Israel's vocal defiance of a UN resolution condemning the country's construction of its West Bank barrier dominates the editorial pages of Europe's papers on Thursday.
The business daily Handelsblatt wrote that, as far as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is concerned, the UN resolution is not worth the paper it was written on, even though it was endorsed by 150 countries. "The Israeli government knows that its position is relatively secure," the paper wrote. "Firstly, resolutions passed by the General Assembly are not binding. Secondly, the United States voted against it. There may well have been criticism of the barrier in many parts of the world, Washington included, but that will be quietly forgotten when the time comes to stand up and be counted. Good friends can be relied upon. That will also hold true if the Security Council starts to deliberate over the barrier."
The British newspaper The Guardian wrote that international pressure should be applied on Sharon. "But if in the real world," the editors wrote, "nothing will change until the battle for the White House is over, then the case for economic sanctions against Israel will start to build." The Guardian pointed to the European Union as possibly leading the way, saying that it is Israel’s biggest trading partner and member countries should make trade agreements conditional on Israel’s compliance with international law.
The French communist paper L’Humanite agreed. Its editors wrote that the non-binding UN resolution can only be effective if the states which voted against Israel’s barrier also exert pressure on the government of Ariel Sharon. The barrier, the paper concluded, "is in reality a wall of the new Apartheid."
Taking up this issue, the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger commented that the Geneva Convention states that people’s human rights in the Middle East, like everywhere else in the world, should be respected. The editors wrote that the fourth article within the Geneva Convention, which is at the heart of the international agreement, obliges Israel to grant Palestinians free access to schools, places of employment and hospitals. By annexing occupied areas, the paper wrote, Israel is "denying them their basic rights." The International Court of Justice in The Hague, the paper noted, has ruled against Israel’s de-facto annexation of land. "The wall must come down," the editors demanded.
The election of former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Borroso as the next president of the European Commission, also filled the column inches.
Austria’s Die Presse newspaper commented on the tough work ahead for the new Commission president. "Barroso must quickly establish during his first weeks into the job that he will not be tossed about like a ball by the bigger European Union states," the editors wrote. If Barroso concedes to Germany's demand for a super commissioner for economics, or France's wish for a monetary commissioner or even the Netherland's desire for an agricultural commissioner, the EU could end up "being no more than an executor of national interests of individual countries." Nevertheless, Barroso has, in the European Parliament, signaled his resistance to such exertion of influence from the member states and it would be good for Europe if he is able to hold out against this, the paper concluded.