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JFP 3/24: Afghan Insurgents Present Formal Peace Plan
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 24 March 2010 - 6:25pm
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March 24, 2010
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Al Jazeera Video: Live Israeli gunfire suspected in Palestinian deaths
Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinian youths on Saturday during a demonstration in their village, Iraq Burin. The Israeli army issued a statement alleging its soldiers only used rubber-coated steel bullets in the village. Doctors and human rights organisations say their evidence disproves this account. Al Jazeera obtained video with the clear sound of gunfire, taken by an activist who was at the incident.
JFP video: Highlights of the Afghanistan Debate
With this video, we summarize the case made by Members of Congress for a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
1) Representatives of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami have presented a formal peace plan to the Afghan government, the New York Times reports. A spokesman for the delegation said the Taliban would be willing to go along with the plan if a date was set for the withdrawal of foreign forces. The plan sets that date as July 2010, with the withdrawal to be completed within six months. But the representatives said the dates were a starting position and could change. The Hezb-i-Islami proposal, while categorical about the demand for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan, and to end military operations and detentions, goes some way toward meeting the demands of Western nations and the Afghan government on other issues. It accepts having the current government to stay in power, and having the Afghan police, army and intelligence services assume responsibility for security, while a national security council is formed as the ultimate decision-making body until foreign forces leave and new elections are held. A future elected parliament would have the right to review the Constitution. The plan declares that no foreign fighters would be present in the country after the departure of the international forces. Hekmatyar was responding to Karzai's offer of peace talks as well as to the messages from the Obama administration that it wanted to withdraw forces and end the war, the group said.
2) Construction of a contentious Jewish housing project in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem could start at any time, the New York Times reports. A spokesman for the White House said it was seeking "clarification" on the building project. UN Secretary General Ban told the Security Council that "all settlement activity is illegal, but inserting settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem is particularly troubling." The green light for the project was published by an Israeli news site, on Tuesday night, shortly before Prime Minister Netanyahu met with President Obama in Washington.
3) The US and Mexico set their counternarcotics strategy on a new course by refocusing their efforts on strengthening civilian law enforcement institutions and rebuilding communities crippled by poverty and crime, the New York Times reports. The most striking difference between the old strategy and the new one is the shift away from military assistance, the NYT says. Military-to-military cooperation was expected to continue, officials said, despite reports by human rights groups of an increase in human rights violations by Mexican soldiers.
4) Turkey rebuffed calls from the US to support more sanctions against Iran, saying diplomacy should be given more time, Reuters reports. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon warned Turkey could face consequences if it moves out of step with the international community. China and Brazil have also urged more time for diplomacy with Iran.
5) There seems to be an emerging consensus that we have to address Israel-Palestine so everyone can focus on Iran, writes Stephen Walt for Foreign Policy. But trying to push Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to go after Iran gives Iran an enormous incentive to try to derail the process. As Trita Parsi has noted, this is what happened in the 1990s, when the US tried to isolate Iran from regional peace efforts: Iran backed Palestinian guerilla groups as a way to retaliate against the US and undermine attempts to isolate them.
6) Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, America's largest synagogue movement called on Israel to declare a moratorium on new building in East Jerusalem, the Forward reports. Yoffe said said the Reform Movement does not believe Israeli construction in East Jerusalem is illegal, "but a great many things that are legal are not prudent or wise - and building in Arab sections of Jerusalem in the current political climate is one of those things." Yoffie called the Israeli decision to announce new building plans in East Jerusalem during Biden's visit "a serious miscalculation" and said most American Jews agree with the administration the Israeli move was "an error."
7) The student government at the University of California, Berkeley endorsed by a wide margin a divestment bill from companies linked to the Israeli occupation, the Forward reports. The bill calls for divestment of ASUC assets from General Electric and United Technologies "because of their military support of the occupation of Palestinian territories."
8) Russia said Russian and Chinese envoys pressed Iran to accept a UN plan on uranium enrichment early this month but that Iran refused, the New York Times reports. Lukoil, Russia's largest private oil company, said it was pulling out of a mid-sized oil field development in Iran because of "international sanctions." Lukoil would not say which sanctions had compelled the pullout from the Anaran project. Oil analysts said Lukoil may have decided to adhere to US sanctions because the company owns a chain of gas stations in the US. Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy giant, said it would invest in two development blocks within the Anaran project.
9) The killing of a Colombian human rights activist has sparked calls for an urgent investigation into his death, the BBC reports. Jhonny Hurtado was shot dead at his farm in Colombia's Meta region. The farmer had recently spoken to a British delegation of union activists and labour campaigners about alleged rights abuses in the area.
10) A gunman killed a Colombian journalist who had received threats and reported on politicians linked to paramilitary death squads, Reuters reports. Clodomiro Castilla was an editor of El Pulso magazine and a reporter for local radio.
11) Authorities in Bogota and Cartagena, and in the northwestern department of Choco, suspect fraudulent activity in the ballot counting for the country's congressional elections on March 14, says Colombia Reports, citing Colombian media.
1) Insurgent Faction Presents Afghan Peace Plan
Carlotta Gall, New York Times, March 23, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - Representatives of a major insurgent faction have presented a formal 15-point peace plan to the Afghan government, the first concrete proposal to end hostilities since President Hamid Karzai said he would make reconciliation a priority after his re-election last year.
The delegation represents fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, 60, one of the most brutal of Afghanistan's former resistance fighters who leads a part of the insurgency against American, NATO and Afghan forces in the north and northeast of the country.
His representatives met Monday with President Karzai and other Afghan officials in the first formal contact between a major insurgent group and the Afghan government after almost two years of backchannel communications, which diplomats say the United States has supported.
Though the insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, operates under a separate command from the Taliban, it has links to the Taliban leadership and Al Qaeda and has fought on a common front against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the delegation, Mohammad Daoud Abedi, said the Taliban, which makes up the bulk of the insurgency, would be willing to go along with the plan if a date was set for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country. Publicly, a Taliban spokesman denied that.
The plan, titled the National Rescue Agreement, a copy of which was given to The New York Times, sets that date as July 2010, with the withdrawal to be completed within six months.
Those dates are ahead of the schedule outlined by President Obama, who set a target of July 2011 to start drawing down American troops. But the representatives said the dates were a starting position and could change. "This is a start, this is not the word of the Koran that we cannot change it," Mr. Abedi said.
Despite the Taliban's hard-line public statement, he also said he was confident that the Taliban would be willing to countenance the plan. "They have said if the U.S. announces a withdrawal date, they are ready to support our plan," said Mr. Abedi, an Afghan-American businessman. "I promise that personally, this is my own connection and I personally promise that. I have said that to the U.S. all along."
A spokesman for the Taliban said, however, that they had had nothing to do with the Hezb-i-Islami plan and would not accept such conditions.
Members of Hezb-i-Islami have held meetings with State Department officials, who have urged the Afghans to make peace among themselves if they want American troops to withdraw, said Mr. Abedi, the spokesman for the delegation.
The Hezb-i-Islami proposal, while categorical about the demand for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan, and to end military operations and detentions, goes some way toward meeting the demands of Western nations and the Afghan government on other issues.
It accepts having the current government to stay in power, and having the Afghan police, army and intelligence services assume responsibility for security, while a seven-member national security council is formed as the ultimate decision-making body until foreign forces leave and new elections are held.
A future elected parliament would have the right to review the Constitution, and the Afghan courts would prosecute those accused of corruption, drug smuggling, theft of the national wealth, and war crimes.
Although the provision is not stated in the document, Mr. Abedi said his party wanted international assistance for rebuilding Afghanistan to continue, and for the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to help broker the peace.
The plan also declares that no foreign fighters would be present in the country after the departure of the international forces, a wording unlikely to please Western countries concerned about the influence of Al Qaeda and other foreign militant groups.
Mr. Abedi, a former fighter, said his party had no links with Al Qaeda, nor did it need to make use of foreign fighters. But Mr. Hekmatyar is named on the United Nations sanctions list of Taliban and Al Qaeda figures.
In drafting the document and sending his envoys, Mr. Hekmatyar was responding to Mr. Karzai's offer of peace talks as well as to the messages from President Obama's administration that it wanted to withdraw forces and end the war, Mr. Abedi said.
Mr. Abedi emphasized that Hezb-i-Islami was putting its plan to the government to establish a stable transition when foreign troops left and prevent the chaos and infighting that occurred after the departure of the Soviet troops and the collapse of the Communist government in the 1990s. "We want, this time, the departure of international forces to be organized so they leave something behind after they leave and not to destroy what is achieved now," he said. "This is the goal. We want to have this government in its position and we are ready to assist them with the security situation."
Politicians familiar with Mr. Hekmatyar warned that any agreement would be a long way off. Yet the document clearly had Mr. Hekmatyar's fingers all over it, said Daoud Sultanzoi, a member of Parliament who met with Mr. Hekmatyar's delegation on Tuesday. "The gist of the whole is very important," he said. "He senses a fatigue in American and European public opinion and he is seizing on that," he said.
2) Israel Confirms New Construction in East Jerusalem
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, March 24, 2010
Jerusalem - With strains still high between Israel and the United States over the issue of Jewish settlements, construction of a contentious Jewish housing project in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem could start at any time, Israeli officials and experts said Wednesday
Jerusalem city hall gave the project the final go-ahead on March 18, days after city officials said the landowners had paid the required fees. Once the fees were paid, City Hall said in a statement on Wednesday, "approval was granted automatically."
A spokesman for the White House said on Wednesday that it was seeking "clarification" on the building project. In New York, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, told the Security Council that "all settlement activity is illegal, but inserting settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem is particularly troubling." He added: "This leads to tensions and undermines prospects for addressing the final status of Jerusalem."
The plan in question is for construction of 20 residential units in the Shepherd Hotel compound in Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood populated mostly by Palestinians, and more recently by some Israeli nationalist Jews, just north of the Old City.
The green light for the project was first published by Ynet, an Israeli news Web site, on Tuesday night, shortly before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama in Washington.
The Obama administration was close to starting indirect, so-called "proximity talks" between the Israelis and Palestinians, with an American envoy shuttling between the two sides. Those were put off when Israel announced plans this month for 1,600 new housing units in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of East Jerusalem during a visit here by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, infuriating the Obama administration.
Mr. Netanyahu apologized for the bad timing but continues to insist on Israel's right to build anywhere in what Israel considers its united capital of Jerusalem.
Still, in a sign of the sensitivity of the issue, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that a meeting of the district planning committee had been put off earlier this week pending the conclusions of a committee set up by Mr. Netanyahu to improve government coordination regarding building plans in Jerusalem.
The 20-unit complex in question is to be built on property bought by a Miami-based businessman, Irving Moskowitz, in 1985. Mr. Moskowitz has long supported the development of Israeli and Jewish housing in Arab areas of East Jerusalem.
Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer who opposes Israeli expansion in East Jerusalem and is active in promoting a political solution for the city, said he has been warning the Israeli and American governments for months that the Shepherd Hotel building project was likely to get under way as soon as there was a prospect of peace talks. "Projects like this are a spoiler's paradise," he said.
According to Israeli planning and construction regulations, construction usually has to start within a year after approval has been granted, or the building permit will be nullified.
3) U.S. And Mexico Revise Joint Antidrug Strategy
Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey, New York Times, March 23, 2010
Mexico City - Responding to a growing sense that Mexico's military-led fight against drug traffickers is not gaining ground, the United States and Mexico set their counternarcotics strategy on a new course on Tuesday by refocusing their efforts on strengthening civilian law enforcement institutions and rebuilding communities crippled by poverty and crime.
The $331 million plan was at the center of a visit to Mexico by several senior Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence.
The revised strategy has many elements meant to expand on and improve programs already under way as part of the so-called Mérida Initiative that was started by the Bush administration three years ago, including cooperation among American and Mexican intelligence agencies and American support for training Mexican police officers, judges, prosecutors and public defenders.
Under the new strategy, officials said, American and Mexican agencies would work together to refocus border enforcement efforts away from building a better wall to creating systems that would allow goods and people to be screened before they reach the crossing points. The plan would also provide support for Mexican programs intended to strengthen communities where socioeconomic hardships force many young people into crime.
The most striking difference between the old strategy and the new one is the shift away from military assistance. More than half of the $1.3 billion spent under Mérida was used to buy aircraft, inspection equipment and information technology for the Mexican military and police. Next year's foreign aid budget provides for civilian police training, not equipment.
Military-to-military cooperation was expected to continue, officials said, despite reports by human rights groups of an increase in human rights violations by Mexican soldiers. Experts at the Washington Office on Latin America, an organization that advocates for human rights and social justice, said that Pentagon assistance to Mexican counter-narcotics efforts amounted to $78.2 million in 2009 and 2010.
4) Turkey rebuffs U.S. call to join Iran sanctions
Selcuk Gokoluk, Reuters, March 24, 2010
Ankara - NATO-member Turkey on Wednesday rebuffed calls from ally the United States to support more sanctions against Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, saying diplomacy should be given more chance.
Turkey, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has been leery of a U.S.-led push to back new sanctions on fellow Muslim nation Iran, which the West suspects is trying to develop atomic bombs. "There is still an opportunity ahead of us and we believe that this opportunity should be used effectively. Not less, but more diplomacy (is needed)," Turkey's Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin told a news conference.
Last week, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, the U.S. State Department's top diplomat for Europe, urged Turkey to support more sanctions against Iran, saying Ankara could face consequences if it moves out of step with the international community.
Turkey, which has applied to join the European Union, is not the only country that insists on more diplomacy with Iran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. China, a permanent, veto-wielding member of the Security Council, along with non-permanent member Brazil, have urged more time for diplomacy with Iran.
5) A consensus on Israel and Iran?
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, March 23, 2010
One apparent area of agreement among virtually all public participants in the recent debate over U.S.-Israeli relations is the importance of confronting Iran. Secretary of State Clinton made it a theme of her remarks to the AIPAC policy conference, as did PM Netanyahu, and interestingly enough, it's implicit in General David Petraeus's comment to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict complicates U.S. efforts to forge effective alliances with other Middle East states.
Add to that a recent column by Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, who quotes an unnamed U.S. official saying that the real reason Obama went ballistic over the continued Israeli intransigence regarding settlement building is that this policy is undermining U.S. efforts to deal with Iran.
In short, what you see here is an emerging consensus that Iran is the problem, and we've got to address Israel-Palestine in order to focus everyone's attention on that. For the record, some of the things I've written are consistent with that view too.
But one word of caution, courtesy of Trita Parsi. Trying to push Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to then go after Iran has one obvious downside: it gives Tehran an enormous incentive to do whatever it can to derail the admittedly fragile peace process. As Parsi shows in his prize-winning book Treacherous Alliance, this is what happened during the 1990s, after the Bush administration excluded Iran from the Madrid Conference and after the Clinton administration had adopted the policy of "dual containment." Iran had never paid that much attention to the Palestinian issue before then, but it started ramping up support for Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups as a way to pay the United States back and to undermine U.S. efforts to isolate them.
So instead of announcing (or hinting) that we are interested in Israeli-Palestinian peace primarily so we can go after Iran, we ought to emphasize that we are interested in peace there because it's the right thing to do (i.e., better for us, better for Israel, and obviously better for the Palestinians). At the same time, we should continue patient, realistic (and maybe even more imaginative) efforts to improve relations with Iran, so that they don't have greater incentives to play the spoiler. Ditto Syria.
If we play our cards right, we might even generate something of a virtuous circle; where various parties with whom we now have disagreements begin to realize that they ought to deal now, lest we mend fences elsewhere and leave them with a weaker bargaining position down the road. But notice that will require a far-sighted, patient, and coherent approach to the region, and not just a single-minded focus on one particular problem.
6) Yoffie Calls for Moratorium on E. Jerusalem Construction
Nathan Guttman, The Forward, March 19, 2010
Washington - Breaking rank with most Jewish organizations, America's largest synagogue movement is calling on Israel to declare a moratorium on new building in East Jerusalem, following the latest dispute over plans to build 1,600 new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called for the move on a March 18 with rabbis and URJ board members.
"I see no reason why Israel should renounce her claim to all of Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital, or her right to build anywhere within Jerusalem's borders. But there are many reasons why Israel should consider a temporary moratorium on all such building," Yoffie said, adding that such a move could strengthen ties with the U.S. and would potentially help Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The leader of the Reform movement stressed that his call does not imply the group does not support the idea of a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also said that the Reform Movement does not believe Israeli construction in East Jerusalem is illegal, "but a great many things that are legal are not prudent or wise - and building in Arab sections of Jerusalem in the current political climate is one of those things."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to issue further building permits in East Jerusalem, but Netanyahu, according to press reports, turned down this request. In his remarks, Rabbi Yoffie called the Israeli decision to announce new building plans in East Jerusalem during the recent visit of Vice President Joe Biden "a serious miscalculation" and said most American Jews agree with the administration that the Israel move was "an error."
Yoffie's call for a housing moratorium in Jerusalem put the Reform movement at odds not only with the Israeli government, but also with most other Jewish groups. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations issued a statement on March 16 saying the issue of building in East Jerusalem was never a condition for talks with the Palestinians, and that issuing new plans to build in this area does not contradict Israel's commitment for a temporary settlement freeze.
The Union of Reform Judaism is an umbrella group of more than 900 synagogues throughout North America; those synagogues represent an estimated 1.5 million members.
7) Report: Cal-Berkeley Student Gov't Endorses Divestment
JTA, March 18, 2010
The student government at the University of California, Berkeley reportedly endorsed a divestment bill. The Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley passed the bill by a wide margin early Thursday morning, it was reported.
The Daily Californian had reported that the association was considering the bill late Wednesday night.
The bill calls for divestment of ASUC assets from General Electric and United Technologies "because of their military support of the occupation of Palestinian territories." It further claims that the move is not an expression of support for either Israel or the Palestinians, but rather is "a principled expression of support for universal human rights and equality."
8) China and Russia Pressed Iran to Accept U.N. Deal
Ellen Barry and Andrew Kramer, New York Times, March 24, 2010
Moscow - Russia disclosed on Wednesday that Russian and Chinese envoys pressed Iran's government to accept a United Nations plan on uranium enrichment during meetings in Tehran early this month but that Iran refused, leaving "less and less room for diplomatic maneuvering."
"The clouds are piling up," said a top Russian Foreign Ministry official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, following diplomatic protocol. He said Russia would consider supporting sanctions tailored to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, though it "is certainly against any paralyzing sanctions that are aimed not at nonproliferation but at punishing Iran or, God forbid, regime change."
Also on Wednesday, Lukoil, Russia's largest private oil company, said it was pulling out of a mid-sized oil field development in Iran because of "international sanctions" against the country. Lukoil made the announcement in a scheduled briefing on its yearly results for 2009, saying restrictions on investment had cost the company $63 million last year.
Grigory Volchek, a Lukoil spokesman, would not say which sanctions had compelled the pullout from the Anaran project, which includes several oil fields. Oil analysts in Moscow said Lukoil may have decided to adhere to American sanctions because the company owns a chain of gas stations in the United States.
A concurrent announcement on Wednesday by Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy giant, suggested that the authorities are trying to avoid the impression of bending to United States law when doing business with third parties. Gazprom said it would invest in two development blocks within the Anaran project, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
9) Colombia campaigner's death sparks investigation call.
BBC, 19 March 2010
The killing of a Colombian human rights activist has sparked calls for an urgent investigation into his death. Reports say Jhonny Hurtado, 59, was shot dead on Monday at his farm near La Catalina, in Colombia's Meta region. The farmer had recently spoken to a British delegation of union activists and labour campaigners about alleged rights abuses in the area.
The delegation said it is "deeply saddened" and has urged the government to bring those responsible to justice. "We were deeply concerned to learn that soldiers of the Colombian Army were allegedly present in the area at the time that this killing occurred," the delegation said in a letter to Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe Velez.
10) Colombian journalist shot and killed
Patrick Markey, Reuters, Saturday, March 20, 2010
Bogota - A gunman killed a Colombian journalist who had received threats and reported on politicians linked to paramilitary death squads, police and the victim's family said on Saturday.
Clodomiro Castilla, an editor of El Pulso magazine and a reporter for local radio, was shot to death on Friday night as he read a book on the terrace of his home in Monteria city in the north of the Andean country.
11) Electoral fraud suspected in Bogota, Cartagena and Choco
Camilla Pease-Watkin, Colombia Reports, Monday, 22 March 2010
Authorities in the Colombian cities of Bogota and Cartagena, as well as in the northwestern department of Choco, suspect fraudulent activity in the ballot counting for the country's congressional elections on March 14, reported Colombian media on Monday.
According to reports, several procedural irregularities have been signaled in all three locations and the most common complaint by authorities is the discrepancy between the number of ballots counted and the number of voters registered and marked as present.
Vote recounting in Bogota revealed substantial differences between recorded numbers and according [to] Noticias Uno, votes for leading party Partido de la U may have as much as doubled as a result.
Officials in all three locations will be investigating the allegations of electoral fraud and those implicated in the illegal activity.
This follows news that the Colombian Inspector General will be opening a formal investigation into the country's National Registrar Carlos Ariel Sanchez, as a result of the several irregularities that were recorded during and post Colombia's congressional election.
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