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Europe

Gates to Middle East Peace Open Again

German commentators dwell on fresh chances for the Middle East peace process and an online survey which shows a large number of Germans distrust their political and social institutions.

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The Financial Times Deutschland writes that the gates to peace in the Middle East are finally open again. Prime Minister designate Mahmoud Abbas will be able to take up office as planned, and pick up the fragments of the peace process. With him, the paper says, the Palestinians have a representative who is accepted by both Israel and the United States. But the decisive pressure to resolve the deadlock came from Egypt -- that could see Cairo with a leading role in the peace process in future, the paper predicts.

Berlin's Die Welt says that Arafat, like all autocrats, was convinced that nothing would happen in the peace process without him, and that he alone had the power to decide the fate of the Palestinian people. But as it turned out, Arafat was isolated, the paper says, because he never wanted to mature from guerilla fighter to statesman. Abbas -- the new man on the scene -- enjoys the trust of the protagonists in the quest for peace -- including the Israelis.

As the Augsburger Allgemeine points out though, the most important mediator remains the U.S. The paper says it's questionable whether U.S. President George W. Bush will be able to move the parties down the roadmap to peace that he's drawn up. But, it acknowledges that nothing will happen without Bush's involvement, even if the German foreign minister Joschka Fischer makes a more comfortable impression in the Middle East.

The Rheinische Post of Düsseldorf strikes a warning note, commenting: "People shouldn't be deceived by the developments in the Middle East. This difficult conflict is still a long way away from being resolved. The new cabinet is a prerequisite for Bush to lay out his plan for peace -- but only then can we assess what kind of deal the Palestinians are going to get -- and for what price."

Several papers are also reacting to the results of an online survey published by the German weekly magazine Stern. According to the survey, an overwhelming majority of Germans mistrust the main political parties and social institutions, including churches.

Cologne's Express says that the trend has been in evidence for a while: voter participation has sunk over the years, the churches are having a hard time holding onto their members, and the unions have huge problems trying to engage young people. "Now we have it in black and white," the Express writes.

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine of Essen agrees, but says the study reflects the perceived helplessness of citizens in a social and economic system that's become increasingly complicated. It comments: "There are no easy solutions to the most urgent problems: employment, social insurance, pensions. But that's what the people expect from the parties, perhaps unrealistically."