Today's Papers

Abbas: Adieu?

The Los Angeles Times leads with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to quit, which he made after other Palestinian officials, led by Yasser Arafat, criticized him for what they see as his weak bargaining with Israel. The Washington Post stuffs the infighting and leads with the White House’s decision to give $20 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority. The Post explains that the move is an attempt to help Abbas and will be the first time that U.S. aid to Palestinians won’t go through the U.N. or other international organizations. The New York Times leads with on-the-record complaints from members of the commission investigating 9/11 that various executive branches haven’t been very cooperative with the investigation. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online) with President Bush’s hedging about whether he will send troops to Liberia. The Journal and others also mention that Liberian troops (mostly teenagers) blocked a U.S. assessment team from visiting a refugee camp. USA Today leads with yesterday’s workplace shooting at a plant in Mississippi in which an employee killed five people and wounded nine others before he shot himself.

As everybody notes, a rogue faction of Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Monday in a house north of Tel Aviv that killed a 65-year-old woman and slightly injured three of her grandchildren. The bombing hasn’t received much attention since it was inside a home and since Israeli officials had first said they weren’t sure what caused the explosion. The Post also mentions that various local units of Fatah’s “highly decentralized” Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have now come out against the truce.

The criticism toward Abbas coalesced around his seeming acquiescence to Israel’s decision to release only a fraction of the 5,500 Palestinian prisoners Israel holds. While Abbas has so far only made noise about resigning, he did in fact step down from the central committee of Fatah. “There has been very tough internal debate,” one Palestinian minister told the LAT. A diplomat told the NYT that Abbas was just “tired of being pushed around.” But the paper also suggests that Abbas’ threat to quit his day job is at least partly intended as a threat to get his detractors to shut up. Finally, the Times suggests that Abbas might be about to get tougher with Israel. “Things are leading toward a crisis,” said one Palestinian official.

Should you be wondering who’s in charge of the Palestinian Authority, the LAT notices that Abbas sent Arafat a letter yesterday “asking that he be given guidelines for negotiating with Israel.” Abbas wrote that he’ll resign if he feels that he can’t follow through with them.

The 9/11 commission members—in a press conference that was supposed to focus on the commission’s newly released progress report—complained among other things that the CIA and other agencies have required the presence of “minders” during interviews. The Journal, which yesterday previewed the commission’s beefs, emphasizes the panel’s warning that they might not be able to finish by their May 2004 deadline.

The LAT, WP, and USAT front President Bush’s arrival in Africa. At a Senegalese port from which slaves were shipped, Bush called the trade “one of the greatest crimes of history.” He also said that America’s “journey toward justice” isn’t over.

A Page One Post piece notices that the military has been low-balling the number of attacks on GIs in Iraq, announcing only ones that result in serious injury or death. (TP has been wondering about that.) Moreover, the attacks are “becoming routine,” said one unnamed military official. “It’s no longer a few isolated incidents.” Seven GIs were wounded yesterday. Three Iraqis, including a 13-year-old boy, were also killed after U.S. troops opened fire after being attacked.

USAT’s cover story reports on the potential danger presented by some new-fangled in-flight entertainment systems, one of which may have contributed to a 1998 Swissair crash. Since that crash, airlines have filed 60 “service difficulty reports” with the systems, many involving smoke, fire, or sparks. USAT waits until well after the fold, in fact until the last few paragraphs of the piece, to note criticism that the FAA doesn’t sufficiently regulate the systems. “As the program exists now,” said one former FAA official, “a designee can inadvertently wander beyond his area of competence, or make a mistake, and it might not be picked up.”

The LAT and NYT front word that Microsoft—which owns the words you’re reading—announced it will no longer give employees stock options. Instead it will hand out real shares.

The NYT’s David Sanger continues to channel I.F. Stone and ferret out details on the bogus intel—about Iraq’s quest for uranium—that made it into Bush’s State of the Union. Appearing inside the paper, Sanger and co-writer Carl Hulse report that just one week after the SOTU, the State Department sent the U.N. a letter acknowledging that the uranium allegations were shaky. The letter stated, “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” The Times notes that while the White House has continued to insist that there was good intel suggesting that Iraq was reconstituting its nukes program, that conclusion was “highly controversial” within both the departments of Energy and State. (Why is that only now getting noticed?) Meanwhile the BBC, citing unnamed sources, says that the CIA swears it told the White House before Bush’s big speech that the tip was bogus.

Finally a letter-writer to the WP notices that the paper attributed the administration’s uranium admission Monday—that “knowing all that we know now” Bush shouldn’t have made the assertion—to “a senior Bush administration official … in a statement authorized by the White House.” The writer wonders, “How could the Post present an admission of error on an important national security matter as both authoritative and anonymous? Readers deserve a clear explanation of why the identity of this ‘senior Bush administration official,’ speaking with the approval of ‘the White House,’ is being concealed.”