JFP 9/22: France Rebukes US on Palestine; US accused of kidnapping Afghan civilians
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September 22, 2011
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1) The US is facing the prospect of having to share, or even cede, its decades-long role as the architect of Middle East peacemaking, the New York Times reports. US diplomats must now navigate a new era in which questions of Palestinian statehood are squarely on the global diplomatic agenda, the Times says. "The U.S. cannot lead on an issue that it is so boxed in on by its domestic politics," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator in the government of Ehud Barak. "And therefore, with the region in such rapid upheaval and the two-state solution dying, as long as the U.S. is paralyzed, others are going to have to step up."
2) President Sarkozy of France broke sharply with the effort by the Obama administration and some Europeans to quash the effort by the Palestinians for UN recognition, instead calling for enhancing their status in the General Assembly to that of an observer state, the New York Times reports. The French president said US efforts have failed and called for negotiations to have a timetable, as the Palestinians have demanded.
3) More than 80% of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem support the push for recognition at the UN, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research reports. 69% of Israelis think Israel should accept the decision if the UN recognizes a Palestinian state.
4) Senator Jon Tester says US troops should leave Iraq by December 31 of this year as planned. " Keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq would needlessly put them in more danger," Tester said. "It would cost American taxpayers more money. And it would further distract us from our core national security objectives of protecting American citizens and further dismantling al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups."
5) A study published by the Open Society Foundation says U.S. Special Operations Forces have been increasingly aiming their night-time raids in Afghanistan at civilian non- combatants in order to exploit their possible intelligence value, Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service. The authors of the report conclude that deliberately targeting and rounding up civilians who are not suspected of being insurgents merely to exploit possible intelligence value "may constitute an arbitrary deprivation of liberty" and thus "inhumane treatment" in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Night raids prompted by the desire for intelligence can result in the deaths of civilians, Porter notes.
6) Visiting Washington, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima reiterated his opposition to the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa, Kyodo News reports. Nakaima repeated his call for revamping the plan to move the base from Ginowan to the coastal area of Henoko in Nago. Should the base be moved to Henoko forcibly, it would trigger fierce antibase movements across Okinawa, possibly having a negative impact on the Japan-U.S. security alliance, he said.
7) The Obama Administration asked Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to lobby Congress not to cut security aid to the Palestinians, the New York Times reports. The request underscored the ever-tightening relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party that now controls the House, the Times says.
8) In bringing his cause to the UN despite intense US pressure, Abbas has captivated the annual General Assembly gathering, the New York Times reports. In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians are offering rare praise for a leader who has mostly been seen as Hamlet-like in his indecision, trying too hard to please the Americans and the Israelis.
9) Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff told the UN that multilateral financial institutions should be reformed to give emerging nations more influence, EFE reports. The global economic crisis is "too serious to be managed by a small group of countries," Rousseff said. Rousseff came down firmly Wednesday on the side of recognizing Palestine, asserting that "only a free, sovereign state will be able to legitimate desires for peace with its neighbors."
1) Obama Rebuffed as Palestinians Pursue U.N. Seat
Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, September 21, 2011
United Nations - A last-ditch American effort to head off a Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations faltered. President Obama tried to qualify his own call, just a year ago, for a Palestinian state. And President Nicolas Sarkozy of France stepped forcefully into the void, with a proposal that pointedly repudiated Mr. Obama's approach.
The extraordinary tableau Wednesday at the United Nations underscored a stark new reality: the United States is facing the prospect of having to share, or even cede, its decades-long role as the architect of Middle East peacemaking.
Even before Mr. Obama walked up to the General Assembly podium to make his difficult address, where he declared that "Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.," American officials acknowledged that their various last-minute attempts to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with help from European allies and Russia had collapsed.
American diplomats turned their attention to how to navigate a new era in which questions of Palestinian statehood are squarely on the global diplomatic agenda. There used to be three relevant players in any Middle East peace effort: the Palestinians, Israel and the United States. But expansions of settlements in the West Bank and a hardening of Israeli attitudes have isolated Israel and its main backer, the United States. Dissension among Palestinian factions has undermined the prospect for a new accord as well.
Finally, Washington politics has limited Mr. Obama's ability to try to break the logjam if that means appearing to distance himself from Israel. Republicans have mounted a challenge to lure away Jewish voters who supported Democrats in the past, after some Jewish leaders sharply criticized Mr. Obama for trying to push Israel too hard.
The result has been two and a half years of stagnation on the Middle East peace front that has left Arabs - and many world leaders - frustrated, and ready to try an alternative to the American-centric approach that has prevailed since the 1970s.
"The U.S. cannot lead on an issue that it is so boxed in on by its domestic politics," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator in the government of Ehud Barak. "And therefore, with the region in such rapid upheaval and the two-state solution dying, as long as the U.S. is paralyzed, others are going to have to step up."
Mr. Obama himself seemed to forecast this back in May when, speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he warned that events in the Middle East could lead to a challenge to the status quo if the Israelis and Palestinians did not move quickly toward a peace deal.
"There's a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations," Mr. Obama said then. "They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab world, in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it's already manifesting itself in capitals around the world."
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, delivered on the threat. He announced last Friday his plans to go to the Security Council in a quest for Palestinian membership in the United Nations and international legal recognition of statehood, putting Mr. Obama in the position of having to stand in the way. Israel and its allies in Congress, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel enjoys broad influence, were sharply opposed.
So on Wednesday, Mr. Obama "did exactly what he had to do," said David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "He made a clear statement for what is a clear U.S. position and put himself squarely as a champion of the status quo."
Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Rothkopf said, "has managed to read the U.S. political situation perfectly, making Obama acutely aware that he could be losing part of his base, and that, I think, in turn is what has locked Obama in."
The Palestinians have never fully trusted the United States to serve as an honest broker with Israel. But its credibility with the Palestinians has crumbled with the recognition that Mr. Obama may not have the clout to press the Israelis into a peace deal that requires significant compromises.
2) France Breaks with Obama on Palestinian Statehood Issue
Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, September 21, 2011
United Nations - President Nicolas Sarkozy of France broke sharply on Wednesday with the effort by the Obama administration and some Europeans to quash the effort by the Palestinians for recognition here, instead calling for enhancing their status in the General Assembly to that of an observer state.
The French leader, speaking from the famous green marble podium of the General Assembly barely an hour after President Obama, also said it was time to change the formula in trying to negotiate an Arab-Israeli peace, taking an indirect swipe at the United States by saying the efforts so far were a complete failure.
"Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters," Mr. Sarkozy said. "Let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise timetable."
The timetable he suggested is resuming the negotiations in one month, agreeing on borders and security within six months and finishing a definitive agreement within one year.
The Palestinians have sought a specific timeline, suggesting that endless stalling was slowly erasing the chances for a two-state solution.
In the meantime, if the Palestinian effort at membership faces a Security Council veto, the deadly reverberations will be felt across the Arab world, Mr. Sarkozy warned.
"Each of us knows that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state," he said. "But who could doubt that a veto at the Security Council risks engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East?"
The Palestinians currently have the status of an observer "entity" in the United Nations.
"Why not envisage offering Palestine the status of United Nations observer state?" said the French leader. "This would be an important step forward. Most important, it would mean emerging from a state of immobility that favors only the extremists."
3) Over 80% of the Palestinians support turning to the UN to obtain recognition of a Palestinian state. About 70% of Israelis think that if the UN recognizes a Palestinian state Israel should accept the decision
Joint Israeli-Palestinian Poll, September 2011
PSR - Survey Research Unit: Joint Palestinian Israeli Press release, 21 September 2011
These are the results of the most recent poll conducted jointly by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. This joint survey was conducted with the support of the Ford Foundation Cairo office and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
In the poll we explored Israeli and Palestinian attitudes regarding the Palestinian appeal to the UN to obtain recognition as an independent state. We also explored salient domestic issues in each public.
83% of the Palestinians believe they should go to the UN to obtain recognition for their state.
Majorities on both sides, 77% of the Palestinians and 79% of the Israelis, believe that the US will use its veto power in the UN Security Council in order to prevent the UN from admitting the state of Palestine as a UN member.
69% of Israelis think Israel should accept the decision if indeed the UN recognizes a Palestinian state, and either start negotiations with the Palestinians about its implementation (34%) or not allow any change on the ground by the Palestinians (35%); 16% believe Israel should oppose the decision and intensify the construction in the settlements; 7% think that Israel should annex to Israel the PA territory; and 4% think Israel should invade the PA and use force in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
If the UN recognizes the Palestinian state, 26% of Palestinians support a return to armed attacks on army and settlers to force Israel to withdraw from their state, 37% think peaceful non-violent resistance can force Israelis to withdraw; 30% think negotiations with Israel can bring it to withdraw. 54% of Palestinians in the West Bank say they would join large peaceful demonstrations in the West Bank and Jerusalem if they were to take place after the recognition of the Palestinian state.
4) Tester calls for removal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end
Senator: 'Let's end this war for good' by December 31 as planned
Office of Senator Jon Tester, Tuesday, September 20, 2011
U.S. Senate - U.S. Senator Jon Tester today delivered a clear message to Congress and President Obama: America's troops should leave Iraq by December 31 of this year as planned.
"Iraq now has the tools it needs to secure its people and its economy," Tester said. "Iraq's new leaders must solve their problems for their own people. Keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq would needlessly put them in more danger. It would cost American taxpayers more money. And it would further distract us from our core national security objectives of protecting American citizens and further dismantling al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups."
In a letter sent today to President Obama, Tester said U.S. troops "should not be in Iraq one minute more than is necessary."
The Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government calls for withdrawing Operation New Dawn troops from Iraq by year's end. Although there has been no official announcement, recent news reports suggest the possibility of keeping several thousand U.S. troops in Iraq past the December 31 deadline.
"We cannot afford moving the goal post," Tester told his colleagues today. "Across Montana, and this nation, people are saying: Come home now."
Tester said U.S. Marines should continue to guard America's embassies, and that the U.S. should maintain a "strong diplomatic presence" in Iraq.
Tester noted that between his first visit to Iraq in 2007 and his second visit earlier this year, Iraq's leaders were "finally moving forward after too many wasted years, too many wasted dollars and too many lives lost."
Tester said the progress is largely due to the fact that "Iraqis were told in no uncertain terms that the United States was leaving," which "galvanized Iraqi politicians to take control of their own country."
5) New Study Says U.S. Night Raids Aimed at Afghan Civilians
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Sep 21
Washington, Sep 21 - U.S. Special Operations Forces have been increasingly aiming their night-time raids, which have been the primary cause of Afghan anger at the U.S. military presence, at civilian non- combatants in order to exploit their possible intelligence value, according to a new study published by the Open Society Foundation and The Liaison Office.
The study provides new evidence of the degree to which the criteria used for targeting of individuals in night raids and for seizing them during raids have been loosened to include people who have not been identified as insurgents.
Based on interviews with current and former U.S. military officials with knowledge of the strategic thinking behind the raids, as well as Afghans who have been caught up in the raids, the authors of the study write that large numbers of civilians are being detained for brief periods of time merely to find out what they know about local insurgents – a practice the authors suggest may violate the Geneva Conventions on warfare.
A military officer who had approved night raids told one of the authors that targeting individuals believed to know one of the insurgents is a key factor in planning the raids. "If you can't get the guy you want," said the officer, "you get the guy who knows him."
Even when people who are known to be civilians have not been targeted in a given raid, they have been detained when found on the compound of the target, on the ground that a person's involvement in the insurgency "is not always clear until questioned", according to military officer who has been involved in operational questions surrounding the raids interviewed for the report.
Raids prompted by the desire for intelligence can result in the deaths of civilians. The Afghan Analysts Network, a group of independent researchers based in Kabul, investigated a series of night raids in Nangarhar province in October-November 2010, and found that the raids were all targeting people who had met with a local religious cleric who was believed to be the Taliban shadow province governor.
Two civilians were killed in those raids when family members came to the defence of their relatives.
The report notes that many Afghans interviewed said night-time operations had targeted a number of compounds simultaneously, in some cases covering entire villages.
In a village in Qui Tapa district of Konduz province, SOF units, accompanied by Afghan army troops, conducted a raid that detained 80 to 100 people, according to the report. The interviewees said a masked informant pointed out those people to be taken a U.S. base to be interrogated.
The idea of using military operations to round up civilians to exploit their presumed knowledge of the insurgency has a long history in the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon official in charge of detainee affairs until the end of 2005 told IPS that concerns about "over-broad detention" in Afghanistan - meaning the practice of sweeping up large numbers of civilians - were countered by pressures for "more aggressive detention operations".
As then head of NATO intelligence in Afghanistan, Canadian Brig. Gen. Jim Ferron, explained in a newspaper interview in May 2007, "The detainees are detained for a reason. They have information we need."
It is not clear that civilians actually provide important intelligence on insurgents, however. The civilian victims of night raids are family and friends of Taliban fighters and commanders, who have no incentive to provide information that would make it easier for SOF units to track them down.
But another factor inclines the Special Operations Forces commanders in Afghanistan to focus more on people for whom the evidence of involvement in the insurgency is weak or nonexistent, according to the new report. After taking heavy losses, in 2010, Taliban commanders at district level and above are increasingly residing in Pakistan rather than in towns in Afghanistan where they can be more easily targeted.
Without those targets on their lists, SOF units in Afghanistan may have had to choose between going after more civilians or reducing the number of operations. And the growth in the number of operations and the statistics on alleged insurgents killed or captured are a key measure of the relevance of SOF units.
An average of 19 raids per night were conducted during the period from December 2010 through February 2011, according to data published by Reuters last February. But a senior U.S. military adviser interviewed for the report in April 2011 said that as many as 40 raids were taking place in a single night.
A military officer involved in the night raids told an author of the study that there were no longer enough mid- to high-level commanders still active in Afghanistan to justify the present high rate of raids, and many raids were now likely to be targeting people who are known not to be insurgents but who might know something about specific insurgents.
Other officers interviewed for the report denied that contention, however, claiming there were still plenty of commanders left to target.
The report suggests that it is dangerous to detain family members in particular in order to exploit their knowledge of relatives in the insurgency, because it further inflames an already angry population across the country.
"If that is the criteria, they might as well arrest all southerners," said one Afghan journalist living in Kandahar. "The person who is an active Taliban is either my uncle, cousin (or) nephew…"
Based on interviews with residents in villages where raids have taken place in the past several months, the report concludes that communities "see raids as deliberately targeting and harassing civilians, in order to discourage communities from providing food and shelter to insurgents, or to pressure them to supply intelligence on the insurgency."
Most of those civilians targeted or swept up in night raids are released within a few days, according to the report. That assessment is consistent with the revelation, reported by IPS in September 2010, that roughly 90 percent of the individuals who were said by ISAF in August 2010 to have been "captured insurgents" were in fact released either within two weeks of initial detention or within a few months after being sent to Parwan detention facility.
The authors of the report conclude that deliberately targeting and rounding up civilians who are not suspected of being insurgents merely to exploit possible intelligence value "may constitute an arbitrary deprivation of liberty" and thus "inhumane treatment" in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
The report suggests there is "anecdotal" evidence that the targeting for the raids has become more accurate.
But that anecdotal evidence appears to be contradicted by other anecdotal evidence that the targeting has become more indiscriminate in deliberately targeting civilians.
6) Okinawa gov. reiterates demand to move U.S. base out of prefecture
Kyodo News, September 20, 2011
Washington - Visiting Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Monday reiterated his opposition to the existing plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within his prefecture.
In a speech in Washington, Nakaima said that moving Futenma out of the prefecture is the best way to solve problems reasonably and promptly.
Nakaima repeated his call for revamping the current plan to move the base from the densely populated Ginowan to the coastal area of Henoko in Nago. He said relocation out of the prefecture was necessary for reasons including opposition by the Nago mayor and many members of the city assembly, as well as uncertainty over the Marine Corps' functions in Okinawa.
Should the base be moved to Henoko forcibly, it would trigger fierce antibase movements across the prefecture, possibly having a negative impact on the Japan-U.S. security alliance, he said.
Saying that the Futenma base is dangerous and flawed, Nakaima said the fundamental point of relocating the base is to eliminate danger. It would be virtually impossible to continue operating the base as it is now, he said.
Regarding a Japan-U.S. deal on the U.S. military realignment package linking the relocation of the Futenma base with the return to Japan of military facilities located south of the U.S. Kadena Air Force Base, Nakaima said it would be natural for the United States to return such facilities as they would be no longer necessary for the Marine Corps.
The Japan-U.S. accord stipulates the return of most of the military-occupied land areas south of the Kadena base if the Futenma is relocated as agreed. Nakaima has been calling for an early return of such land.
7) House G.O.P. Tightens Its Bond With Netanyahu
Jennifer Steinhauer and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, September 20, 2011
Washington - When the Obama administration wanted to be certain that Congress would not block $50 million in new aid to the Palestinian Authority last month, it turned to a singularly influential lobbyist: Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
At the request of the American Embassy and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Netanyahu urged dozens of members of Congress visiting Israel last month not to object to the aid, according to Congressional and diplomatic officials. Mr. Netanyahu's intervention with Congress underscored an extraordinary intersection of American diplomacy and domestic politics, the result of an ever-tightening relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party that now controls the House.
On Tuesday, one of President Obama's potential rivals in 2012, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, delivered a speech in New York criticizing Mr. Obama's stance toward Israel as "naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous." Mr. Perry said that he would be a guest soon of Danny Danon, the hard-right deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.
The relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party has significantly complicated the administration's diplomatic efforts to avert a confrontation at the United Nations this week over the Palestinian bid for full membership as a state, limiting President Obama's ability to exert pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to make concessions that could restart negotiations with the Palestinians.
One of the members of Congress who attended the meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in August, Representative Michael G. Grimm of New York, a Republican, said that it was carefully explained to the delegation that the money would be used for training Palestinian police officers who work closely with the Israeli government.
Mr. Grimm said he felt more comfortable receiving the explanation from the prime minister than from Obama administration officials.
"I think the credibility is different," he said, "in the sense that this is his country and he certainly would not support something that would have negative effects within his country."
For the Republicans, the relationship with the Israeli government has created what many see as an opportunity. Mindful of Mr. Obama's strained relationship with Mr. Netanyahu and emboldened by a special election victory last week in a heavily Jewish Congressional district in New York, Republicans hope the tensions between Mr. Obama and Israel - underscored by the latest developments at the United Nations - will help propel future political victories for their party.
Even as Mrs. Clinton continued this week to pursue what she called "extremely intensive ongoing diplomacy" to find a compromise between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Republicans sought to leverage support among Jewish voters here at home who traditionally have favored Democrats.
8) Taking a Stand, and Shedding Arafat's Shadow
Neil MacFarquhar and Ethan Bronner, New York Times, September 21, 2011
United Nations -
In bringing his cause to the United Nations despite intense American pressure, Mr. Abbas has captivated the annual General Assembly gathering, bolstered the flagging devotion of his people and even cornered his rivals in Hamas. The question is whether this moment of unparalleled prestige for the Palestinian leader will produce concrete results or a new and more dangerous set of risks.
Here in New York, leaders are lining up to meet with Mr. Abbas, the central protagonist in the session's chief drama. In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians are offering rare praise for a leader who has mostly been seen as Hamlet-like in his indecision, trying too hard to please the Americans and the Israelis.
"We never thought of him as having his finger on the pulse of the Palestinian people the way Arafat did," said Sandra Tannouf, a 17-year-old student at a West Bank rally supporting the United Nations move. "He never filled the gap left by him, but I fully support this step. Maybe we will get our country back."
Ms. Tannouf was standing among tens of thousands of fellow supporters, Palestinian flags fluttering, bands playing, and banners of Mr. Arafat and Mr. Abbas covering the sides of buildings.
Schools, universities and ministries closed early to assure a crowd, but an opinion survey released on Wednesday showed that may have been unnecessary; more than 80 percent of the population is behind the move. Mr. Abbas is also comfortably outpolling his Hamas rival in both the West Bank and Gaza.
The same survey, however, suggests why many Western diplomats fear the good feelings cannot last. Asked what should happen after a United Nations vote, three quarters of Palestinians said they should impose their sovereignty over the West Bank, even if it leads to confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Mr. Abbas says the opposite - the United Nations move is not a substitute to negotiations with Israel but a prelude to more of them.
"For three-quarters of the public, going to the United Nations is about exercising sovereignty," Khalil Shikaki, a political scientist and the director of the opinion survey, said by telephone. "He is a hero for this. But he doesn't evoke emotions, he is not a great communicator and he lacks charisma. The people simply support his policy. The problem is that there is a disconnect between what he wants and what the public wants. And that could come back to haunt him."
9) Brazilian leader demands louder voice for emerging nations
EFE, September 21, 2011
United Nations - Multilateral financial institutions should be reformed to give emerging nations more influence, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Wednesday in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
The global economic crisis is "too serious to be managed by a small group of countries," Rousseff said in an apparent allusion to the G-7, which comprises the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Britain. "Everyone has the right to participate in the solutions" and the world also needs a U.N. Security Council that "reflects contemporary reality" and the importance of the developing nations, she said.
"Brazil is prepared to assume its responsibility as a permanent member" of the council, Rousseff said, reiterating the South American giant's long-standing demand for a position on the top U.N. body.
India, South Africa and Nigeria have also put forward claims to a permanent spot on the Security Council.
The General Assembly session that began Wednesday is likely to be marked by developing countries' demands for an overhaul of global institutions now dominated by the United States and the European Union.
That debate, however, will have to wait for a resolution of the Palestinians' bid for U.N. recognition, an initiative strongly opposed by the United States.
Rousseff came down firmly Wednesday on the side of recognizing Palestine, asserting that "only a free, sovereign state will be able to legitimate desires for peace with its neighbors."
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