The results are now official — Hamas has scored an overwhelming victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Of the 132 seats in Parliament, Hamas won 76 seats, 33 more than the governing Fatah. Israel, the United States, and several European nations say they’ll refuse to deal with a Hamas-led government unless it renounces armed struggle and its call for Israel’s destruction. In Washington, President Bush said: “I don’t see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can’t be a partner in peace if you have a — if your party has got an armed wing. The elections just took place. We will watch very carefully about the formation of the government. But I will continue to remind people about what I just said, that if your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you’re not a partner in peace. And we’re interested in peace.”
Hamas quickly rejected calls to abandon its military wing. Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar said: “These are conditions which are unacceptable. Why we should disarm ourselves while the Israelis are using F-16 jets Apaches, and big explosive bombs against the Palestinian people, while the Israelis are threatening our independence, while the Israelis is calling for the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. So why, why? To satisfy America? Meeting with America will not give us any credit. This will not increase our prestige.”
Hamas’ victory puts an end to over four decades of political dominance by Fatah — the party founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Fatah’s popularity has waned in the years following the Oslo peace accords, which has seen a doubling of Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories. Fatah has ruled out entering a coalition government with Hamas. Meanwhile, top Fatah officials blamed Israel for their loss. Jibril Rajoub, former head of the West Bank Preventive Security Service and a losing candidate in the city of Hebron, said: “Israel has done everything to hurt the Palestinian Authority and sabotaged the chances to negotiate and reach an agreement. Hamas has reaped the fruit of this policy.”
On Capital Hill, Democratic Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy have announced they’ll attempt a filibuster to block the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. In response, Republicans said they will force a vote early next week. Kerry said: “Its our right and our responsibility to oppose [Alito] vigorously and to fight against this radical upending of the Supreme Court.”
In other news, uncovered statements made by the Justice Department appear to contradict several of the Bush administration’s key arguments in defense of its eavesdropping on US citizens without court warrants. In July 2002, the Justice Department told a Senate Committee the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — FISA — was working well. It said efforts to circumvent FISA would need “serious review.” The Justice Department made the statement in an argument against a proposal that would have made it easier to obtain the warrants — something the Bush administration now claims is needed today. The apparent contradiction was first pointed out by Internet blogger Glenn Greenwald, on his weblog Unclaimed Territory.
In Iraq, the US military carried through with a promise to release over 400 detainees Thursday, including five Iraqi women. The women’s release has raised hopes for the freedom of kidnapped Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll.
Meanwhile, General George Casey, the top US army commander in Iraq, has acknowledged that the US military is overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Casey said: “The forces are stretched. I don’t think there is any question about that.” In the past week, two new reports — one by the Pentagon and one by former Clinton administration officials — have said the US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing increasingly unsustainable.
In Afghanistan, the British military has announced its presence will peak this year at 5700 troops. The figure marks more than a four-fold increase over the current British presence of 1,100 troops.
In South Korea, two US manufacturers of Agent Orange have been ordered to pay compensation to thousands of South Korean veterans who fought with the US in the Vietnam War. Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which supplied the US during the war, were ordered to pay up to $61 million in damages. The case marked the first ruling in a favor of Agent Orange Victims in South Korea. Last year, a US federal judge dismissed a similar class action lawsuit against the two companies brought by a group of Vietnamese citizens. The U.S. military sprayed over 3,000 Vietnamese villages with Agent Orange during the war, affecting between two and five million people.
In Venezuela, the government has announced its investigating members of the military for passing on state secrets to the US. Venezuela says military officials passed on information to the Pentagon with the involvement of the US embassy. State-run media said 25 people were under investigation with one person already in police custody. US Ambassador William Brownfield declined to comment, saying the Venezuelan government had not notified him about the allegations.
In other news, animal rights activist Daniel McGowan has been released on bail. McGowan is facing up to life in prison on charges he helped set fires at a lumber company and an experimental tree farm in Oregon in 2001. No one was injured in the blazes. The charges are the most serious ever filed against environmental activists for allegedly taking part in such a direct action. McGowan’s family put up $1.6 million in bail to secure his release. McGowan was hit with severe restrictions while he is free on bail in New York, where he studies acupuncture and works in a shelter for battered women.
And as we flew into San Francisco last night, US medical marijuana activist and cancer patient Steve Kubby was deported here from Canada. Kubby, who is suffering from adrenal cancer, moved his family to Sun Peaks, British Columbia, to grow marijuana plants he says he uses to deal with his condition.