Egypt and Jordan: Rumors of war
It was not the bin Laden tape, but rather Israel's decision to declare Yasser Arafat "irrelevant" and cut all ties with him that dominated Arab headlines this week. And Arab papers see Ariel Sharon rather than Yasser Arafat as the problem. Egypt's Al Ahram blames the crisis on a deliberate plan by Sharon to "topple Arafat, reenter areas under PA control and annex large swathes of the West Bank." Editor Ebrahim Nafie warns that bombing PA buildings makes it impossible for Arafat to implement a crackdown on terror suspects and forge an anti-terrorism consensus among Palestinians. He berates Washington's support Sharon, but has harsh words for Hamas, too: "As religious and political leaders throughout the Arab world have repeatedly stressed, the murder of civilians is an abomination. Such acts serve only to tarnish the Palestinian cause and furnish Sharon with the excuse to confuse the issues."
More chilling, though, is the paper's report on a debate among Islamic theologians on suicide bombing, in which the consensus appeared to be that prohibitions against attacks on civilians didn't apply to Palestinian "martyrs" as they were from an occupied and outgunned people.
Egypt's concerns are echoed in Jordan, the only other Arab nation to have signed a peace treaty with Israel. A commentary in the Jordan Times warns of catastrophic dangers if Sharon succeeds in toppling Arafat. And like the Egyptians, they're alarmed at the U.S. position. "Where is the moral authority of the world's only superpower? Where are its ethics and principles when international pressure is needed on the Israeli side? By destroying the PNA and Arafat, Sharon intends to erase the peace process altogether... One does not need to be a world statesman to predict the fallout and impact of chaos on the other bank of the river on neighboring countries, especially Jordan…The Israelis should beware, too: If any of them still really wants peace, they must know that Sharon is shattering their dreams for good."
Israel: To topple Arafat, or not to topple Arafat…
Israeli peaceniks, however, see thing differently. An editorial in the dovish daily Haaretz captures Israel's military-political dilemma right now: "(Military) actions are supposed to increase pressure on Arafat pressure that is also being applied by Bush, the European Union and other Palestinian leaders to take action against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Calibrating the precise dosage of this pressure is not possible. If it is too weak, it is of no use. If there is an overdose, it is liable to bring about the collapse of the PA and to leave Israel facing millions of Palestinians and dozens of organizations and leaders that cannot impose their authority on one another."
But the hawkish Jerusalem Post confirmed some of the Arab papers' worst suspicions. Its commentary reads the cabinet's declaration on Arafat as a prohibition on any further talks between the Palestinian leader and foreign minister Shimon Peres, who insists Arafat is the only Palestinian negotiating partner Israel has. And the paper applauded the military consequences: "Seeing Arafat as an peace partner tied Israel's hands militarily, because it meant that Israel would not push so hard as to topple him because then there would be no one in the future to conduct diplomatic talks with. By no longer seeing Arafat as a partner, the government has effectively removed the political restraints it placed on its own military actions. The declaration also sent a clear message to Peres that, for all intent and purposes, this government views Oslo as dead and gone." And the Post hoped the international community would get that message, too.
India, Pakistan: Terror in New Delhi
The Israeli-Palestinian flare-up was not the only challenge facing Washington's coalition against terrorism this week. A suicide attack by suspected Islamic terrorists on India's parliament saw seven Indians killed, and pressure is mounting on India to retaliate against Pakistan, from whose territory the gunmen are alleged to have come. The Times of India reports that India's ruling party is urging raids on terror-training facilities on the Pakistani-controlled side of Kashmir, but that the opposition is urging caution and warning of "nuclear repercussions."
The terror attack was strongly criticized in Pakistan's News International, which warned that such Islamic fundamentalist elements ultimately posed a threat to Pakistan, too. "While there is justified worldwide condemnation of this incident, the Indian leaders would do well to exercise caution in reaching hasty conclusions about the attackers and their motives," noted an editorial, warning against cross-border retaliation. "Islamabad as a member of the international coalition against terrorism will be duty bound to extend assistance if needed. New Delhi would do well to realise that terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 incident has become a universal phenomenon and Pakistan has supported all international efforts to strike at its roots. If India can de-link this attack from the genuine Kashmiri struggle, Pakistan will be more than happy to cooperate fully to eliminate such terrorist elements that struck in the heart of Indian democracy in the capital."
Pakistan, China, Germany: Adieu, ABM treaty
The Pakistani paper's second editorial raises some pertinent concerns about President Bush's decision to abrogate the ABM treaty. It warns that deploying a missile shield will spur China to dramatically expand its missile fleet to ensure a continued nuclear deterrent against the U.S. "If China begins a build up…one effect is predictable: India will remove all stops and go for a big build up of both missiles and nuclear weapon... Should India take that road, who can then prevent Pakistani hardliners from repeating that sorry saying: 'We will eat grass but counter India.' Asia does not need any of it."
And Beijing's official People's Daily certainly echoed the Pakistani concerns. "The spread of the news has stunned the world," wrote the Communist Party organ. "This not only represents the US withdrawal from an important international agreement for the first time since the end of World War II in 1945, but also implies the disintegration of the international mechanism for prohibiting strategic defense that has continued for almost 30 years... Only three months after the occurrence of the September 11 incident when the international community is helping the United States in winning the Afghanistan War, the United States once again turns a deaf ear to the just voice of the international community, this cannot but once again generate a deep impression on the people about the US international behavior which is 'full of hegemonic air'."
But Germany's Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung was more upbeat. "Cancellation of the ABM Treaty will not plunge the United States and Russia back into the old system of antagonism," the paper writes. "Cooperative elements have long since moved to the fore of the west's relations with Russia, which is more dependent on cooperation with western countries than ever before. This explains Moscow's unperturbed reaction to the U.S. withdrawal."
Waltzing Osama, waltzing Osama...
American readers tired of reading about John Walker, American Taliban may be surprised to learn that he has an Australian counterpart. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Aussie David Hicks, currently in Northern Alliance custody, may soon be on his way back home to face trial for his membership of al Qaeda. The paper notes that Australia may have trouble coming up with laws under which to charge Hicks. "One problem was that when Mr. Hicks went to Afghanistan, the Taliban had the tacit support of the U.S. Government."