US-European relations lack former warmth

The US president Barack Obama's announcement that he would not attend the US-European summit has left diplomatic circles in Europe in shock.

The US president Barack Obama's announcement that he would not attend the US-European summit to be held in Madrid on May 24 has left diplomatic circles in Europe in shock, despite attempts from within the EU to attribute Mr Obama's decision to his busy travel schedule, commented Nassef Hitti in the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan. The US decision has fuelled speculation about a frigidity that is becoming characteristic of the once warm US-European relations.

"The US's decreasing interest in, and 'you're-in-the-palm-of-my-hand' attitude towards Europe is becoming a distinctive feature of Washington's foreign policy," the writer said. "Mr Obama was absent during the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, despite all that occasion signifies, and went instead on a tour around Asia, which is becoming the new pole of international politics."

The Cold War was the major factor that validated the closeness between the major powers of the western hemisphere. Now the absence of a common enemy has weakened the alliance and even threatens to annihilate it. "Europe poses no problems for the US, but it is not helping with solutions for international issues either. So until their transatlantic relations regain warmth, Europe must establish its own international role."

In co-operation with the Parliamentary Assembly for the Mediterranean, the United Nations last week organised a series of meetings in Malta between politicians and parliamentarians from around the world to discuss ways to push the Palestinian cause forward, wrote Ibrahim al Bahraoui, a professor of Hebrew Studies at Ain Shams University, in the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

The meetings concentrated on proposed "final solutions" regarding Palestinian borders, the status of Jerusalem, the issue of the settlements, the return of refugees and control over water resources. The European Union recently issued a statement recognising the necessity to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both Palestinian and Israeli states. But the statement was quietly shelved without generating any sort of impetus.

As the Arab Peace Initiative is still stalled, it seems that the best, and maybe only, peace deal that Israel would agree to is the self-government of the West Bank under Fatah and the autonomy of Gaza under Hamas, both being subject to Israeli sovereignty. But can Israeli MPs change their government's attitude in the Malta conference? Can UN, Arab and European representatives do anything about it? Let's wait and see what their final statement is before jumping to the more likely conclusion.

A conference under the theme "The Media and the Arab Judiciary" was held on Saturday in Jordan to discuss a study on the way courts handle press freedom cases in five Arab countries: Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain, reported Mansour al Jamri in his column for the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat. The study consisted of the opinions of judges, lawyers, journalists and politicians about the relationship between media and justice. But the study organisers had to apologise for not having been able to poll the views of Bahraini and Jordanian judges, saying that in itself was a negative indicator.

The conference deplored the fact that Arab countries are still lagging at the bottom of the Worldwide Press Freedom Index, which is annually issued by Reporters Without Borders. Even Kuwait, which topped Arab countries according to the index, ranks 60th in the world. The conference participants found that there is a wide divide between the judicial system and press freedom, and legislation and court rulings should be geared towards guaranteeing more freedom of expression. The participants called on the judiciaries of their respective countries to work for, not against, sincere and responsible media practices and stop ruling in the interests of the executive power.

Too tired and weary are both camps in the Yemen war that has been going on since last August and is now in its sixth episode since 2003, wrote Mohammed Kharroub in the opinion pages of the Jordanian newspaper Addustour.

Government forces and the Houthi insurgents have come to the conclusion that this time around, the fighting will cost them more in blood and money than the five previous confrontations combined. This conclusion dawned on both camps not only because the battle has taken dramatic regional dimensions and become tainted with the attributes of a proxy war, but also because the "ghost of al Qa'eda" has re-emerged in more than one region in the country, threatening all other interests.

"Tribal affiliations have been merged with religious convictions, and regional interests with local allegiances until sheer chaos reigns in Yemen and the very social fabric has come under serious threat," the writer said. It wasn't much of a surprise that the organisers of the London conference on Yemen conditioned financial aid to Sanaa on a stop to fighting in the north, to enable the government to concentrate its efforts on fighting an increasingly strong al Qa'eda presence in the country.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi