The Middle East dominated German editorials on Friday, specifically President Bush's support of Israel's plans for a limited evacuation of Gaza and the West Bank and Osama Bin Laden's offer of a European truce.
German papers, on the whole, were shocked by President Bush's policy shift to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans for the Palestinian territories. The Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf believed the underlying decision concerned oil reserves. The paper wrote that one of the most important goals of U.S. global strategy is a long-term presence in the Middle East to secure energy supplies for the Western world. That is why the U.S. needs a good partner in the region. Only Israel has that potential, the paper said.
The Berliner Zeitung saw Bush's strategy as similar to that of a firefighter: When one fire is burning, you burn other smaller fires around it to contain the blaze. Following this principle, Bush has now decided to heat up the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the paper concluded.
But the Frankfurter Rundschau thought Bush had committed a serious tactical error in his efforts to achieve stability in the Middle East. The "road map" for peace, the paper pointed out, is built on the principle of negotiation -- but that meant negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, not between Israel and the U.S. Bush has gambled away for good his role as a mediator in the Middle East peace process, the paper commented. It went on to ask how the West expects to convince the Palestinians of the advantages of democracy when it goes over their heads and makes decisions without consulting them.
Neues Deutschland agreed that Bush and Sharon had put peace in jeopardy. It wrote that they had thrown away important issues, among them the rights of Palestinians who were driven out of Israel to return to their ancestral lands. For 56 years, this was never officially contested by the United States, the paper pointed out, adding that Washington knew that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories would not bring about peace. Bush negotiates as if there is only one party in the conflict, wrote the paper. Washington's new creative idea is a solution to the Middle East without the Palestinians.
And the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger thought that after the new Bush-Sharon pact, Islamists and terrorists would find new reasons to believe in their caricature of a Western conspiracy. The contours of a "clash of civilizations" are being drawn more clearly than ever, the paper wrote. The next landmark will be the destruction by Islamists of one of the old regimes in Jordan or Saudi Arabia. The paper mused that it will only be then that the world finds out that Sharon's coup in Washington was a Pyrrhic victory -- for Israel and for the world.
On the peace offer purported to be from the Islamist militant group Al Qaeda, the Berliner Kurier wrote that Osama Bin Laden must be absolutely insane. He is offering the world peace, but is specifying exceptions. Of course, said the Kurier, he couples his offers with threats. According to the paper, his intention is to sow more conflict.
Die Welt called on the world not to accept the offer. "No!" the paper exclaimed; "he is a man who cannot learn, filled with limitless hate and without any mercy." There should be no negotiations, no vain attempts to buy us out and no truce, the paper declared. The paper called on the world to fight Bin Laden and Al Qaeda until the bitter end.