Israeli newspapers cover summit with cautious expressions of hope

Palestinian press more pessimistic, but all eyes on Sharon, Abbas

February 10, 2005|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Yesterday was the time for Israelis and Palestinians to gaze again at photographs of their leaders reaching across a long table to shake hands, but also to debate what had been agreed upon at the summit in Egypt.

Israel's largest circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, declared an end to the Palestinian uprising. "The Intifada is over," said its banner headline over stories describing the meeting Tuesday between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

A competing paper, Maariv, was more wary, saying in its headline, "Maybe this time."

The mutual declarations by Sharon and Abbas to end all violence were headlines everywhere, but there were varying degrees of enthusiasm about the prospects for peace.

"We are calling on people not to be too optimistic," said the lead editorial in Al-Quds, an independent Palestinian paper. "What happened was just talk. Nothing was signed. Israel still has to stop all its incursions into Palestinian places. Israel's good will gestures are thus far nothing more than a drop of water."

More optimist

Israelis expressed more optimism.

"I am not one to miss a farewell party, and if the end of the intifada was declared yesterday, then who am I to spoil the fun," wrote Uri Orbach in Yedioth. "We will wait and see what tomorrow will kill."

It appeared that Israeli officials leaked the same anectodes from the summit to all major Israeli papers, including the fact that Abbas pleaded with Sharon in Hebrew, saying, "Wait, wait a minute," in asking for time to rein in militant groups.

Nahum Barnea, an influential political columnist for Yedioth, wrote that the death of Yasser Arafat coupled with Sharon's decision to withdraw Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip made success at the summit possible.

"The change was not only in terms of content, but also in the discourse, in the approach, in the way things were presented," Barnea wrote. "The people are the same people, but they are talking like different people altogether."

`Something changed'

Maariv columnist Amnon Danker told readers, "The easiest thing to do is draw demons on the wall and ruin the party with nightmarish visions, because after so much painful and bloody time has gone by, we can easily relate to dark pessimism. And yet something has changed. It is mainly Arafat's disappearance, but also the great fatigue of the two peoples, who are tired of the bloodbath they have been dealing with for the past four years."

Newspapers in the Arab world held out room for optimism but put the onus on Israel to ease its military presence, if peace is to take hold. The papers also noted that key differences between the two sides have again been left for future talks.

Beirut, Lebanon's Daily Star called the Sharm el-Sheik setting "a traditional venue for events both momentous and frivolous that follows a history of hope and failure."

"Therefore, any new expression of hope must be circumspect," the paper said. "But the summit is indeed a unique event in the last three decades, and it does provide a glimpse of a new era that may be just over the horizon. It is, of course, far too early to trumpet the cementing of Israeli-Palestinian relations, but representatives of the two sides are at least presenting a brave face."

The Jordan Times urged Israel to give Abbas room to maneuver. "The reform of the Palestinian governing system is a tall order, and it will take time," the paper said. "Abbas must be granted that time."

"The steps taken provide both leaderships with a much needed period of political calm," the paper editorialized. "But Abbas and Sharon are building diplomatic efforts on a foundation of widespread exhaustion and fear, not the most conducive building blocks for permanent peace."

All three of the main Palestinian dailies published large front-page photos of the summit, though a photo of a rare snowfall shared the front page of the Palestinian Authority mouthpiece, al-Hayat al-Jadidah.

"The summit did not discuss settlements, East Jerusalem, the right of return for refugees or the wall," Al-Ayyam editorialized. "But Sharm is a start to building a new road to a new stage that will start new and serious negotiations."

"Yasser Arafat's call of encouragement to a million martyrs to conquer Jerusalem propelled the suicide bombers," the newspaper said. "[Abbas'] statements against terror are aimed at changing the Palestinians' perception of reality and creating the conditions for changing reality itself."

Another meeting

Israeli and Palestinian officials announced yesterday that Sharon and Abbas could meet again in a week at Sharon's ranch.

Also, the Israeli army said it would remove checkpoints in the West Bank as it prepares to pull out of Palestinian cities - developments that could help demonstrate to both sides that the latest talks can lead to real change.

In Gaza, Palestinian militants opened fire on an Israeli military post, causing no injuries, and the Israeli army opened fire on a group of Palestinians walking in a restricted area near a Jewish settlement. Palestinians said a 22-year-old man was seriously injured.

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