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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Reuters: "Israel will not demand the immediate disarming of Hizbollah as part of a deal to end the current fighting in Lebanon, a senior Israeli foreign ministry official said on Saturday."

Time for some context on the current turmoil in and around Israel. This passage from Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty has special resonance given current events. The scene is the White House Situation Room in January 2001, where Bush is meeting for the first time with his National Security Council, 10 days after taking the oath of office. Bush has just asked who in the room has met Ariel Sharon:

He'd met Sharon briefly, Bush said, when they had flown over Israel in a helicopter on a visit in December 1998. "Just saw him that one time. We flew over the Palestinian camps," Bush said sourly. "Looked real bad down there. I don't see much we can do over there at this point. I think it's time to pull out of that situation."

And that was it, according to [Paul] O'Neill and several other people in the room. The Arab-Israeli conflict was a mess, and the United States would disengage. The combatants would have to work it out on their own.

[Colin] Powell said such a move might be hasty. He remarked on the violence on the West Bank and Gaza and on its roots. He stressed that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and Israeli army. "The consequences of that could be dire," he said, "especially for the Palestinians."

Bush shrugged. "Maybe that's the best way to get some things back in balance."

Powell seemed startled.

"Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things," Bush said.


With that, the rest of the meeting was devoted to Iraq.

Hezbollah agrees to proposed peace plan?

The Lebanese cease-fire plan, reached at a meeting on Friday night, calls for an immediate cease-fire, the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails and the return of two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah.

The plan also calls for the return of displaced Lebanese to their homes, negotiations between Israel and Lebanon concerning the disputed Sheeba farms now under Israeli control, the disclosure of maps showing Israeli minefields near the Lebanese border, the deployment and strengthening of the Lebanese army and the expansion of the U.N. force in the south.

While Hezbollah agreed to a cease-fire with Israel and an increased international presence in southern Lebanon, the group objected to "a robust force" of international peacekeepers in the region, the sources said.

Hezbollah did not specifically agree to disarm, as Israel has demanded, the sources said. The plan does, however, call for the Lebanese military to take control of southern Lebanon, along with the U.N. force, which implies that the Hezbollah militia would not operate there.

It also calls for the implementation of the Taef accords -- which ended the Lebanese civil war in 1990 -- which includes the disarming of all militias, the sources said.

Hezbollah representatives told the cabinet it had reservations about the nature of an expanded international presence in the south, the source said.

Hezbollah wants only an expansion of the current UNIFIL mission with the same mandate.

They don't want a "robust force," the source said.

"The force must be more robust, otherwise there's no sense in it," one of the high-ranking Lebanese officials told CNN.

The question of what to do about the two Israeli soldiers being held by Hezbollah was not discussed at the cabinet meeting, the sources said.

The proposal, developed by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, is the official position of the Lebanese government and is intended to be presented to Rice on her arrival in the region.

Rice told reporters on her plane early Saturday that she has only read news reports about the proposal but it appeared to have "some very good elements." She called it a "positive step."


Developing . . .

Jack Abramoff's old firm, Greenberg Traurig, is reportedly "deep into settlement talks" with the Alabama-Coushatta, one of the Indian tribes Abramoff bilked. The Alabama-Coushatta did not name Greenberg Traurig as a defendant in a civil RICO lawsuit it filed earlier this month in Texas against Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and others, but that could change if a settlement isn't worked out.

The lawsuit also provides fresh evidence of a closer connection between Greenberg Traurig and Michael Scanlon than the law firm has ever acknowledged. Scanlon was Abramoff's close partner in many widely criticized lobbying practices. He pleaded guilty last year to bribing a congressman.

Greenberg has always maintained that Scanlon, who ran a Washington-based public relations company called Capital Strategies, was not a Greenberg employee. But, according to the suit, internal Greenberg e-mails showed that Scanlon "billed hours to tribal clients through Greenberg and that members of the law firm, including attorneys Kevin Ring, Shawn Vasell, Stephanie Leger, Todd Boulanger and others, fabricated hours and time entries for Scanlon."


I would imagine that no law firm accused of civil racketeering wants to take the case all the way to trial, regardless of the merits.

Headline of the Day: 'Stenholm lobbying for horse-meat industry'

I didn't even know there was a horse-meat industry. All you horse-meat lovers can eat well this weekend 'cause Charlie Stenholm's got your back.

McClatchy's Strobel:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush say they're not pressing for a quick cease-fire in Lebanon because they want a lasting peace instead.

However, the administration's fundamental assumptions - that it's impossible to get both a quick end to the killings and a durable peace, and that a cease-fire would be a step away from real peace rather than toward it - are open to question.


The logic, such as it is, employed by Bush and Condi is that since cease-fires have been broken in the past, it is the cease-fires themselves that are the impediment to peace. No cease-fires ergo no broken cease-fires. It's sort of like saying that red lights are the reason drivers run red lights. Remove the traffic lights and, presto, drivers aren't running red lights anymore. Just ignore the carnage at intersections.

Following up on the post below about Duke Cunningham's escapades while on the House intelligence committee (as opposed to his better known misdeeds as a member of the Appropriations Committee), pay special attention to this remark from Intel Chair Pete Hoekstra:

Hoekstra said [investigator] Stern, as a final step, wants to interview Cunningham in prison to find out more about how he influenced the system. The Justice Department is resisting because it has other potential prosecutions pending in the case, so Hoekstra is considering subpoenaing the former lawmaker.


Let's see. Major federal investigation into public corruption. GOP lawmakers and lobbyists top the list of targets. Feds want the Intel Committee to leave one of their important witnesses alone. GOP chairman considers issuing subpoena to the imprisoned Cunningham anyway.

I'm not saying Hoekstra is using his committee to impede a federal investigation, but I'm reminded of the John Poinxdexter conviction in Iran-Contra, which was thrown out on appeal due to the concurrent congressional investigation.

Here's a shocker:

An independent investigation has found that imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham took advantage of secrecy and badgered congressional aides to help slip items into classified bills that would benefit him and his associates.

The finding comes from Michael Stern, an outside investigator hired by the House Intelligence Committee to look into how Cunningham was able to carry out the scheme. Stern is working with the committee to fix vulnerabilities in the way top-secret legislation is written, said congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee still is being briefed on Stern's findings. . . . Stern has told the committee that Cunningham's efforts to steer business to friends and associates were far worse in the spending bills written by the House Appropriations Committee than those written by the House Intelligence Committee, congressional officials say. But the intelligence panel that draws up the blueprint for spending by the government's spy agencies was not immune to his misdeeds.

CNN's John Roberts: "Typically Middle East conflicts don't usually have much of an affect on us here in the United States, but the world is changing."

And this guy didn't get the CBS anchor job? Go figure.

Special thanks to TPM Reader SC.

GOP planning for doomsday: "[O]ne presidential adviser wants Bush to beef up his counsel's office for the tangle of investigations that a Democrat-controlled House might pursue."

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