What U.S. newspapers are saying

March 26, 2002 at 10:14 AM
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New York Times

It doubtless seems bizarre to Ariel Sharon that 20 years after sending the Israeli Army to the edge of Beirut to force Yasser Arafat out, he is now expected to let Mr. Arafat return there to be toasted by Arab leaders. Mr. Arafat, whose strategy of talking peace while waging war is spreading death across Israel, wants to be the guest of honor at tomorrow's Arab summit meeting. Bizarre and frustrating as this may be, letting him go is the smart thing to do.

The Bush administration is right to press Mr. Sharon on this issue. In Mr. Arafat's absence, the Arab leaders will have one more excuse not to discuss the still-radical notion of offering normal relations to Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state on land captured in 1967. The Arab meeting, which is to consider that peace initiative by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, could then turn into another exercise in anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric. The men who rule most of the Arab world must not be offered any more alibis on the question of accepting Israel. ...

These are dark days in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in some ways the darkest ever. Each side has convinced itself that the other understands only the language of force and is using it in horrible new ways. A near suicide cult has taken hold among many Palestinians. Israeli military reprisals this month were especially brutal. Mr. Sharon says he understands that there is no military solution to this conflict, but he has failed in his year in office to lay out a clear alternative vision. He must do everything he can to encourage and promote the gestures and substance of peace. Permitting Mr. Arafat to go to Beirut would be just such a gesture.

Boston Herald

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is scheduled to decide today whether to allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to go to Beirut for this week's Arab summit, as if somehow that would mean anything.

Since late last year, Israel has limited Arafat's travel as a non-military response to Palestinian terrorism. Both the Arab states and the Bush administration have been pressuring Jerusalem to abandon this policy.

At the same time, Vice President Dick Cheney says he has no immediate plans to meet with the chairman of the Palestinian Authority. This is a signal of the administration's displeasure with Arafat's failure to counter suicide bombers.

Once again, the White House has a mixed message in the Middle East: We don't want to reward Arafat, but we think the Israelis should.

Israel would be pleased to relent here, if only Arafat would really move toward a cease-fire. It wants him to show what one Israeli diplomat calls ``100 percent effort.''

This includes giving orders in Arabic for the violence to end and telling his security forces to stop cooperating with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Most importantly, he must begin arresting and punishing those terrorist ringleaders whose apprehension both the United States and Israel have demanded since the initiative of CIA director George Tenet last June.

Arafat's presence at the summit is symbolic. The violence racking Israel is a reality. If the Palestinian chairman wants his trip to Beirut, he knows the price of a ticket.

Chicago Sun-Times

Let's review recent developments in the Middle East. The Bush administration has made achieving quiet in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority. In an about-face, Washington has been openly critical of Israeli counter-terrorism measures. And Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dropped his demand for seven days without violence as a precondition to cease-fire talks. The conclusion seems inescapable: Once again Yasser Arafat has found that violence works.

His lieutenants openly boast that they are winning the war of attrition that has raged for nearly 18 months. Not even the lure of a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney seems enough for Arafat to clamp down on violence. The terror gangs Hamas and Islamic Jihad declare they will not honor any truce, and Arafat doesn't seem to mind. The murderous Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade of his own Fatah organization sinks ever deeper into terrorism, and Arafat doesn't make even a show of protesting.

Again we are hearing calls for Israel, in the interest of getting back to negotiations, to exercise restraint when terrorists attack. The typical refrain is that if Israel insists on a period of quiet before starting talks on political issues, one suicide bomber can derail the whole process. That grossly misrepresents the face of terror in Israel. A suicide attack is not the work of one individual. These human bombs are recruited from a society where suicide is glorified, in the media and classroom, as an act of martyrdom. ...

The rationalization for looking the other way at Arafat's violence is the Saudi "peace initiative" to be considered by an Arab summit this week. Now, exactly what this is changes almost daily. ...

Arafat knows that the Bush administration feels that it desperately needs the support, or at least the acquiescence, of Arab nations to carry the war on terrorism to Iraq. So we end up asking the Israelis to lighten up in their war on terrorism so we can advance our own war on terrorism. It's an absurd situation; the two wars are the same. Whatever may result from Beirut will come to naught if Arafat believes violence works better than negotiations. The White House should never forget that.

Chicago Tribune

After months of shying away from the maelstrom of Mideast conflict, the Bush administration is wading into the fray now to try to shut down the violence that is becoming a drain on support for its war against terrorism.

Vice President Dick Cheney found out first-hand last week how disastrous the Arab-Israeli conflict can be for U.S. policy in the region--returning empty-handed from his trip to nine Arab nations, Turkey and Israel. Cheney had spent 10 days seeking Arab support for President Bush's goal of overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as part of a widening assault on global terrorism. The veep was widely rebuffed.

Many of those Arab states are gathering for an Arab League summit this week in Beirut. They expect to consider a U.S.-backed peace plan, generated by Saudi Arabia that offers a chance to shut down the worst fighting and killing in the Holy Land in a generation.

Which raises a question. Now that the Bush administration's plans to confront Iraq over weapons of mass destruction have collided with the imperative of dealing first with the Mideast conflict, are Bush and Cheney prepared for sustained engagement there--even if, like Bill Clinton before them, they fail? ...

Right now, the best chance to end the violence rests in the plan advanced by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. It offers Israel normalization of relations and commercial ties with Arab states in return for Israel's withdrawal from territories it has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967. Because the plan originated with Saudi Arabia, Israel can't be expected to act on it unless the Arab states embrace it at their summit.

Cheney traveled to the Mideast intent on pressing Arabs for a regime change in Baghdad. The Mideast intervened. Cheney returned after offering to meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat--whom Bush has declined to meet. Now Cheney has set the terms. If Arafat embraces a formal truce, Cheney is willing to return to meet with him. That is a sea change in administration policy, and a step in the right direction. Bush can't effectively widen his war on terror as long as the Mideast bleeds.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

This world no doubt would be a much healthier and more pleasant place without cigarettes, and some state legislators are trying to hurry the process along by trying to ban smoking wherever they can. As long as people are free to smoke, though, they should be allowed to do so as long as they don't cause health risks or unreasonable discomfort to others.

The City Council earlier this year approved an ordinance that will virtually ban smoking in restaurants after June 30, permitting it only in outdoor sections. Having deferred to the city for years on this issue, the Legislature now is considering essentially an extension of the ban to the rest of the state.

Restaurant owners objected to the prohibition in Honolulu, alleging that it would hurt business. Leaving the decision on whether to have smoking and nonsmoking sections to the restaurant owners on neighbor islands may provide comparative evidence of the economic effects of the Honolulu ban. Making the ban statewide at this point would prevent that.

Two other proposals make even less sense and would be purely punitive. One would prohibit sales of cigarettes from all vending machines, even though a 1996 law disallows cigarette vending machines everywhere except in bars -- off-limits to minors. The only purpose of a ban like the one proposed would be to punish adults for smoking by making it less convenient to buy cigarettes.

The other nonsensical proposal would prohibit smoking in outdoor state and county sports facilities. Aloha Stadium already has an informal policy against smoking in seating areas, which is reasonable and probably should become state law for outside arenas. Smokers should have no complaint about having to leave their seats as frequently as their addictions dictate to catch a puff on the concourses, where nobody will be bothered by their secondhand smoke. The only purpose of a smoking ban there, like the vending-machine proposal, would be to punish adult smokers.

Los Angeles Times

North Korea has one last chance to talk seriously with a South Korean government that is offering generous assistance in exchange for reduced tensions along the heavily militarized border. If the talks set for next week in Pyongyang do not make progress, elections in South Korea later this year could bring to power politicians who would rather let the economically ravaged North collapse. It looks like a simple choice, but North Korea has proven adept at making irrational decisions.

North Korea's domestic policy has been consistent for decades: all repression, all the time. But its foreign policy is more erratic. From its 1950 invasion that launched the Korean War until the late 1990s, it was an implacable enemy of South Korea and its allies, including the United States. ...

However, in his visit last month to South Korea, where 37,000 troops are stationed, Bush said the U.S. goal on the Korean peninsula was peace. That is also the goal of Kim Dae Jung, who won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end tensions. ...

The United States, Japan and South Korea have given North Korea billions of dollars in food aid and fuel oil. Reciprocity by Pyongyang in halting rocket development, allowing weapons inspectors into the country, resuming family reunions and arranging a presidential visit south is long overdue. If Kim Jong Il rejects the chance offered by next week's talks, he and his suffering nation may not get another for a long time.

New Orleans Times-Picayune

When the National Transportation Safety Board concluded last week that a suicidal co-pilot purposely crashed an EgyptAir passenger jet into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999, the agency was not indicting all Egyptians or all Muslims.

Nevertheless, the government of Egypt has reacted badly to the federal agency's report. The Cairo daily Al Ahram, which is controlled by the government, flatly declared that the American investigators "intentionally withheld information and did not solve the mystery of the crashed plane."

Egyptian critics insist the NTSB was biased against their country and their religion. Investigators told the media early on that, on a flight recorder, co-pilot Gamil El Batouty is heard repeating the expression "tawakalt" -- which was translated as "I rely on God." This implied, some in Egypt believed, that American investigators thought the co-pilot, a Muslim, downed the plane out of devotion to his religion. And in fact, some Americans may well have misinterpreted a common idiomatic expression as a death wish inspired by Islam.

Despite any cultural and linguistic differences, the physical evidence is what it is. Flight recorders and other pieces of evidence indicate that the co-pilot manually switched off the autopilot and methodically tried to crash the plane, and that the plane's pilot, Capt. Ahmed El Habashi, struggled against the co-pilot to regain control of the plane and prevent a crash.

Egyptian leaders should not feel embarrassed that one of their citizens was responsible for the crash. They should view it as a reflection on a single deranged individual, rather than on an entire nation.

Washington Times

During his visit to El Salvador on Sunday, President Bush made a valiant pledge to push hard for a free-trade agreement between the United States and Central America -- and then he hedged. While he upheld trade as the antidote to poverty, Mr. Bush also said he couldn't reduce the agricultural subsidies and tariffs that affect the region's main exports due to congressional opposition. Well, did he try?

If Mr. Bush is unwilling to challenge Congress to allow the globe's poorest nations the opportunity to export the goods they can most competitively produce, then a congressional victory on this front becomes a foregone conclusion. This is a shame, because Mr. Bush's trip to Latin America highlighted how dire some of the region's problems are becoming.

Just three days before Mr. Bush landed in Peru, a bomb exploded in that country, killing nine. The bomb attack was most likely waged by narco-terrorists, who are increasingly entrenched in the region. Furthermore, the poor prospects for economic growth in Latin America this year, due in part to a slow-down in the U.S. economy, will hit Central America particularly hard because it has more limited resources.

Free trade won't be a miracle salve for the narco-trafficking, terrorism and poverty that is plaguing the region. But freer trade on the exports that really matter will provide countries with an opportunity to empower themselves. Latin America's problems have a way of affecting America as well. Most of the region's drug production lands in the United States. ...

Regrettably, Mr. Bush has not done enough to distinguish himself from the Democrats who put special interests above the principles of free trade. While Mr. Bush's support of a free-trade agreement with Central America is certainly a positive step, it will have little substantive value if it fails to include the region's key exports.

San Diego Union-Tribune

Arab leaders meet in Beirut tomorrow to take what could be an historic decision: To normalize relations with Israel.

The question before them is whether to endorse a Saudi proposal to normalize ties with Israel in return for agreement by Israel to return Arab lands occupied since 1967.

If the Arabs embrace the proposal, the next step will be up to Israel, which has not rejected it.

Seldom have the Middle East's shifting sands seemed so perilous. The bloodshed has reached a point where, if not halted, it could lead to anarchy throughout the region. The Bush administration, which for months pretended no tie existed between the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now desperately tries to broker peace before it is too late.

The danger is that the situation already has deteriorated too far. Palestinians have reacted to Israel's hard line by spawning a generation of young people that seems more than willing to martyr itself for the cause. Palestinians have reacted to Israel's intransigence with an intransigence at least equal to it, and Israel may well be more desperate for peace today than the Palestinians, who act as if they have nothing to lose.

They're wrong, of course. They could lose the one thing that keeps them going -- the hope for a viable Palestinian state. Israel has the military power to grind the Palestinians to a pulp, and if the mayhem goes on much longer, it may come to see that as its best option, which would be catastrophic for the region.

That means Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will have to assert power over Palestinian rejectionists, who are many. For that, of course, Israel must end its confinement of Arafat.

Sober minds know this is a turning point. ...

It goes without saying that Israel must let Arafat attend the Beirut summit. To block him would throw oil on a raging fire.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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