Saturday, October 24, 1998

Strong doubts remain
after Mideast accord

THE agreement reached by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, with much prodding from President Clinton and an assist from Jordan's King Hussein, resuscitated the barely breathing Middle East peace process. But whether the accord will bring real peace remains very much in doubt.

After nine days of tense negotiations at a retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore, the Israelis and Palestinians forged a new version of the land-for-peace formula that has always been at the heart of the issue.

The Palestinians pledged to strengthen their efforts to prevent terrorists from using the West Bank and Gaza as bases for attacks against Israel and to eliminate provisions calling for the destruction of Israel from their founding charter -- something they had promised previously but failed to do.

The Israelis agreed to cede 13 percent more of the West Bank to the Palestine Authority -- for a total of about 40 percent -- and free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held as terrorists. All the towns in the West Bank and Gaza are already under Palestinian control.

Still to come is a final peace settlement. Under the 1991 Oslo accords, the negotiations were to be completed by next May. Arafat has threatened to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state if no settlement is reached by then -- an act that could plunge the region into chaos.

Netanyahu and Arafat agreed to begin talks on a final settlement after the latest accord is ratified by both governments. But ratification is not assured, particularly in Israel, where Netanyahu presides over a shaky coalition.

Moreover, the final agreement would have to deal with the huge issues of Jerusalem, claimed by both sides, and the status of the Palestinian entity --whether a sovereign nation or something less. Given the strong feelings involved, it is difficult to be confident that these issues will be resolved by next May.

For any diplomatic agreement to succeed, a degree of trust is required. Whether there is enough trust between Arafat and Netanyahu, between Palestinians and Israelis, after all the blood that has been spilled -- despite the conclusion of earlier agreements -- is the crucial question.


Cayetano and Mehau

IN politics, you don't reject an offer of support. Four years ago Larry Mehau, long a controversial figure in Hawaii politics, supported Republican Pat Saiki in her unsuccessful campaign for governor.

Ben Cayetano attacked Mehau, saying people like him "have no party affiliation because power has no need for idealism. They are neither Democrat nor Republican. They are what I call 'Selfocrats.' " He said Mehau was part of the "old boy network" and "The last thing on Earth that the 'old boy network' wants is Ben Cayetano as Hawaii's governor."

But that was then. Now Mehau is supporting Cayetano for re-election, and the governor says he welcomes Mehau's support. Cayetano explained, "I talked with him, cleared up some of the ideas I had about him in the past and he is supporting me."

Is Mehau still a member of the "old boy network"? Sure. But now he's Cayetano's old boy.


Italian premier

THE last portions of the legacy of the Cold War have been swept away in Italy with the election of a former leader of the Communist Party, Massimo D'Alema, as premier to head the 56th government since World War II.

Of course, D'Alema no longer calls himself a communist. Nor is he about to impose a Marxist regime on Italy. He heads what is called the Party of the Democratic Left, composed of remnants of the old Communist Party and left-wing socialists.

For the last two years, he has been the real power behind Prime Minister Romano Prodi's socialist-leaning government although holding no cabinet post. Prodi's government fell Oct. 9 after a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in a budget dispute.

D'Alema has promised to continue the strict economic policies imposed by his predecessor. Prodi's austere budgets allowed Italy to qualify for Europe's single currency, the euro, which takes effect next year.

D'Alema's Communist background had long been viewed as precluding him from leading the government. But President Oscar-Luigi Scalfaro, who is responsible for choosing the prime minister subject to parliamentary approval, picked him anyway. And he won the Catholic Church's OK with an audience with Pope John Paul II. He says his emphasis will be on creating jobs.

For decades the Communists constituted the nation's second most-powerful party and the largest Communist movement in Western Europe. They were kept from power with the help of financial and political assistance from the United States, which viewed the struggle as a crucial component of the Cold War.

The ruling Christian Democrats, guaranteed unconditional American support, became hopelessly corrupt. In the early 1990s, the Christian Democrats and the other mainstream parties collapsed. Since then, Italy has been struggling to regain political equilibrium -- with little success.

With the death of Soviet communism, the threat of a takeover by Moscow disappeared and it become possible to lift the taboo on communists in government. As a result, Italy's political system may have a chance for greater stability.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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