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Europe

European Press Review: Israel Releases Prisoners

Much editorial comment in Europe’s newspapers on Thursday focused on Israel’s release of 330 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to bolster the U.S.-backed Middle East peace process.

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A Palestinian boy, wearing fake plastic handcuffs, celebrates Israel's release of some prisoners.

Swiss daily Der Bund deemed the release of prisoners was a mere gesture and nothing more. The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has until now done a bad job of honoring peace efforts, the paper wrote. While some settler outposts were dismantled, they were quickly rebuilt, settlement construction had not ceased, Northern Gaza and Bethlehem are still occupied. The paper bemoaned it had been two months since the summit in Jordan between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the U.S. President, and precious time had been lost.

French conservative daily Le Figaro warned U.S. President Bush does not have much time left in the Middle East. As of January next year President George W Bush will have to abstain from pressuring Israel as he begins campaigning for a second term in office, the paper wrote. But militant Palestinian groups like Hamas and Jihad see the current cease-fire as simply a pause to catch their breath and Palestinian President Yassir Arafat is also waiting on the sidelines to see if Prime Minister Abbas will fail so he can win back his influence, the paper cautioned.

London's Independent described the release of prisoners as a mere token move, rather than being the sort of bold, confidence building measure that the Israelis’ claim it to be. Many will wonder about the logic of talking about territorial change when the Israeli government is happy to spend about €1.4 million per mile to build a concrete wall across the occupied territories, the paper wrote. The paper compared the peace process to riding a bicycle – the faster it goes the more stable it is, yet progress is agonizingly and dangerously slow and the Americans need to push things along a little more urgently.

Copenhagen's Information equated Israel's border wall with a modern form of Apartheid. The paper criticized the delayed reaction of the international community to the wall and asked – " is it any wonder that Ariel Sharon thinks he has a free hand in continuing with his historical construction?"

Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau said while the last wall has fallen in the old continent paving the way for democratization and freedom for all – in the Middle East the opposite is happening. The Israelis are building a wall to seal themselves off from the Palestinians and only now are the Americans realizing that what is too often nicely referred to as a fence, stands seriously in the way of the peace process, the daily opined.