The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with Hamas forces taking control of the Gaza Strip after five days of fighting that killed almost 100 Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promptly proceeded to dissolve the Palestinian unity government, fire Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, and declare a state of emergency. Abbas also hinted that there will be new elections soon. Hamas officials responded by saying that Abbas doesn’t have the power to carry out his decrees and emphasized that Haniyeh will continue in his role as prime minister.
The Washington Postleads with the Justice Department announcing that an internal investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys will also look into whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tried to influence the testimony of Monica Goodling, a former senior aide. During her testimony, Goodling told lawmakers that the attorney general made her feel “a little uncomfortable” when he tried to compare notes on how the firings came about. The expansion of the investigation led some to once again call for the appointment of an outside prosecutor. USA Todayleads with a look at how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is trying to get money back from victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes that it improperly awarded. FEMA overpaid at least $485 million to aid recipients and, so far, has managed to recover $15.6 million. This week a judge said FEMA needs to explain to victims exactly what they owe before it can keep collecting the money.
The Hamas takeover of Gaza “could doom the long-held Palestinian vision of uniting Gaza and the West Bank into a single independent state,” says the LAT in a Page One analysis. It now seems increasingly likely that, as predicted, Abbas will let Hamas govern Gaza while he controls the West Bank. The NYT talks to some Israeli officials who welcome the idea of a divided government and will increase security operations to prevent Hamas fighters from entering the West Bank. Assuming things go as planned, Israel would then push to improve relations with the Abbas government and begin giving back the remaining Palestinian tax money.
Both the NYT and WP note in analysis pieces inside that the U.S. government also seems ready to use this opportunity to improve relations with a Fatah government while continuing its isolation of Hamas. U.S. officials said they will work to lift aid restrictions that are currently in place so that money can flow to the West Bank. The potential benefits of this strategy are clear as Hamas would have to figure out how to control Gaza by itself, while the Fatah government would presumably benefit from the increased aid. But things aren’t so simple because, as the NYT deftly notes, “it would be diplomatically perlious for the United States to be seen as turning its back on Gaza.”
Most seem to agree with an analyst who tells the WP that “the two-state vision is dead.” As an Israeli analyst cited by the LAT said, “Now there is one entity in Gaza that we might call ‘Hamasstan’ and another in the West Bank that we can call Fatahland.” In an opinion column published in the WP, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel says that although what has happened in Gaza “is an embarrassment” for the Bush administration, its best choice is to now focus its efforts on supporting the West Bank. Slate contributor Shmuel Rosner makes a similar point and says that the best that can be hoped for is a succesful Fatah government that will show Palestinians in Gaza how their lives could be better if they weren’t ruled by Hamas.
The WP fronts, and all the papers mention, news that Judge Reggie Walton ruled that Scooter Libby can’t wait until after all his appeals are exhausted to begin serving his 30-month sentence. Unless an emergency appeal is succesful, Libby will probably have to report to prison within six to eight weeks. Everyone notes the judge’s decision immediately increases the pressure on President Bush to decide whether he will pardon Libby (Slate’s John Dickerson predicts he will). But the White House once again said that the president won’t get involved because there is still an ongoing judicial process.
Yesterday Walton revealed that he has received several “angry, harassing” letters, which he found “very troubling.” Walton also criticized a brief filed by 12 law professors, including Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, that argued in favor of keeping Libby out of prison. “The submission was not something I would expect from a first-year law student,” Walton said.
The WP and LAT front word that Senate leaders reached an agreement to continue debating the immigration reform bill. In order to bring back the bill, which was pulled off the Senate floor last week, lawmakers agreed to consider 11 amendments from each party. It is not clear what these amendments will contain, but there will almost certainly be an increased emphasis on border protection. The Post says the move “was a clear victory for Bush,” who went to Capitol Hill this week to encourage Republicans to give the bill a chance. But everyone emphasizes the new development should not be seen as a sign that the legislation will be approved.
Although there were a few attacks against Sunni mosques in Iraq yesterday, all the papers report that the new wave of sectarian violence that many feared has not materialized.
Broadway hearts Washington … The WP’s Reliable Source reports that there’s a new play in the works about Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. Farragut North might even star Jake Gyllenhaal as the young communications director who has to go head-to-head with all the political veterans. “Jake was a big campaign supporter of mine, so I hope he takes it,” Dean said. “But I want him to play me.”