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Europe

European Press Review: Hopes for Peace in the Middle East

European newspapers set their sights on U.S. President George W. Bush’s peace mission in the Middle East this week -- with some expressing optimism over the outcome.

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"For the first time in 32 months, a glimmer of hope can be seen on the horizon," wrote the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung about U.S. President Bush's efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "But this glimmer of hope would immediately disappear if Bush were to give up moderating in the Middle East once his election campaign starts in the autumn." The paper also advised that the Israelis and the Palestinians can’t be left alone to push the peace process forward. Still, the paper expressed hope that after the trilateral summit taking place in Aquaba, the Middle East would have fresh hope of resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians -- an opportunity underscored by the fact that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat would not be taking part.

“Hope in the Middle East,” was how Britain’s The Guardian entitled its commentary, but the paper cautioned that one summit does not make a peace process. By meeting Arab leaders in Egypt on Tuesday and the prime ministers of Israel and Palestine in Aqaba today, President George Bush took a first, hope-filled stride towards demonstrating that his vision of Middle East peace was a workable, practical aspect. Much would now depend on Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his Israeli colleague Arial Sharon, the paper said.

London’s Financial Times, however, explained why there was so little hope that this peace process would be successful. Firstly, the paper said, because Israel had already voiced 14 reservations, which -- if accepted -- would make the plan meaningless. Secondly, Sharon’s government was stepping up the construction of Israeli settlements. The paper saw a third reason for pessimism: Abbas wouldn't be able to stop the suicide bombers before the Israeli occupation had been clearly scaled down. If Bush seriously wanted to end this conflict, the paper wrote, he would have to make it clear to his Israeli allies they couldn't have both peace and the settlements.

The Algemeen Dagblad from the Netherlands commented that America had the political and military power to force the parties to end the bloodshed. But the question remained, whether Bush had the political courage and the vision to carry on where his father left off and finish the peace process that was started in Madrid in 1991.

France’s decision earlier this week to bid for leadership of an international peacekeeping force to halt the bloodshed in the Democratic Republic of Congo filled the leaders in European newspapers on Wednesday. If the plan is approved by the United Nations, at least 1,400 blue helmet troops would be sent in order to prevent the kind of ethnic cleansing and genocide that took place in the region during the 1990s.

The editors of the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper in central Germany wrote that the move would send a positive signal for Africa, which is often neglected by the West. "The EU is doing exactly the right thing," the paper wrote. "It signals to Africa that it has not been forgotten. And after the internal conflicts about the war in Iraq, the European Union finally presents itself as being capable of taking decisions and action on the level of foreign and defense policy." The paper also took a swipe at the United States. By sending troops to Congo, the EU also demonstrated "that a serious crisis can be tackled quickly and efficiently while at the same time obeying international law," it concluded.

In Belgium, the Grenz-Echo newspaper considered the country’s past as a colonial power and the mistakes made in several African countries. Direct confrontation with Belgian soldiers, the paper said, would have to be avoided, but added that, should international troops go to Congo to end the bloodshed, Belgium wouldn't be able to dodge its responsibilities in the long run.