No single article dominated the front-page headlines this weekend. In America, the papers talk a fair amount about President Barack Obama’s debt-cutting bill. European papers have returned to tut-tutting about International Monetary Fund ex-president Dominique Strauss-Kahn's recent televised admission of a “moral failure” in a dalliance with a New York hotel maid. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, once a potential candidate for the French presidency, was accused of rape by the maid, but those charges were dropped.
In London, the Daily Telegraph hits the issue straight on, focusing on the statement of the Palestinian Authority’s leader Mahmoud Abbas, on arrival this weekend in New York, urging Israel “to recognise the state of Palestine, proving that there can be a two-state solution, and not lose an opportunity for peace."
Later this week, he will formally present his bid for statehood to the UN Security Council, after a year in which bilateral discussions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have largely ground to a halt. The US, a permanent UN Security Council member, is strongly opposed to the idea and has vowed to veto a vote on accepting Palestine as a sovereign member of the world body.
The French newspaper Le Monde – ever fascinated with the world of diplomacy – casts its gaze behind the closed doors, where it reports that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met in New York on Sunday to see if they could put the Middle East peace process back on track. Diplomats from the US, Europe, Russia, and the UN also were engaged in meetings, but the gap is pretty wide now. Mr. Fayyad told reporters that he and his counterpart had discussed security matters, and the Palestinian Authority's “aptitude for governance.” Mr. Barak didn’t talk with the press after the meeting with Fayyad.
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In an opinion piece in The Hindu, a leading paper in India, Chinmaya Gharekhan suggests that Abbas is likely to aim for a rather modest goal being admitted as "a non-voting non-member state status for Palestine, such as the one enjoyed by the Vatican. This would enable them to obtain membership in the specialised agencies of the U.N., which would be a huge political gain."
In South Africa's Daily Maverick, Kevin Bloom writes that "the hopes of the Palestinians have been raised already, and the theory that Abbas is bluffing may be a manifestation of wishful thinking on the part of the United States. Palestine has had to deal with two decades of failed talks, during which time the occupation and the violence has continued unabated. The new approach would seem to be an elegant solution to an old and intractable problem – it would enable the Palestinian Authority to negotiate from a position of strength, with its national boundaries recognised, thereby sidelining territorial disputes and the so-called “rights” of Israeli settlers."
America’s newspapers step back from the day-to-day events, with The New York Times' Neil MacFarquhar writing a lengthy historical piece about the United Nations, which had always envisaged a possibility of a two-state solution in the Levant. The Washington Post, however, takes a stroll through Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority’s government, and finds that the Palestinians themselves are rather nonplussed about the possibility of becoming independent from Israel – especially if Palestine remains a weaker junior partner to its stronger Israeli neighbor.
Says one Ramallah resident, Khalil Abddullah, “Will this give us free borders, an airport, a currency? I don’t think so. The next morning it will still be the same story. There will still be occupation, still checkpoints, still the wall.” The Israelis have created a giant wall – unfortunately reminiscent of the Berlin wall separating East and West Germany at the height of the Cold War – to control the flow of Palestinians entering Israel from the West Bank. Israel says the wall, also known as a security barrier, is necessary to protect its citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers.
In an editorial, London’s left-leaning newspaper the Guardian sees the current diplomatic crisis as a natural consequence of a peace process that has been set adrift for years. But while Israel continually “raises the bar” of conditions for it to accept the Palestinian Authority as a government of a fellow nation-state (as opposed to a dependent province), and while the US threatens to veto Mr. Abbas’s proposed bid for statehood, the Guardian writes that events in North Africa and Middle East shows that the aspirations of Arab people for governments of their choice is something that even diplomats can’t control. “A fresh wind is blowing through the Middle East – one with which the US has still to come to terms.”