Everybody leads with word that Israel agreed to lift its siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, meaning the Palestinian leader can now travel throughout Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza, and maybe even abroad. In return for his freedom, Arafat agreed that the men wanted by Israel, including the suspected murderers of a Cabinet minister, would be kept in a West Bank prison and looked after by American and British personnel. The papers all say that the White House brokered the deal with some help by Saudi Arabia. The Wall Street Journal emphasizes that the agreement was “the direct result of the president’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah last week.”
President Bush said, “Chairman Arafat is now free to move around and free to lead, and we expect him to do so.” He added that now Arafat “must perform.”
Israel said its tanks and troops will leave their positions around Arafat’s compound as soon as the prisoners are transferred, which should happen in the next few days. (Out of curiosity: Which agencies will be supplying the American and Brit personnel?)
Everybody notes that some Cabinet members of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s own Likud party opposed letting Arafat go free. According to the Washington Post, Sharon only agreed to the deal after “extraordinary lobbying by the Bush administration.”
The Israeli government promised that Arafat would soon be free to mosey around as he likes. But the New York Times says,“It was unclear if Israel would necessarily let Mr. Arafat back into the West Bank if he left.” The Los Angeles Times is also skeptical: “Despite assurances to the contrary from negotiators, his movements are likely to remain tightly restricted.”
The NYT reports that this is the first time American “monitors” will have been posted in the West Bank and says it could pave the way for future international forces there, which many Palestinians want, and the Israeli government doesn’t.
The papers gingerly suggest that the end of the siege could be the first step toward calming down the crisis. “Other shoes will be dropping very soon,” one Saudi official told the NYT. “I think we will see a total Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian territories.”
The papers all note that Israel is still opposing the makeup and scope of the U.N.’s proposed Jenin investigation.
The LAT and WP both say that Sharon decided that he couldn’t oppose both the U.N. and the United States. And, well, as one Israeli government official told the Post, “We know the American game is the only one in town. Those prime ministers who fought against America lost their elections. Sharon is not an idiot.”
The papers all note what’s next on Bush’s Mideast checklist: solving the standoff at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Administration officials told the papers that they’re hoping a deal can be hashed out early this week. The LAT says, “Previously upbeat negotiators on the Palestinian side were more reserved Sunday, predicting up to a week more of talks.” (If down-beat folks are suggesting that the siege will last a week more at most, then we’re in good shape.)
Everybody notes that President Bush said he was pleased with Sharon’s willingness to negotiate and invited the prime minister to visit Washington.
Everybody catches news that early Monday morning dozens of Israeli tanks moved into Hebron and killed at least seven people. Israel said that it believes that this past weekend’s attack on a settlement originated from Hebron.
The Post off-leads with word that U.S. and British forces in eastern Afghanistan may be on their way to launching a big operation just over the border in Pakistan. “There are many, many signs that they’re going to start the operation in 10 to 15 days,” said one Afghan official.
The NYT fronts word that Congress is likely to pass a bill later this year expanding Medicare to cover cancer drugs. The paper says that the legislation is basically a compromise since Democrats and Republicans haven’t been able to agree on a package that would provide comprehensive prescription drug benefits.
USA Today goes inside with word that the CIA thinks that a “large-scale invasion” is the best way to topple Saddam Hussein (who, as it happens, turned 65yesterday). As USAT notes, yesterday’s NYT said that a big invasion is also the White House’s favorite plan. (By the way, Friday’s Washington Times had a similar, and in some ways contrary story to the NYT’s apparent scoop.)
The LAT takes note of critics who say that the bill the House passed last week to split up the INS doesn’t have enough specific remedies to actually fix the much-maligned agency. “You have got one inefficient, unproductive INS now,” said one critic of the bill. “It seems to me that what you are going to end up with is two inefficient agencies.”
The LAT reports on the most intimidating team in baseball. “Forget Ruth and Gehrig,” says the Times. “This team lines up as a real ‘Murderer’s Row.’ ” The players on the San Quentin Giants are inmates at one of California’s highest-security prisons. The team competes against college and senior teams. The paper notes, “Before entering San Quentin’s penned-in lower yard, the teams were warned that authorities will cut no deals to negotiate for visiting players’ lives should they be taken hostage.”