U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has dispatched envoy George Mitchell to the middle east in a further effort to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Originally due in the region more than a week ago, Mitchell was delayed following the Israeli announcement of plans for 1,600 new builds in East Jerusalem. Mitchell hopes to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through a series of indirect talks between the two nations covering a range of core issues in the conflict.
Mitchell’s arrival coincides with escalating violence and unrest in the West Bank where Israeli soldiers killed four men this weekend. Two nineteen-year-olds were killed near Nablus while a further two teenagers, aged sixteen and seventeen, died of bullet wounds in Iraq Burin. The Israeli army insists only rubber bullets were used. The deaths follow escalating tensions and frequent protests in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli settlement plans in territories.
The openSecurity verdict: With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rigidly defending settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority seem unlikely to succeed. While Netanyahu has suggested confidence-building measures to improve relations between Israel and the Palestinians and announced an economic plan for Israeli Arab towns, the weekend's violence will outweigh any such attempts and give a greater voice to Palestinian anger in the West Bank.
Despite Netanyahu’s plans for confidence-building and economic reform, successful peace negotiations are unlikely unless the issue of the territorial status of East Jerusalem is addressed. East Jerusalem was unilaterally annexed by Israel following the 1967 war and has since been claimed as a legitimate part of the Israeli state, and as such is off limits for prospective negotiations.
Though tensions between the U.S. and Israel have eased following the settlement row, George Mitchell will need to take a tough stance with Israel if they hope to succeed in renewing talks between the two nations. Though Israel certainly has the upper hand in negotiations, it will need to make many concessions if it is to regain the goodwill of the middle east Quartet and bring the Palestinian Authority to the table. International pressure, from the U.S. as well as others, will need to exceed verbal reproaches if Israeli settlements are to be frozen and reversed, Palestinian conditions improved, and the US goal of a negotiated settlement with 24 months achieved.
Newly released results indicate tight race in Iraqi elections as public awaits final count
The Iraqi election commission has rejected the recent call by President Jalal Talibani for an official recount in the recent parliamentary elections. Talibani says he made the demand “as the president of the state, authorized to preserve the constitution and to ensure justice and absolute transparency,” arguing that a recount would “preclude any doubt and misunderstanding” about election results. Ballot counting since the 7 March elections has been slow and inundated with claims of fraud by rival parties.
The latest results, representing 95% of the ballots, shows former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi leading the polls by 0.1% over current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. However, the lead has shifted several times since the elections, indicating an extremely close result regardless of who wins. Additionally, al-Maliki currently leads in seven of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. The 325 parliamentary seats are allocated based on the voting outcome in each province.
Final results are expected Friday evening. Once released, the results will need to be certified by the Supreme Court as soon as all formal complaints have been investigated. Additionally, the close results indicate that weeks of intense negotiations to form a new government are to come, which to a significant degree will determine federal priorities for the next four years.
FARC kidnap five oil workers in Colombia
The Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) has kidnapped five oil contractors near the Carcare oilfield in the Colombian state of Arauca. The kidnapped men were working for Tuboscope and Tecnioriente, oil service companies subcontracted by the local division of Occidental Petroleum. A sixth man escaped as the remaining five were taken into a mountainous area near the Venezuelan border, pursued by army troops and helicopters. The governor of Arauca, Luis Ataya, has said he believes the men were taken for ransom.
Violence and kidnappings have fallen during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, however such kidnappings still underscore the guerrilla threat in the country’s ongoing conflict. Improvements during the Uribe administration have drawn significant foreign investment to the country, particularly in mining and oil. Colombia is now the fourth largest oil producer in the region, with an output of 700,000 barrels per day.
At present, the FARC holds an additional 24 soldiers and policemen as political leverage. These newest kidnappings come days before the expected release of two soldiers, one of whom has been held for twelve years in the FARC’s secret camps.
Nepalese peace broker dies at 86
Girija Prasad Koirala, the former prime minister of Nepal, died Saturday following heart problems that had seen him in and out of hospital in recent months. Koirala is known for leading mass demonstrations in 2006 against the authoritarian rule of then-King Gyanendra and called for the reinstatement of parliament. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has declared his death “a huge loss for Nepal and its ongoing peace process.”
Koirala played a key role in the demobilisation of Maoist insurgents and their reincorporation into mainstream politics. Following the abolition of the monarchy in May 2008, Koirala stepped down from his position as prime minister to allow the new coalition government to take power. The current transition to democracy has been stalled as political parties argue over the fate of former rebel fighters currently confined to U.N.-monitored camps. Additionally, a new constitution, expected by May 2010, is being stalled by party disagreements. Koirala had been trying to arrange an agreement between the two parties at the time of his death, and there are fears that the ongoing peace process will falter without his leadership and influence.