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Europe

European Press Review: Skepticism and Some Optimism Toward Middle East Road Map

Assessing the Middle East summit in Aqaba, Jordan, European commentors were sceptical about the results, but many saw a chance for peace.

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U.S. President George W. Bush managed to bring together Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas in the Jordanian town of Aqaba on Wednesday, where the two men agreed to implement the so-called road map for peace.

The Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet lauded the intensity with which U.S. President George W. Bush approached the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every effort was highly welcome and that every life lost on either side was a defeat for building a safer and more peaceful world, the paper emphasized.

In Britain, The Independent asked why -- after all the failed hopes and shattered initiatives on the road to Middle East peace -- anyone should expect things to be different this time? George W. Bush made the difference, the liberal paper said. Since he won the war in Iraq and removed one of Israel’s greatest enemies, the security map of the whole Middle East could be reshaped.

La Vanguardia, however, urged caution. Although the first signs were promising, the Spanish paper wrote, experience has shown that a few months of relative calm in the Middle East were no guarantee for peace. One single suicide bombing could throw the peace process off track, it warned.

The conservative French daily Le Figaro considered why the Americans currently enjoy the confidence of the two parties. Israel trusted Washington because it was the only country that supported it during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The Jewish state had not yet forgiven Europe’s reticence, the paper maintained. The Palestinians respected the U.S. because Iraq showed them Washington’s foreign policy was based on deeds, not words.

The Algemeen Dagblad from the Netherlands argued that George W. Bush's presence in the Middle East underscored how serious Washington was about Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. Of course, grand gestures and implausible optimism alone could not overcome the immense problems. Officially, a great deal was expected of the road map, and no one dared to reject it for the moment. But, it was only a beginning, the paper stressed.

Corriere della sera agreed and warned that merely leading talks would not be enough. President Bush would have to have the courage to be a real mediator and demonstrate evenhandedness, neutrality and far-sightedness, the Italian daily concluded.