Newspapers outside the Middle East are unconvinced by US President George W Bush's decision to back Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for a partial withdrawal from occupied Palestinian lands.

Many commentators accuse the president of abandoning neutrality in favour of open bias towards Israel, and of pandering to domestic Jewish and Christian fundamentalist electorates.

But a minority of papers hail the move as an opportunity for Palestinians to achieve an independent state.

By accepting Sharon's egocentricity, Bush has renounced the role of honest broker between the two parties, and is turning a blind eye to the Palestinian side. And he has abandoned any attempt at keeping a rein on the Israeli prime minister, who is altering the Green Line and finally destroying the peace plan. By giving Sharon a free rein, Bush is also assiduously destroying himself.

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung

The least that can be said about Washington's position is that it has thrown a sea of boiling oil on the fire of an Arab and Islamic world - and not only on Al-Qaeda supporters - where the dangerous conviction that the United States is the great enemy is gaining ground every day. And it will be Europe that will have to pay for any hate that is left over.

Spain's El Pais

George Bush has become the first US president to recognise the legality of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands. This marks a significant change in the US position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - and spells the present administration's retreat from both the "roadmap" and from UN Security Council resolutions.

Anatoly Andreyev in Russia's Trud

The United States' support for the Sharon plan will not only end hopes for a Palestinian state, but also the Palestinian nation itself. If the US intends to empower Israel in order to achieve its objectives in the Middle East, it is merely a dream, as terrorism always gives birth to further terrorism.

Pakistan's Jang

President Bush has abandoned the posture of an honest broker... Mr Bush already took a step towards the Israeli Right when he declared that Arafat had no legitimacy as an interlocutor. Now he has taken another by endorsing Mr Sharon's philosophy... Far from representing a "realistic" stance, this gesture will make a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks very difficult indeed.

France's Le Monde

America's historic, unequivocal support of what the world knows must be part of a two-state solution puts pressure for peaceful negotiation where it belongs: on Palestinians, who must take control of their destiny away from fanatics sworn to destroy Israel. As Iraqis are also learning, free nationhood comes to those with the courage to control violent extremists.

Commentary by William Safire inNew York Times- US

Rather than rail at Bush's support for Israel retaining its Jewish identity with slightly redrawn borders, Arafat should bow to reality... Before Bush or his successor can be called on to deliver that "viable" state, Palestinians must do their bit. Israelis have stepped up to their obligations by beginning to get out of the occupied areas. Palestinians must reciprocate by getting out of terror.

Canada's Toronto Star

It is now obvious that the "roadmap" is dead... The US president is giving moderate Islamic forces a slap in the face at a time when he urgently needs their support... By seeking the approval of Jewish and above all fundamentalist Christian voters, Bush is risking his genuinely noble plans for a democratic Middle East.

Germany's Die Welt

George Bush has sent his entire policy on the Middle East to the bottom of the sea... After imposing preventive war on Iraq, Bush decides to impose a fait accompli on the West Bank. Can you imagine that Hitler, after invading half of Europe, would have said: "In the light of the new realities, etc etc..."? Well that is what Bush and Sharon have done, hand in hand

Spain's La Razon

It seems as if the White House has decided that relations with the Arabs at the moment are as bad as they are ever going to be, and so this factor can be practically ignored... The main thing is that support for Sharon's initiatives promises to deliver Mr Bush the votes of a majority of the Jewish lobby, as well as voters from conservative Christian circles, at the forthcoming presidential elections. This argument was decisive.

Grigory Asmolov in Russia's Kommersant

The Pakistani government should openly condemn Sharon's plan, because it can adversely affect the Kashmir issue as well. Muslim countries, particularly the Arab League, should press UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to stop the plan for the division of Palestine and resolve the dispute in accordance with UN resolutions.

Pakistan's Nawa-i-Waqt

The Israeli Right is rejoicing, the pacifist camp is in shock, the Europeans are despondent and the Palestinians are dejected. For the first time, a US president has acknowledged that the armistice line established after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-49 - the Green Line - is no longer sacrosanct.

France's Liberation

President Bush's line owes much more to his electoral circumstances than to his proclaimed desire to break the deadlock between Israelis and Palestinians... His arguing of the case for "realism" would sound much more convincing if Mr Bush was equally concerned with the interests of all the parties to the dispute - which is by no means the case... The referee is biased.

Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve

If the Israeli leader lives up to his promises, including the withdrawal of settlements from the Gaza Strip, administration officials believe the United States will be able to capitalise on them to move towards the goal of a peace settlement between side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states. They may be right - but making this bold gamble pay off will require a more determined US diplomacy than the Bush administration has displayed thus far.

Washington Post- US

last updated: 04.16.2004