Israel Goes Deep
The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with news that Israeli soldiers pushed into heavily populated areas of Gaza City Sunday morning. After some heavy fighting with Hamas militants, the Israeli troops pulled back. Everyone says this could have been a trial run for a stronger push into Gaza's urban areas—or just a tactic to pressure Hamas into accepting a cease-fire agreement. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that while "Israel is getting close to achieving the goals it set" in Gaza, "patience, determination, and effort are still needed."
The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how President-elect Barack Obama's "first real workweek in Washington" was characterized by several missteps, as he came under criticism from members of his own party for failing to keep them in the loop. The clashes came as a bit of a surprise: Many thought that the first president elected directly from Congress since John F. Kennedy would have been a master at dealing with lawmakers. USA Todayleads with word that for the first time, American airline carriers have gone two consecutive years without a single passenger death in a crash. Experts say it's a testament to how flying has become safer over the past several years. One professor estimates that it's more likely that a child will be elected president during his or her lifetime than die on an airline flight in the United States or another industrialized nation.
The LAT declares that the fighting that took place between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters yesterday "was the heaviest since Israel attacked the Palestinian enclave Dec. 27." The short-lived push into Gaza's urban areas could mark the beginning of a new phase in the conflict, something Israeli officials hinted at when they announced that the military had been sending reserve units into Gaza since Thursday. Thousands of reservists have been summoned and put though a training course on urban combat, notes the WSJ. Early morning wire stories report that Israel bombed the homes of Hamas leaders today as its ground troops continued to move closer to Gaza City's urban center.
The NYT points out that the diplomats believe the next 48 hours "would be crucial" in deciding whether a cease-fire could be reached. The WP and NYT point out that Israeli media are reporting there is disagreement between Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak about how the war should end. Meanwhile, Israeli military officials are growing impatient and want the country's leaders to decide what the next step should be. The WSJ and NYT point out that every day the Israeli troops remain in their current positions outside urban areas, they become more vulnerable to attacks.
The NYT notes that Israeli officials were "all pushing a concerted message" that Hamas leaders are looking to reach a cease-fire. But these claims are dubious at best. In a front-page piece, the LAT says that two weeks after the Israeli incursion began, most think Hamas is "battered but defiant." As the Palestinian death toll quickly approaches 900, many think Hamas can't accept a cease-fire that merely maintains the status quo. If it doesn't gain any concessions from Israel, Hamas is likely to come under intense criticism that all the death and destruction were for nothing. At the same time, letting the conflict drag on for too long could turn more Gazans against Hamas.
In a front-page analysis, the NYT says that officials in Egypt and Jordan are worried that the Gaza incursion could bring an end to the dream of a two-state solution, in which Israel and an independent Palestinian state can live side by side. Egyptian and Jordanian officials fear that they will be forced to open their borders to Palestinians and could become the mediators between Palestinians and Israel. Egypt and Jordan have come under intense criticism from Iran and Syria, as well as countless of citizens in the Arab world, for failing to stand up for the Gazans. Behind the scenes, there's a long-standing power play in the region over influence in the Muslim world that has been accelerated due to the ongoing conflict.
Just in case he had any doubts, Obama confirmed last week that just because he's popular doesn't mean that members of his own party will blithely go along with anything he proposes. Some say Obama's team just needs to get acclimated to the new surroundings. "For a campaign that got kudos for being as well-run as Obama's, they probably thought they were going to come to Washington and continue with that successful framework," Dee Dee Myers, one of President Clinton's press secretaries said. "In many ways they have. But there's also a lot of acclimating that's going on too." By the end of the week, Obama's team had learned to play nice and managed to resolve some of the conflicts, but others continue to linger. Ultimately, many insiders continue to be irritated by Obama's insularity and many lawmakers keep on repeating (over and over again) that they just want to take part in the decision-making process.
As Obama prepares to move into the Oval Office, he told an interviewer yesterday that he's unlikely to pursue broad investigations into controversial Bush administration programs, such as domestic wiretapping and harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. Obama insisted that he wouldn't hesitate to encourage prosecution if the Justice Department found that laws had been broken, but the president-elect suggested he wouldn't go out looking for these violations. Obama said he believes the country needs "to look forward as opposed to looking backwards." While many Democrats want the Bush-administration investigations to begin as soon as Obama takes the oath of office, the president-elect knows that pursuing that course could raise the ire of the country's intelligence agencies.
Besides, Obama has enough on his plate already. The WP analyzes key economic data and concludes that President Bush's tenure will be remembered as the worst eight years for the American economy in decades. Overall, jobs increased by about 2 percent, the worst growth since the data began to be collected seven decades ago. The growth of the country's gross domestic product was so moribund that only Truman's administration had it worse. Bush officials insist the economy expanded steadily from 2003 to 2007, but economists are increasingly saying that the growth was pretty much driven by "interrelated booms" that "have proved unsustainable." While it might be tempting to blame the ongoing financial crisis for the grim statistics, the truth is that even without last year's recession, the U.S. economy was particularly weak. "[W]e really went nowhere for almost ten years, after you extract the boost provided by the housing and mortgage boom," an economist said. "It's almost a lost economic decade."
The WSJ fronts word that Obama and congressional leaders will be acting quickly to keep the estate tax in the books past its current expiration date of 2010. Congress approved eliminating the levy, which has often been called the "death tax" by its opponents, in 2001 and instituted a system where the rate decreased for several years before its full elimination next year. But now lawmakers will move to reverse tracks and lock in the rate and exemptions that took effect this year. Democratic leaders know that if they fail to act now, it will be more difficult to bring it back from the dead than to simply continue at the current rate.
Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.