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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Mid-East press sees Sharon victory
US President George W Bush
President Bush seen to back Israel

All Israeli newspapers have led with President's Bush's speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They see his call for an end to the Arafat era and a total halt to terror attacks as signs that US policy was lining up behind Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Arab reaction was more sceptical, and expressed anger at US attempts to sideline Mr Arafat, although it did welcome Mr Bush's call for Palestinian statehood and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian-run areas.

Most Israeli commentators saw the speech as a victory for the US hawks - Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney - and a vindication of Ariel Sharon's courting of the Bush White House.

Left sceptical

Those on the left detected what opposition leader Yossi Sarid called an element of "more American vision and less Middle Eastern reality in the speech".

Quoted in Ma'ariv newspaper, Mr Sarid, the leader of the left-wing Meretz party, said the speech did little to address the bloodshed on the West Bank and would soon be forgotten.

His downbeat assessment is that of the minority, but has some support. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for one was maintaining an "angry silence", according to Yediot Aharonot newspaper, which quoted him as saying President Bush had made a "fatal mistake" with the speech.

Anyone with a pair of eyes can see that Israel is rolling towards war.

Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz

According to Israel Radio's influential commentator Yoni Ben-Menahem, Mr Peres thought the speech could lead to a counterproductive attempt to expel Yasser Arafat, which would "sink the region in a whirlpool of violence and blood".

Ofer Shelach, writing in Yediot Aharonot, agreed with Mr Sarid that the US has the time to set out a three-year timetable for Palestinian statehood, but that the Middle East does not.

Yoel Marcus, writing in the left-wing Ha'aretz, was more pessimistic, saying "Yasser won't go" and "anyone with a pair of eyes can see that Israel is rolling towards war".

"Sharon's victory"

The centre-right Jerusalem Post said that the significance of the speech lay not in the promise of Palestinian statehood but in its relegation of the concept of swapping land for peace to a ratification role rather than a primary issue.

"Palestinian statehood has become conditional, not axiomatic," it said.

Yediot Aharonot said "Israel is very pleased with the speech", noting that Mr Bush - a "new Likud member" - had granted a number of victories to the Israeli government:

  • There is no binding date for the establishment of a Palestinian state
  • The state is conditional on changing the Palestinian leadership and reforming its institutions
  • President Bush made no call for an end to Israeli military actions on the West Bank

Yoni Ben-Menahem on Israel Radio agreed, adding that there was no call for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders but only to "secure and recognized borders".

Palestinian statehood has become conditional, not axiomatic.

Jerusalem Post

"Israel's friends won and dictated the content of the speech", he said, adding that it was the peak of a process of a "gradual delegitimization of Arafat in the world".

Mr Ben-Menahem saw the speech as recognizing Israel's right to self-defence, and paving the way for military action in the Gaza Strip if need be.

Another Israel Radio commentator, Hayin Zissowitz, said the Likud right would not be pleased with the call for Palestinian statehood, but would like the speech overall.

"The voice was Bush's, the hand that wrote the speech was Sharon's. The Likud Central Committee would not have applauded the speech in its entirety, but the applause at the end would have been loud," he said.

Ma'ariv said Mr Bush had given the Palestinians the "red card" and that Israelis should rejoice, albeit quietly.

Arab disappointment

The only comment from the Palestinian press so far was in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds.

It denounces the Bush speech in an editorial called "Washington and the redrawing of the map of the Arab world".

The speech confirms to the Arabs that the US can never be an honest mediator.

Ad-Dustour, Jordan

It says the most dangerous element in the speech was Mr Bush's denunciation of "states that are opposed to terrorism but tolerate hatred leading to terrorism".

The Jordanian press was equally critical. Ad-Dustour newspaper said the speech was disappointing, as it gave Mr Sharon "the time he needs to implement his destructive policy of denying peace in the region and freedom to the Palestinians."

It also said the speech confirmed to the Arabs that the US could never be an honest mediator and had ignored the Saudi-backed peace plan.

"We believe that Bush's view will only lead to more tension in the region," it said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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25 Jun 02 | Middle East
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