Back to 1967 Borders?

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

67 Borders Central in Mideast Talks Restart Effort

By Nicole Gaouette and Bill Varner -

3207995924_5cdd1ac332_zPresident Barack Obama’s proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by starting with the 1967 borders will likely be adopted by the international group trying to find a peace agreement.

The meeting today in Washington by the “Quartet” — the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — has taken on added urgency as Palestinians plan to ask the UN to recognize their state in a September vote. Israel and the U.S. oppose the move, which would raise political and legal questions.

Before going into the talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to Palestinians about their UN ambitions and repeated her assertion that talks were the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

“What we strongly advocate is a return to negotiations,” Clinton said. “A resolution, a statement, an assertion is not an agreement. The path to two states lying side by side in peace lies in negotiation.”
The French foreign ministry said the Quartet meeting represents “one of the last chances to lay the necessary groundwork to resume negotiations and avoid a diplomatic confrontation in September,” according to a statement released Friday.

“They want to restart negotiations on the basis of Obama’s speech and the 1967 borders and use that as a way to convince the Palestinians not to go to the UN in September,” said Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan and vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The chances of that are very slim,” he said in a telephone interview.

Clinton was to host the Quartet at the State Department, meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Quartet representative Tony Blair over a working dinner.

The Obama administration restarted talks between the parties in September with the goal of reaching agreement on core issues a year later — a deadline now just weeks away. The talks quickly stalled.

In a May speech, Obama called for an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines” that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem in the Six-Day War with Arab nations.

The president said Israel’s security should be ensured before other core issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, are settled. And he proposed that Israel retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said immediately after the speech that the 1967 borders would be “indefensible” and leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.

In the months since, U.S. envoys have repeatedly urged both sides to consider the president’s proposal, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The U.S. feels that “going to the United Nations is not helpful, it will not achieve the goal of a lasting peace of two states living side by side” and it “could be detrimental to our goal to get the parties back together,” Nuland said at a July 8 briefing.

Palestinians decided to seek recognition at the UN because they have given up on negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, senior negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said June 16.

As the vote has come closer, Palestinians have begun to reconsider the effectiveness of their UN plan, said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based group that advocates for a peaceful solution to the Mideast conflict.

“It’s become in so many ways a less attractive proposition than it was a few months ago,” Ibish said in a telephone interview. Palestinian leaders “feel that politically they have to act,” he said, as negotiations have gotten them nowhere and the Palestinian public watches protest movements lead to political change across the Arab world.

Muasher was among several analysts who said that the September vote might trigger Palestinians to take to their streets “if it becomes clear this is just a vote on paper and doesn’t result in a Palestinian state on the ground.”

“Time is running out for the parties involved, the Quartet, Israel, the PLO, to find a way out of any kind of damaging confrontation at the UN in September. That is not in anyone’s interest,” Ibish said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview that he hoped something “meaningful comes out the Quartet meeting, in the form of parameters that would include the ideas in the speech of President Barack Obama.”

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said both Israelis and Palestinians have an interest in returning to talks. Danin, a former head of office for Quartet representative Blair, has also worked on Israeli- Palestinian issues for both the State Department and the White House. “Netanyahu sees an Israel that is increasingly isolated and a pariah,” Danin said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has an administration in the U.S. that seems more well-disposed to Palestinian positions and concerns than they’ve seen in the past, and he recognizes that without a negotiating process, he’s not going to gain anything.”

Another former U.S. diplomat with long experience in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations said restarting the talks wasn’t likely. “The gaps are too big. The suspicions are too great. The motivations of everyone are too questioned by the other,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

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Allies Debate Libya Ceasefire, China Shifts Ground

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Robinson

2011-06-22T194132Z_1920063541_GM1E76N0AA801_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Rebel fighters drive their vehicle on the frontline in Ajdabiyah June 22, 2011. A split opened within the NATO-led air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Wednesday as France and Britain rejected an Italian call for a halt to military action to allow aid access. 

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Signs of discord emerged on Wednesday in the NATO alliance over the air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as Italy said it favored a ceasefire and political talks while France dismissed the idea.

China also signaled a shift in its stand on the conflict, describing the rebels as a “dialogue partner,” while Libyan television said that “dozens” of people had been killed in Zlitan after NATO ships shelled the town.

Four months into the uprising, and three months since NATO war planes began bombing Libya, the rebels are making only slow gains in their march on the capital Tripoli to topple Gaddafi.

“The need to look for a ceasefire has become more pressing,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament. “I believe that as well as the ceasefire, which is the first stage toward a political negotiation, a humanitarian stop to military action is fundamental to allow immediate humanitarian aid.”

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero reacted sharply to Frattini’s comments, which reflected Italian anxiety for some time over the NATO operation.

“The coalition was in complete accord two weeks ago at the contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi: We have to intensify the pressure on Gaddafi. Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to gain time and reorganize himself,” Valero told reporters.

In Rome, a foreign ministry spokesmen played down Frattini’s comments, saying this was not an Italian proposal and that it had been discussed among others at a Cairo meeting on June 18 of European Union, U.N., African and Arab officials.

“There is no specific Italian proposal on this. What Minister Frattini said in parliament this morning is that Italy is interested in looking at all ideas which could relieve civilian suffering,” the spokesman said.

He said the ceasefire, an idea the United Nations has been pushing without success for some time, could apply to rebel-held Misrata and the Western Mountains region.

At the same time, the African Union chief said in Addis Ababa that the West would eventually have to accept an AU ceasefire plan, saying the air bombardments were not working.

“(The bombing campaign) was something which they thought would take 15 days,” Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, told Reuters. “The stalemate is already there. There is no other way (than the AU plan). They will (endorse it).”

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), a Saudi-based grouping of 57 Muslim countries, also said it had sent a delegation that arrived in Libya on Wednesday to mediate.
It would meet the rebels in Benghazi and Gaddafi officials in Tripoli, a statement said, but gave no more details.

China Shifts Ground

The debate over a ceasefire comes as Libya’s rebels, who have made steady progress winning support abroad and isolating Gaddafi on the international stage, secured Beijing’s recognition as a “dialogue partner.”

“China sees you as an important dialogue partner,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Mahmoud Jibril, diplomatic chief of the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council in Beijing. The comments were published in a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

“(The Council’s) representation has been growing stronger daily since its establishment, and it has step-by-step become an important domestic political force,” Yang said, adding that China was worried about the Libyan people’s suffering.

Winning international recognition could eventually help the rebels to secure access to frozen Libyan funds, and the right to spend money earned by exporting oil.

China is the only veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that has yet to call for Gaddafi to step down, after Russia joined Western countries last month in calling for him to leave power.

Beijing, never very close to Gaddafi, hosted Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi this month. Courting the rebels has marked a policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids entangling itself in other nations’ domestic affairs.

NATO and the rebels are hoping that Gaddafi’s diplomatic and economic isolation will eventually bring his government down.

Misrata Attacks

Gaddafi’s forces were able to shell the rebel stronghold of Misrata on Tuesday, landing rockets in the center of the town for the first time in several weeks.

No one was reported hurt by that strike, but it undermined a relative sense of security among residents who believed that a siege on the city had been broken last month.

More rockets fell later in the sparsely-populated El-Araidat neighborhood near the port. Residents said no one was hurt and a Reuters reporter saw only several dead sheep lying in a field after the attack.

“Everyone is worried. We don’t know where to go anymore. Only when I die will I be safe,” said Mohammed Mabrouk, who lives near one of two houses hit by the first rocket rounds in Misrata. Two more landed in open areas.

At least three explosions were heard in Tripoli on Wednesday morning and again in the afternoon but it was not clear where or what caused them.

In a sign of the increasing impact of the crisis on daily life, Gaddafi’s state media issued instructions that ordinary people should follow “to deal with the fuel shortage.”

They called on people to use public transport instead of cars, avoid using air conditioning when driving and stick to 90-100 kph as the ideal speed. They also asked Libyans to be patient when queuing at petrol stations.

Exports of oil have ceased, depriving Gaddafi’s government of the funds it used during peacetime to provide the population with heavily subsidized food and fuel. Petrol queues in Gaddafi -held areas now stretch for miles.

Rebels have been trying to advance west toward the town of Zlitan, where Gaddafi’s soldiers are imposing a tight siege. Libyan television said on Wednesday that “dozens” of people were killed in Zlitan after NATO ships shelled the town.

The report could not be independently verified because foreign reporters have been prevented from entering Zlitan. NATO normally comments on its Libya operations the following day.

If the Libyan television report is confirmed, it could further complicate the mission of the NATO-led military alliance, whose credibility has been questioned after it admitted on Sunday killing civilians in a Tripoli air strike.

Gaddafi’s government says more than 700 civilians have died in NATO strikes. However, it has not shown evidence of such large numbers of civilian casualties, and NATO denies them.

A rebel spokesman called Mohammed told Reuters from Zlitan that NATO had been hitting government military targets in the town on an almost daily basis. He said Gaddafi’s soldiers used artillery positions in Zlitan to fire salvoes toward Misrata.

“We hear the sound of artillery fire every night,” he said.

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France Welcomes Second Former Guantanamo Inmate

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Paris – A 39-year-old Algerian who was imprisoned for seven years in the US detention centre at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism arrived Tuesday in France, the French foreign ministry said.

`In deciding to accept a second ex-inmate on our soil, France is contributing … to implement the decision by US President (Barack) Obama to shut the Guantanamo detention centre,’ the ministry said in a statement.

Saber Lahmar was cleared by courts in several countries, including the United States, of all charges regarding his alleged participation in acts of terrorism.

In the autumn of 2001, Lahmar was arrested in Bosnia with five other Algerians on suspicion of planning an attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo. He was among the first terror suspects to be incarcerated in the controversial prison in Cuba.

Four of the other suspects in the case were released earlier this year. One of them was also sent to France.

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