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European Press Review: Criticism for Washington

Many European newspapers on Thursday were highly critical of U.S. President George Bush's backing for Israel's plan to make unilateral decisions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Independent in Britain said it’s no wonder why most of the Middle East sees Western countries as “neo-colonialists.” But it went on to write that it’s even worse than that. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to Washington with a plan that specifically excludes negotiation with, or participation by, the Palestinians. The paper thinks to blame the lack of consultation with Palestinians on the leader Yasser Arafat is baseless. It wouldn’t make any difference if Arafat were Nelson Mandela reborn, the Likud government would find ways

of avoiding negotiations with an enemy it prefers broken and divided.

The French paper Ouest France agreed. Sharon is a master of strategy and knows how to grasp every opportunity to further his goals. He sees how occupied Bush is with Iraq and how the U.S. president needs something positive to happen in the Middle East. The paper thinks it says a lot that Sharon discussed his unilateral plan to pull out of Gaza while keeping and expanding the main

settlements in the West Bank with Bush and not the Palestinian Authority. The fact that Israel and the U.S. are playing the main roles, thereby reducing the Palestinians to the role of spectators, makes their strong reaction understandable.

Other European papers criticized President Bush's rare prime-time address to the nation on the situation in Iraq on Tuesday.

The Financial Times Deutschland wrote that Bush’s speech at his big press conference just sounded like slogans - no new plans or arguments. Bush answered critical questions with stock phrases, the paper pointed out - and sometimes just with helpless incomprehension. But to be fair, it said, we have to concede that there's not much that Bush can do right now other than to "stay the course" in Iraq. Any hopes that NATO or the United

Nations could suddenly be won over and provide strong support have been dashed in the bloody chaos that’s erupted from Fallujah to Najaf. But the paper remarked that the shallowness of his slogans is a reflection of the seriousness of his situation.

The U.S. president’s address was an impressive political embarrassment, commented Switzerland’s Basler Zeitung. It was the same Bush-style rhetoric but this time he seemed insecure. The paper thinks it’s difficult to assess whether Bush believes the situation in Iraq can improve. He certainly doesn’t have any other option but to pursue his so far unsuccessful strategy which the paper thinks

isn’t going unnoticed by America’s political public.

The Italian media focused its attention on the situation in Iraq and the killing of one of the four Italians being held by insurgents who are threatening to kill the others if Rome doesn’t pull its troops out of the country. La Repubblica in Rome believes no legitimate democratic government will accept the lessons of terrorism.

The barbaric killing of one of the hostages makes one thing very clear, stated another Rome-based daily, Il Messaggero. The rest need to be freed through negotiations. The only problem though it said, is negotiations with whom? There are so many different rebel groups in Iraq fighting for so many different reasons.