[NOTEBOOK]Mideast hefty news diet - but . . .

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[NOTEBOOK]Mideast hefty news diet - but . . .

Spring has arrived, as we can see from the clouds of yellow sand blowing in from across the Yellow Sea, clogging our nose and throat. Likewise, the troubling winds blowing in from the Middle East keep international news reporters busy, staying abreast of the latest events in that region.

Israel launched an extensive attack against Palestinians on March 29, saying it wants to root out Palestinian suicide bombings.

For 14 days straight, reporter who covers the Middle East had not one peaceful moment as he followed the news and delivered it by the deadline. All I could do for him was offer my lame consolation: It is just his luck to be on a desk where the work is pouring in.

Whenever I have a chance to face the choice of whether we should let the top space of the international page be -- again -- conquered by the bloody clashes in Israel, now repeating themselves like a bad habit, I am reminded of a fundamental question, "What news is worthy of reporting?"

War stimulates my appetite as a journalist more than peace does, and the same goes for conflict compared with reconciliation. Gunpowder smoke, the sound of bombs raining on the ground, distrust, disputes, hatred and resentment ?they are all journalistically tempting.

But what if, by chance, the lure has been preconceived out of having such a job?

From the moment I chose to be a journalist, I was repeatedly told that "news is choice."

I cannot think of any other time that this phrase has rang more loudly in my head than now.

It is impossible to compare the value of each news item. The value of news topics are measured relatively on the basis of a limited amount of space. Thus, the issue of importance will eventually fall into the issue of choice. I wish the war between Israel and the Palestinians would be stopped as soon as possible, at least for the sake of maintaining a balance with other world news.

If we consider what Israelis may feel these days, the incessant fear and frustration they must feel out of concern that the next suicidal bomber may be just around the corner, we may be able to sympathize with them, despite their pushing Palestinians toward the end of a cliff.

But at the same time, I do not believe that using more violence is an effective means to stop suicide attacks. More likely, Israel's military attacks will add oil to the fire of the Palestinians' resentment, resulting in more aggressive suicide attacks.

We cannot expect voluntary reconciliation between mortal enemies. Europe, Russian and Arab countries all have their own roles to play here, as does the United States.

Unless the United States, the sole superpower, shows its determination to address this dispute with firm resolution and fairness, the tragedy in the Middle East will never end.

In this context, the attitude of the administration of George W. Bush has been no better than disappointing.

Only recently the Bush administration has given the impression of turning to a position of more active involvement. But observing the stepped up attacks against the Palestinians by Israel as ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon despite Bush's repeated warnings, I cannot but doubt where Washington's real intentions lie.

Israel's argument that a ceasefire should precede a peace negotiation is reasonable only theoretically. In reality, Palestinians firmly believe they cannot achieve their dream of establishing an independent nation if they put off negotiations until after a ceasefire.

A parallel pursuit of a ceasefire and peace negotiations is the only way toward peace for Israel, and it is the United States' share of the responsibility to guarantee the pursuit. Israel should pull back their tanks, and Palestinians must untie the dynamite from their bodies.

They should face each other across the negotiation table and embark on political negotiations over core issues, such as the return of refugees, the future of East Jerusalem, the West Bank settlements and Palestinian self-determination. They have no time to lose. They do not have the luxury of fighting over the cause of the illness over the dying patient.


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The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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