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European Press Review: When Hawks Become Doves

European editorials on Tuesday focused on the Arab world, commenting on planned cooperation between Iraq and Russia, Libya’s change of heart, the attack on the Egyptian foreign minister and the Mid East peace process.

The Russian paper Kommersant commented on the planned closer co-operation between Russia and Iraq agreed to on Monday which apparently won the consent of the United States. This agreement benefits all sides, wrote the paper: Moscow has gained respect by sticking to its principles and the Iraqi leaders have shown that they are more than mere puppets of the U.S. For its part, Washington can respond to its critics by saying that even today, Iraqis are beginning to take control of their own fate. It’s strange, observed the Moscow-based daily, but in this case, there seem to be no losers.

Other papers speculated about the consequences of Libya’s change of heart concerning its weapons of mass destruction programs. Following Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s announcement, the arrest of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and Iran’s consent to allow weapons inspections, the Dutch paper De Telegraaf thought the U.S. might now turn around and take a closer look at Syria. The bad state of the Syrian economy and the new geopolitical situation in the region will prompt the Syrian President to react, suspected the paper. A first indications of this is the President’s call on Israel to restart peace negotiations, the daily wrote. Only by accommodating U.S. demands, it added, will Syria manage to avoid a pending confrontation with Washington.

The French paper Le Monde hoped that Colonel Gaddafi will keep his word. Even though Libya didn’t seem to possess a dangerous arsenal of weapons, the daily

saw the change in Libya’s policy as a promising move. But it said this could not serve as a belated excuse for the policy of the Bush-administration.

Monday’s assault of Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher during a prayer visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem has prompted various European editorialists to re-examine Israel’s relation to the Arab world.

The British Independent called the attack a “disgraceful episode”, which was all the more unfortunate as it came at a time of hopeful stirrings in Israeli-Arab relations, the first such stirrings in two years. The fact that it took place inside a sacred shrine, wrote the paper, testifies to the depth of suspicion harboured by some Palestinians towards Arabs who are prepared to discuss with the Israeli government. But the violence is also proof that politics has overtaken religion as the prime motivation force, the paper wrote. The best that can be hoped for now, according to the daily, is that everyone concerned is shocked into renewing the search for peace.

The violence against the Egyptian foreign minister was an insult for three reasons wrote the Italian Corriere della Sera: The first is that the victim is a Muslim; secondly, force was used against a diplomat who came to talk to the Sharon government and thirdly those who committed the deed did not refrain from attacking a member of the few Arab countries keen to revive the Mid Eastern road map for peace. It would be catastrophic if Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei were to lose Egyptian support, the Milan-based paper wrote.

Europe’s daily’s also commented on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s warning that if the so-called “road map” for peace fails, Israel will take unilateral separation measures that will cost the Palestinians some of the land they want for a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. This is not a peace strategy, wrote the Financial Times in London, but an annexation plan. The essence of the Sharon plan is to grab as much land as he can with as few Palestinians as possible on it, the daily commented.

And finally, the German Berliner Kurier observed that while hope is the last thing to die, it has already died a thousand times in the Mid East. Pessimists don’t see a chance for Jews and Palestinians to ever live in peace, the paper wrote. But there are always people who swim against the current. This time, it’s 13 elite soldiers from Israel’s top commando unit which have become the latest in a line of servicemen to refuse to take part in missions in the

Palestinian territories. It’s a sign of hope in the holiday season, concluded the German paper: hawks that turn into peace doves.

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