|Southwest Asia News Digest
Call for New Madrid Mideast Peace Conference
The Jan. 13 concluding document of the Madrid+15 conference, commemorating the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, states that, "participants discouraged interim agreements as a negotiated destination and called for an immediate return to negotiations toward a final and expedient comprehensive regional agreement," and it notes that many participants made calls "to convene an official international peace conference for the region of the Middle East, in the spirit of Madrid."
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a letter to the participants which was read before the conference, declared that the conflict "requires assertive leadership in the region and from Europe and the United States.... For many years, the people of the Middle East have been denied normal lives. Every passing day without peace threatens to further radicalize the region and engulf it in another deadly conflagration. Every passing day endangers the very possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute."
Former Secretary of State James Baker III issued a statement saying the Madrid+15 conference "could not be more timely."
In his message to the conference, former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the original conveners of the 1991 Madrid conference, warned of the necessity of reviving the Madrid approach. He first described how, in the 1991 Gulf War, there was a broad international coalition operating under a U.S. mandate for the liberation of Kuwait following its takeover by Iraq, which then correctly led to convening the Madrid conference to seek a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. By contrast, writes Gorbachev, "The new war in Iraq has produced tragic consequences for the civilian population and introduced the uncertainty for the future of this state. It has provided a sharp political division in the international community ... the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is heading towards a dead end.... As a result of the recent events, new conflicts were added to former unresolved problems," creating "battlegrounds for civil, interethnic and religious wars."
Peretz Presents New Diplomatic Peace Initiative
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has presented a new diplomatic peace initiative to his Labor Party faction, Ynet reported Jan. 8. Peretz's plan, which aims "to combine the Saudi initiative with the Road Map," is comprised of three phases: stabilizing the economic and security situation; general negotiation on a permanent solution and extension of Palestinian sovereignty; and specific negotiation for a permanent solution.
Phase A calls for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. In addition, a ceasefire will be based on preventive operations by Palestinian security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, and on Palestinian-Israeli coordination. This stage is aimed at bringing about an improvement in the Palestinians' living conditions and a revival of economic activity. Illegal Israeli outposts that were built after March 2001 are to be evacuated.
Phase B would focus on negotiations over a permanent agreement and extending Palestinian sovereignty. During this stage, Israel will negotiate with Abbas, or any other official Palestinian representative willing to recognize the conditions of the Quartet of Middle East mediatorsthe U.S., Russia, the United Nations, and European Union.
The objective of negotiations will be to achieve a two-state solution.
Phase C would involve negotiations regarding the permanent plan that would be derived from the general ideas consolidated in Phase B. This phase would be longer than the other two phases and is planned for 18 months.
At the end of Phase C: Implementation of the agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state. The process will continue for a number of years, with the support of the international community.
While the initiative received the support of several key Labor Party leaders, including Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, Knesset member Ami Ayalon spoke against it, saying "such an approach of working in phases will fail."
Hamas Leader: Israel Is a Reality
In an interview with Reuters, Hamas leader Khalid Meshal declared that Israel is a reality, and will continue to be a reality once a Palestinian state is formed, Ha'aretz reported Jan. 11.
Meshal said, "There will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact." He said that the problem is not Israel's existence, but the failure to establish a state for Palestinians, and that once a Palestinian state is created, then the question of recognition can be discussed. "The distant future will have its own circumstances, and positions could be determined then."
Meshal said past concessions to Israel by Palestinian negotiations went unrewarded. "For Israel to suck us into bargains in stages and in packagesthis road constitutes an attempt to weaken the Palestinian position." He went on, "As a Palestinian today, I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on the 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land. This is a reality, but I won't deal with it in terms of recognizing or admitting it."
He blamed Israel's "intransigence" for the delay in the freeing of Israeli army prisoner Gilad Shalit, over the question of how many Palestinian prisoners, who include women and children, are to be released in exchange.
U.S. Troops Raid Iranian Consulate in Irbil
U.S. troops raided the consulate of Iran in the Iraqi city of Irbil, in the Kurd-controlled north, Jan. 11, arresting six staffers and seizing computers and documents. A U.S. statement acknowledged that Iranians had been detained in the course of "routine security operations," but made no reference to the raid. U.S. helicopters landed on the roof of the consulate and soldiers broke down the doors.
Iran's Foreign Ministry responded immediately, denouncing the incident, and called in the Iraqi and Swiss envoys in Tehranthe Swiss represent U.S. intereststo demand an explanation for the provocative action (which could be considered an act of war). Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Hosseini charged that the raid was a complete violation of international law and all diplomatic norms, adding that the U.S. was attempting to damage Iran-Iraq relations in pursuit of its insane policy for the region.
Neo-Cons Cooked Up Scheme for Hamas-Fatah Civil War
The policy of fostering a Palestinian civil war between Fatah and Hamas was dreamed up by U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams about a year ago, according to Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, writing for the website conflictsforum.org Jan. 7. The Pentagon and CIA totally rejected the plan, as did Palestine's neighbors, so it was moved to the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative, headed until last summer by Dick Cheney's daughter Elizabeth L. Cheney.
A Pentagon official said of it, "This is not going to work and everyone knows it won't work. It's too clever. We're just not very good at this. This is typical Abrams stuff."
He went on to say, "It is unlikely that either Jordan or Egypt will place their future in the hands of the White House. Who the hell outside of Washington wants to see a civil war among Palestinians? Do we really think that the Jordanians think that's a good idea? The minute it gets underway, [King] Abdullah is finished. Hell, 50% of his country is Palestinian."
Rumsfeld became enraged when he heard of the scheme, and scheduled a meeting with Bush to try to stop it. He thought it would radicalize Muslim groups among America's allies and eventually endanger U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush told him that the State Department was dealing with Palestine, and that it was none of his business.
Neo-cons David Wurmser and John Hannah in Cheney's office had joined Abrams in cooking up the scheme, and Bush signed a secret CIA "finding" to start it off under CIA control, but the CIA wriggled out of it, and it was reassigned to the State Department under then-Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Cheney.
Pentagon officials admit that Abrams' plan seeded the recent armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah. Israeli officials know this, and have begun to rebel. According to Ha'aretz Dec. 25, "Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told that cabinet Sunday [Dec. 24] that should elections be held in the Palestinian Authority, Fatah's chances of winning would be close to zero. Diskin said during Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting that the Fatah faction is in bad shape, and therefore Israel should expect Hamas to register a sweeping victory."
Jordan's King Abdullah refused to meet Abbas without Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh, and Saudi officials have welcomed the latter for talks there.
Anglo-Dutch Cartel To Divvy Up Iraqi Oil Reserves
Iraq's oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are to be carved up by the Anglo-Dutch oil cartel, if a little-known bill passes the Iraqi parliament in March. The Jan. 7 London Independent, which has seen the draft law, reported that its terms would "give big oil companies such as BP, Shell, and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972."
Oil industry executives and analysts said that the law's provisions would allow "oil companies to take up to 75% of the profits ... until they have recouped initial drilling costs." But anyone familiar with the way the oil industry performs "creative" accounting, knows that those costs can be grossly inflated, and kept high for many years. After "recouping" drilling costs, the oil companies "would collect about 20 percent of all profits, according to industry sources in Iraq. But that is twice the industry average for such deals," the Independent notes.
Oil constitutes between 80 and 90% of Iraq's export foreign-exchange earnings.