child abuse, but child sacrifice.  It is as if Palestinian terrorists are trying to reach new depths of war crimes, matched only by previous uses of ambulances and pregnant women to carry out terrorist attacks....  Incredibly, Abdullah's misadventure went largely unreported by the world's media, further underscoring the double standard against Israel....  The Palestinian manipulation of children is as pervasive and transparent as Hitler's 'Children's Army' at the end of World War II.  It's a flagrant violation of Article 38 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which censures 'the recruitment and involvement of children under 15 in hostilities and armed conflicts.'  Yet it's an entrenched Arab practice in this country....  Palestinian youngsters are incessantly subjected to brainwashing in the media and classroom.  Hate is inculcated in them.  Even preschoolers are taught to aspire to martyr status.  They grow in a culture that, rather than consecrating life, glorifies violent 'sacrificial' death."


"Disengagement As Strategic Need"


Avraham Tamir wrote in popular, pluralist Maariv (3/17):  "History will chronicle the unilateral disengagement, in accordance with the principles of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as a necessary transition period in the peace process, in accordance with President Bush's road map principles....  Sharon's disengagement plan will earn broad national support in Israel; the duration of a national unity government, even if extremist factions leave it because of the connection with the goals of the road map; U.S. support and assistance for relocating a civilian and military infrastructure; the support of Egypt and Jordan to the only way of preparing the ground for the implementation of the road map; and the support of the EU, the Russian Federation, the Secretary-General of the UN and key Arab and Muslim countries.  The scope of that support will have repercussions on change in the Palestinian government toward a determination to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, to stop hostile operations and to sever connections with international terrorist organizations such as Hizbullah and Al Qaida....  Sharon's disengagement plan...would have implications for the advancement of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace, in which a diplomatic and security solution would be found to all the components of a conflict that has lasted since time immemorial."


"Lots Of Trouble"


Ben Caspit wrote in popular, pluralist Maariv (3/16):  "It is not inconceivable that Ariel Sharon might ultimately have to forget his grand plan, quash the medium-sized one and go for the small version: a partial withdrawal from Gaza, keeping the three northern settlements intact, the fate of Philadelphi [the corridor at the Gaza-Egypt border] unclear.  By so doing he will neutralize most of the opposition and will crush the rebellion in the Likud before its inception....  Ariel Sharon is in trouble.  If he opts for the grand plan he will lose his coalition, perhaps even his party, and maybe even his seat as prime minister.  Binyamin Netanyahu is in trouble.  If he acts against Sharon, he will be gambling on his political future and will lose public points.  If he doesn't, the same applies.  The two of them, Sharon and Netanyahu, are trapped.  They are both searching for a dignified way out. Bibi [Netanyahu] has spoken in the past number of days staunchly against the disengagement plan.  Sharon has tried to speak in its favor, but without success....  The way things look now, the wind in Sharon's sails is slowly dying out.  His principled determination still exists, but life looks more complicated than ever before.  The Israelis made it clear to the Americans that in any event, no steps would be taken on the ground before the summer of 2005.  Sharon won't be going to Washington this month, but only next month (maybe).  The Americans are looking forward to the Arab League convening at the end of this month and to an explicit condemnation of suicide bombing attacks, and don't want to ruin that achievement."


"Sharon's Disengagement Has Long Been Bilateral"


Akiva Eldar opined in left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz (3/16):  "Arafat's court does not want Sharon's court spoiling its victory celebration.  They are keeping one important fact under wraps: Sharon's unilateral disengagement has long been bilateral.  The Palestinians decided 30 years ago to take any shred of land that falls into their hands....  That decision, which involves the liberation of all Palestinian lands and the annihilation of Israel, is known as 'the plan of the stages.' In 1988, it made way for the Algiers Declaration, which recognized Security Council Resolution 242 requiring Israeli withdrawal only from territory conquered during the Six-Day War.  In the Oslo accords, the PLO agreed to receive the territories in stages....  The fact that the PLO leadership is not wiping away a tear at Israel's departure from Gaza in exchange for nothing does not keep it from going around the world with downcast demeanor. Why would they miss the opportunity to present Israel as the party that buried the road map under the outposts of Israeli trespassers in the West Bank and the ruins of the homes of innocent Palestinians in Gaza?"


"Take Him Seriously"


Yoel Marcus maintained in left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz (3/16):  "The first thing on [Sharon's] list is to win the consent and support of President Bush.  Sharon is obsessive about coordinating every step of the way with him.  Next comes working out the operation in detail, preferably with the approval of the Strip's 7,500 settlers.  From start to finish, the pullback should be wrapped up in a year or two.  While this is happening, Sharon will drum up political support for the move....  But Sharon is the one who will choose the timing....  Sharon has gone too far to assume that he is kidding around with his people, America and our potential allies in Europe, now waking up to the grim reality of mega-terrorism.  Until proven otherwise, there is no reason not to take him seriously."


"Militants Want Israel To Retreat Under Fire"


Zeev Schiff held in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (3/15):  "Cooperation between Hamas and Fatah in an attack such as Sunday's strike at the Ashdod port, is nothing new.  This operational cooperation has solidified over the past several weeks.  For Hamas, the development is a major achievement: It has succeeded in building a kind of joint military apparatus with the Fatah establishment....  Current developments tend to support an assessment offered by Major General Aharon Zeevi (Farkash), head of Military Intelligence, who predicted that the moment Israel evinced its readiness to carry out a unilateral withdrawal, the Palestinian organizations would make a concerted effort to show that Israel is retreating under military pressure."


"Wandering in a Fog"


Efraim Ganor declared in popular, pluralist Russian-language Novosty Nedely (3/14):  "The unilateral disengagement plan's particulars are still covered with...fog.  The U.S.  is unable to define its attitude regarding it...and [determine] the strong and the weak sides of the plan. It is unclear what the plan's completion would bring Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S....  Doubtfully, Sharon himself and his closest advisors have definite answers to these questions.  In addition, the [Israeli] security forces have...objections against the plan, arguing that in its present form, it cannot be executed without clear agreements with the Palestinians....  Sharon sincerely tries to get his country and his people out of the old and bloody conflict with the Palestinians, and he is sure that Israel has to do it unilaterally as opposed to coordination with the Palestinians.  Any agreement would force Israel make more significant concessions than those it is ready to carry out in a unilateral disengagement."


WEST BANK:  "Withdrawal And Incursion:  Occupation's Manipulative Policy"


Rajab Abu Siriyah opined in independent Al-Ayyam (3/19):  "As long as the Sharon government continues to apply a unilateral solution, it has to expect a price for doing so.  If it believes that it can shift the conflict with the Palestinian side using the revolving door policy--pulling out and then re-occupying--its attempt to destroy the remaining infrastructure of the Gaza Strip will inflame violence that will also burn its fingers in return.  If it soldiers on with the thought that it can retreat from the Strip with gun muzzles still toward it, this will also cause its face to bleed....  Lessons from the occupation and resistance are still on everyone’s mind.  American forces who needed less than three weeks to occupy Baghdad and overthrow an entire regime there are still paying the price....  This is the price the Sharon government will have to pay in every incursion and re-occupation if it thinks it can follow the American example."


"Another Way To Handle The Conflict"


Mohammad Yaghi maintained in independent Al-Ayyam (3/18):  "In another six months the bloody confrontation between Israel and us will end its fourth year.  The number of victims on both sides of the imaginary Green Line is rapidly approaching 4000....  Adopting positive peaceful resistance as opposed to violence will open new horizons to end the Israeli occupation.  Peaceful marches and sit-ins are capable of facing Israeli death machines, for they [the Israelis] will not be able to use their helicopters and tanks like they do now.  They will not be able to claim that peaceful demonstrations are threats to their war against terrorism and their concern of providing security to their citizens; neither will they be able to justify the separation wall.  Such resistance will inspire tens of thousands of Israelis who believe in peaceful coexistence to stand up again against the Israeli military operations that paralyzed their role....  It [peaceful resistance] will also be a response to our challenge to the Roadmap, which we have accepted to stop all forms of violence."


"Expected Israeli Military Campaign"


Independent Al-Quds declared (3/17):  "The Israeli government can order its military forces to raid Gaza, even though reason dictates otherwise.  During the past half-century, the Gaza Strip had been under many incursions and military attacks.  All that, however, has never tamped down the flame of Palestinian nationalist anger and has never solved the endemic crisis between a people yearning to end the occupation and settlements by peaceful means and the Israeli governments that believe they can continue to reinforce their occupation and settlements by force.  In lieu of re-occupying the Gaza Strip, both Israelis and Palestinians ought to sit together to negotiate peacefully a mechanism to end the occupation and settlements and to take a decisive position against any party willing to reject this trend toward rationality."


"The Ashdod Bombing And The Security, Resistance And Peace Equation"


Hani Masri observed in independent Al-Ayyam (3/16):  "The Ashdod bombing is more evidence that the occupation, settlement activities, separation wall, closure and Israeli security procedures do not provide security for Israel and that peace is the only road to security....  It is enough to say that the Sharon government announced the night before the preparatory meeting [for the now-cancelled Sharon-Abu Ala'a meeting] that it will act in line with the Roadmap as if the unilateral withdrawal plan doesn't exist....  The fact is that Israel based its actions on the current preparations for the implementation of Sharon's plan and behaved like the Roadmap died long time ago.  The meeting between Sharon and Abu Ala'a is nothing but an Israeli attempt to waste time until settlement and wall activities are completed, and in the meantime to hold the Palestinian side responsible for the lack of commitment to Roadmap implementation.  If Israel were really interested in implementing the Roadmap, it would have accelerated the resumption of talks and the revival of the peace process even more after the Ashdod bombing."


"Escalation Will Not Solve The Problem"


Independent Al-Quds editorialized (3/16):  "The Israeli threats to retaliate in response to the double-bombing in Ashdod aren't new or strange....  Perhaps the greater part of responsibility for the deteriorating situation lies on the Israeli public's need for a wiser and more decisive leadership that would realize that Israel's security and stability can never be achieved by means of military solutions....  There's only one very well-known road to a just peace, and that is an end to occupation and settlements."


"The Evacuation Of Gaza And The Nature Of This Step"


Adli Sadiq opined in official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (3/16):  "Israeli military leaders object to the evacuation plan.  Strategic analysts in the Hebrew state, however, speak about stagnant strategic thinking in the mentalities of those leaders.  The army possesses enormous power and flexibility but fails to take into account political considerations....  The situation in Gaza depends on the type of step that will actually take place. If this step is a unilateral and politically futile one, it will never provide security or meet Sharon's aim. The situation in Gaza also depends on a number of economic and administrative factors, which will determine whether the area will become a suffocating, isolated hell or an occupation-free one."


"Abu Ala'a The European And Sharon The American"


Hasan Al-Batal commented in independent Al-Ayyam (3/15):  "People know that America and Europe are the basic parts of the Madrid Quartet while Russia and the UN are, with all due respect to Russia's Putin and the UN's Annan, simply accessories to this Quartet.  It is obvious that Washington is interested in rescuing Sharon from drowning in his judicial and party troubles, particularly those with his military generals.  This could be possible only if Sharon convinces Washington that the key to the Roadmap is the evacuation of Gaza....  The evacuation of Gaza prior to Sharon's visit to Washington remains merely a thought, but will eventually become a plan after the visit takes place.  The American-Palestinian meeting in Jerusalem few days ago, which is the first since the 'Erez bombing' in which three Americans were killed, indicates that Washington is interested again in helping the PNA although it [Washington] has not yet opened its arms wide to Abu Ala'a due to its bitter frustration with the previous Abu Mazen government."


"This Vicious Circle Of Bloodshed"


Independent Al-Quds observed (3/15):  "During the past two weeks, around 25 Palestinians including women and children were killed....  Yesterday, a number of Israelis were killed in Ashdod [by suicide bombers] as a sort of retaliation by Palestinians....  In order to strengthen what's described as 'moderate elements' of Palestinian society, Israel and whoever is backing it--mainly the U.S.--must accelerate the development of a dynamic mechanism and a timetable for withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, to eliminate settlement activities, to deal with Palestinians with mutual respect and to recognize Palestinian political and human rights....  This is the only means to contain violence and counter-violence, a demand on which the Palestinians and the international community agree." 


"Palestinians Awaiting The Gaza Experiment"


Abdallah Awwad opined in independent Al-Ayyam (3/14):  "If it actually takes place, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will confront the Palestinians with the experiment of dealing with the American war of change and coping with the consequences of any political solution, especially an imposed one.  Will the Palestinian factions, including Fatah, realize that the new political game is democracy, elections and transparency and that it all starts from within?....  The battle ahead is neither easy nor revolutionary; it only requires taking a deep breath and staying calm, for whatever the situation is, there's another experiment pending: [withdrawal from] the Gaza Strip, whether in a month or longer."


SAUDI ARABIA:  "Palestinian Unity And The Road To Peace"


Jeddah’s moderate Okaz editorialized (3/18):  "While the whole world is working toward finding a peaceful solution for the Palestinian struggle, we find the Palestinians divided among themselves.  This lack of unity will only strengthen the enemy and weaken those who have a just cause.  The events in Gaza reflect the disunity of Palestinians who are searching for something to unite their diverse factions.  How can we find peace when the Palestinians are divided among themselves?  Peace is not an impossible thing to achieve.  But to achieve it, all different groups must be on the same side.  We cannot achieve peace if every official, citizen, and organization is seeking different things.  They should all have one goal.  But if this does not happen, then every man, woman, and child will be the victim of this struggle and disparity among the Palestinian factions."


"Sharon’s Arrogance And Deception"


Riyadh’s moderate Al-Jazirah contended (3/18):  "Sharon avoided mentioning withdrawal plans from Gaza in his last speech before the Knesset because he did not want to offend his extremist allies....  Sharon can please Americans by ignoring Yasser Arafat’s government.  His statement, 'No talks or negotiations with the current Palestinian government,' emphasized this.  Sharon insists on pretending that he is a man of peace, but refuses to hold talks with the Palestinians.  He speaks about peace while his hands are covered with blood....  Sharon believes that he can solve the Palestinian matter through military force, especially with the support of the U.S. and the world."


"Too Weak"


Ahmed Rabhi held in London-based Arabic-language influential, moderate Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (3/17):  "The Palestinian Authority (PA), which has been exhausted and eroded by Israel and corruption, is too weak to keep law and order in the strip....  Even though an Israeli withdrawal would surely be a positive development, returning Arab land to the Arabs, Sharon’s plan has already given the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors cause for concern.  Judging from the recent statements made by both Hamas and the PA...both sides are getting ready to assume control of Gaza once the pullout is complete, and Egypt, which controlled Gaza before its occupation by Israel in the 1967 war, has also kept a wary eye on the area because it fears renewed violence between Hamas and armed groups loyal to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.  Although Cairo has no territorial ambition in Gaza, and was in fact glad to part with it...the Egyptian regime can ill afford to sit on the fence and watch in case factional disputes erupt once again after the pullout....  All Palestinians must beware of factional disputes and give priority to national interests until all Palestinian land has been liberated."


"Ashdod Operation And Assumed Security"


Dammam’s moderate Al-Yaum contended (3/16):  "Sharon must realize that he cannot provide security to his people without concluding a peace settlement with the Palestinians.  Using the latest suicide operation as a prior requirement to any peace settlement is a waste of time. Threatening to strike back is part of Israel’s long time excuse for harassing the Palestinians."


"Sharon’s Map"


Jeddah’s conservative Al-Madina editorialized (3/15):  "The crimes committed against Palestinians in the occupied territories are crimes of war according to international laws. An international court of justice should punish the crimes of the bloodthirsty leadership in Tel Aviv, with Sharon at the top of this list. Israel does not want peace, and refuses to accept reality. This must be opposed if Arabs want to regain their rights."


"Departing Gaza"


Riyadh’s moderate Al-Jazirah said (3/14):  "Several countries agreed on the importance of adhering to the roadmap plan, and they have expressed their concerns toward Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan.   Sharon’s plan lacks the essential elements for creating a peace settlement, and will only cause more turmoil.  This peace process will depend on a plan prepared by a man deeply involved in terrorism."


"Sharon’s Maneuvers"


Dammam’s moderate Al-Yaum declared (3/14):  "By proposing a disengagement plan, Sharon is reverting back to his previous plan sixteen years ago when he was Israel’s Foreign Minister.  His plan at that time called for establishing a Palestinian state by dividing the territory; a suggestion intended to seize more land from the Palestinians.  The only way to put an end to Sharon’s games is by deploying international peacekeeping forces in Gaza, as well as an assurance from the U.S of implementing the roadmap."


JORDAN:  "Gaza For The West Bank?"


Hassan A. Barari wrote in the independent, elite English-language Jordan Times (3/16):  "Notwithstanding Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's ulterior objective, the plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip is a step in the right direction....  A pull out from a significant precedent that would make it easier for future governments to do the same in the West Bank. Therefore, a successful implementation of this plan might create new and positive dynamics in Palestinian-Israeli interaction.  Given the gravity of the situation that has evolved over the last 40 months, one of bloodletting and complete demonisation of the Palestinian leadership, I believe that unilateral withdrawal is a good option, provided it is part of a larger scheme for realising peace or in line with the roadmap....  Yet, there is one key flaw in Sharon's thinking. He has been seeking to enlist the American support for his plan, on the condition that it backs the annexation of some settlements in the West Bank....  Sharon is trying to reverse one of the major pillars of every U.S. administration, that settlements are both illegal and an obstacle in the path of peace....  So far, the Americans let it be known that although they are not against the unilateral disengagement plan in principle, they want it to include major chunks of the West Bank as well. Given the highly charged political atmosphere in Israel, it would be rather difficult for Sharon to comply with the American demands.  Another important point that should be addressed is the necessity to coordinate with the Palestinians and, probably, with the Egyptians. The last thing the Palestinians, and indeed the Israelis, need is anarchy in the Gaza Strip. The balance of power among different factions in Gaza is clearly in Hamas favour....  An effective Palestinian leadership should assume responsibility in Gaza; otherwise, a scary situation is liable to unfold.  The Egyptian readiness, as reported in the media, to deploy its army on the border with Gaza after withdrawal must be encouraged....  Unfortunately, Sharon lacks a clear political vision for solving the protracted conflict with the Palestinians. All he has is the scheme for annexing as much as possible of the Palestinian land. This plan and the wall are the mechanisms for realising his destructive objectives."


SYRIA:  “The Roadmap And Sharon’s Map”


Bashar Zein asserted in the government-owned English-language Syria Times (3/15):  “U.S. President George Bush officially and publicly adopted the Road Map as the practical means to set up two states. But what Sharon did was to swallow the whole Road Map without paying any attention to the U.S. stand. Many Israeli leaders declared the Road Map dead. The U.S. Administration did not only give in to Israeli intrigues, but it also started creating the right climate for Sharon’s new plan on withdrawal from Gaza. Obviously, in these two cases the US Administration gave top priority to Israeli interests, and not to its own interests nor the issues of peace and stability in the region....  Despite their awareness of Sharon’s real scheme, several US officials have already set out to market Sharon’s withdrawal plan from Gaza....  The US is the broker for peace in the Middle East region. Isn’t it time for the US Administration to take an objective stand and press Israel into abiding by the resolutions of UNSC and international legitimacy as a whole?”


UAE:  "Tit-For-Tat Route To More Insecurity"


The English-language, expatriate-oriented Gulf News commented (3/18):  "In deciding to intensify the assassinations of Palestinian militants, Israel's security Cabinet has ironically increased the insecurity of its own civilian population. Unable to match the sophistication and power of the Israeli military machine, Palestinians are making the supreme sacrifice in a senseless conflict.  Time and again, Tel Aviv has shown its prowess in mounting military campaigns against a helpless Palestinian population. What it has failed to demonstrate is both its ability and willingness to engage in a meaningful dialogue aimed at ending the impasse. The next campaign, which will also target militant leaders, is expected to last several weeks in the Gaza Strip.  Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, given his obstinacy and misplaced sense of superiority, is unlikely to heed Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei's warning that the planned retaliation will only guarantee more violence. A Hamas spokesperson has already promised as much.  Instead of its oft-repeated call to the Palestinians to first restrain its militants and suicide bombers, Israel must give the lead, as the occupying power, in halting the violence it generated. Sadly, that remains at best a remote possibility--as remote as the Sharon regime playing its part as a true partner in a dialogue for peace."




CHINA:  “Egypt-Israel Secretly Discuss A Revision To The Camp David Agreement”


Liu Hong commented in official Xinhua News Agency-run International Herald Leader (Guoji Xianqu Daobao) (3/18):  “The Egyptian president...recently put forth the idea of a ‘subtle’ change to the Camp David agreement, hoping that Israel allow it to deploy its military on Gaza’s borders.  This shows how Egypt-Israel relations have deepened, and also represents Egypt’s acquiescence to and cooperation with Sharon’s plan of ‘unilateral action'....  Egypt is very clear that Sharon’s unilateral action is not beneficial for Palestine, but that it is better than a permanent state of war and that it is a generous move for Sharon to make, and therefore Egypt must take the initiative in the peace process as requested by Israel.  Egypt’s acquiescence to and cooperation with Israel’s ‘unilateral action’ is a major diplomatic breakthrough for Sharon....  The Bush Administration has shown great interest in the plan, and therefore to a certain extent ‘unilateral action’ may possibly make the Roadmap impractical....  In the event, Egypt’s moves and Israel’s obvious joy all prove that: after the Iraq war, the strategic setup in the Middle East is tilting toward Israel.”



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