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German Press Review: Israelis and Palestinians Must Still Overcome Hurdles

Most German newspapers commented on the possibility for peace in the Middle East on Thursday, following the summit in Jordan where U.S. President Bush mediated talks between the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers.

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In the wake of the Middle East summit in Aqaba, Jordan where U.S. President George W. Bush mediated talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas, most of Germany's op-ed pages were filled with speculation on the prospects for peace in the region.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saw a signal of hope emerging from the trilateral meeting in Jordan, writing: “It could well be, that the rather hesitant handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is really the start of a negotiation process.” A process which, the paper says, could finally lead to the only possible solution: “Israel living in security and a state of Palestine, whose citizens can live in dignity.” And it could well be, the paper continued, that the American president's promise to commit himself to bringing about peace in the Middle East is as serious as he claims.

After the war in Iraq, the Americans were perceived in the region as aggressors and friends of Israel, wrote the Financial Times Deutschland. The paper saw Bush’s unexpectedly harsh criticism of the Israeli settlement policy in the Palestinian territories before the summit in Jordan as a clear sign to the Arab world. “Bush should pursue this course with commitment. The United States will only win credibility in the Arab world if they demand painful concessions from Israel as well,” the editors demanded.

The Stuttgarter Nachrichten warned of exaggerated hopes for peace, pointing out that “only a few days ago suicide attacks and Israeli retaliation dominated the headlines.“ The paper voiced concerns about the role Yassir Arafat is still playing on the Palestinian side and was not sure that Mahmoud Abbas would actually manage to convince extremists to give up their arms. The Stuttgarter Nachrichten was not convinced that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the right partner either. “Sharon is only ready for a minimal dismantling of settlements. And it’s hard to imagine the Palestinians will accept a patchwork as their state territory.”

The Mannheimer Morgen pointed out that the holy land was a rather small place, and it predicted cross-border conflict. “’A little land for a lot of peace’ will therefore be the Israeli strategy in the negotiations,” suggested the paper. “But on this point the Americans have to be tough. They must guarantee a fair deal and offer the Palestinians not only a state but also an economic future.”

The Berlin-based daily Die Welt also intimated that the real problems would only begin now, after the declarations in Jordan. “Soon extremists will try to provoke new quarrels by committing suicide attacks.” And moreover, the paper predicted, both leaders, Abbas and Sharon, “must accept painful compromises that will endanger their whole political existence.”