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Europe

European Press Review: Better Than Nothing

European papers on Wednesday discussed the decision by Israel to pull out of the Gaza Strip.

The vote by the Israeli Knesset to withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza strip is only the start of a long journey wrote the Italian paper La Repubblica. The numerous opponents to the plan, particularly among the ruling parties, are simply waiting for the opportunity to disrupt it, wrote the paper, noting that, "as the pull-out date draws closer the divisions in Israel grow deeper."

Madrid's El País questioned whether the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip should be considered historic. "As it's the first pullout in 20 years it certainly has symbolic value," the paper said. However, the political divisions in the country show that the plan touches upon core issues of the ultra-orthodox Jews and the settlers. While it's easy to doubt Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's motives for the plan, the paper concluded that it's better than nothing.

It's a lacklustre victory for Ariel Sharon, declared Switzerland's Basler Zeitung, adding that the decision to give up settlements in occupied Palestinian terroritories is only the first stage. "Whether Israel will actually pull out in May next year is still in the stars," it wrote. "The only certainty is that the violence in the Gaza Strip will continue, increasing the burden on the civilian population there."

"Ariel Sharon is no dove," claimed the British paper The Guardian. "On the ornithological scale that measures readiness for compromise in the Arab-Israeli dispute, he has always been a hawk and one with a dangerously sharp beak," it wrote. But the paper warned that Sharon's decision to pull out of Gaza is a tactical withdrawal worthy of the old warhorse, adding that the strip with 1.4 million Palestinians crammed into squalid refugee camps is an unmanageble burden, even with Israel's military superiority.

Parisian daily Le Figaro asked, "What exactly are the Israelis doing on this small strip of sand swarming with over a million Palestinians? And how many soldiers have to lose their lives to secure this outpost which is now considered superfluous?" The paper observed that on the sidelines the Palestinians are quietly watching the debate raging in Israel over the withdrawal plan. "And this is for the best," it concluded, because "after so much bloodshed, it's safer to remain quiet until Israel is well and truly out of Gaza."

According to Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten, Sharon has won himself a place in history and his speech before the Knesset resembled the slogans on a peace movement flier. Sharon spoke of his desire to create a model democracy in the region, rallied against the occupation of Palestinian territories and argued that war was avoidable, the paper wrote, adding that Sharon -- the man who initiated the settler movement -- is the right man to lead its retreat to Israel's natural borders.

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