Today's Papers

Once Removed …

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal’s worldwide news box (online), and USA Today all lead with the Israeli security cabinet’s vote to expel Yasser Arafat, though it hasn’t actually followed through with the threat. As everybody notes, the White House is strongly opposed to such a move. The Washington Post stuffs Arafat and instead leads with word that British intel agencies told Prime Minister Blair last February that invading Iraq would increase the chances of terrorists getting their hands on chemical or biological weapons. The assessment came out via a just-released parliamentary report, which also formally cleared Blair’s government of charges that they falsified—or as the Brits seem to put it, sexed up—prewar intel. The Los Angeles Times leads with a new poll in California’s recall race. Voters are just about evenly split on whether to sack Gov. Gray Davis, with 50 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. In terms of possible replacements, 30 percent support Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and 25 percent are for Arnold.

As the NYT notes up high, the Israeli cabinet order for the “removal” of Arafat was deliberately vague and could also mean that Israeli forces will try to arrest him or even, says the Times, kill him. One Israeli official told the Post, “He is not an object for a targeted killing.” But various analysts in the papers guessed that Arafat might go down shooting if Israel tries to arrest him. The WP adds that top Israeli intel officials oppose banishing Arafat. They figure that exile would help his profile and his fund raising. Better, say the intel sources, to completely isolate Arafat in his own HQ—as the NYT puts it, bring the prison to him.

Word of the decision prompted a huge crowd to gather in front of Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, which most of the papers cover. Arafat shouted, “This people will never bend to pressure—we will continue the march to Jerusalem!” The crowd chanted back, “To Jerusalem we are marching, martyrs in the millions!”

The WP clearly thinks that banishing Arafat would be a bad idea, saying up high that the announcement “may have backfired by suddenly thrusting the preeminent symbol of Palestinian nationalism back into the international spotlight.” The LAT also, not very slyly, comes out against it: “Analysts have long argued that deporting Arafat could trigger a burst of instability.” (Note to the LAT: Media analysts have long argued that you should at least cover your tush and quote somebody saying that. Or, here’s an idea, just drop the pretense and say it yourself.)

The NYT also notes that Arafat, in what’s becoming an oft-repeated battle, shot down attempts yesterday by the new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, to consolidate Palestinian security forces and have Arafat give up control of them. Qurei’s nominated interior minister apparently got in a shouting match with Arafat about it and then stormed out after he lost. The Jerusalem Post says Arafat himself stormed out, after the interior minister called him “the most incompetent revolutionary leader in history.”

“Everyone’s blaming Arafat on the Palestinian side, and our diplomacy is now over,” one diplomat told the Times. “Put on your helmets.”

While the British parliamentary report concluded that the government didn’t sex things up, it did detail how the government—well, kinda, sorta sexed things up—played down the uncertainty of the intel and implied that Saddam was a threat to Britain when the intel didn’t support that. The NYT does a good job explaining the nuances and reading past the bullet-point conclusions.

As only the NYT breaks out in a separate piece, a total of four GIs were wounded in Iraq yesterday in two attacks, one of them in central Iraq’s so-called Sunni Triangle and one in northern Iraq, which until recently hadn’t had significant guerrilla activity. According to early morning reports, another three were wounded today in a roadside bombing west of Baghdad.

Citing mostly unnamed administration officials, a front-page LAT story says the White House doesn’t have much hope for getting many troops or much money from allies, even if the U.S. gives up some control of Iraq to the U.N. According to the paper, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently had a closed-door briefing with senators and explained that “donor fatigue” had set in. When senators asked Powell and Rummy who would cover the ensuing gap, one unnamed Senate official recounted, “They looked at each other and there was sort of an embarrassing pause.”