Minnesota Recount Update

Via the Star Tribune, here is the latest:

With about 46 percent of the 2.9 million ballots counted by Thursday evening, the gap between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and DFL challenger Al Franken continued to close. Coleman was leading by only 136 votes, a drop from his unofficial lead of 215 that was confirmed Tuesday by the state Canvassing Board.

There are several ways of viewing the data so far. On the one hand, the consistent trend toward Franken is clearly good news for the Democrats, and Franken has gained 39 votes in Ramsey County, which is only 31 percent in. On the other hand, 67 percent of St. Louis County and 43 percent of Hennepin County — both high population Democratic strongholds — are in, so things could be a lot worse for Coleman than they currently are. Furthermore, Franken has gained 30 of his 79 votes in 17 precincts with older “Eagle” vote-counting machines, and only one of those precincts remains. But this thing is certain to come down to decisions made by the Canvassing Board, which reviews all the ballots being challenged by both campaigns. Right now, there are 823 ballots being challenged (414 by Franken and 409 by Coleman). Many of the challenges are frivolous and unlikely to succeed, but of course we’re dealing with an unusually narrow gap here so every step in the process is crucial.

A Precarious Peace Offer

“We cannot control the firing of these rockets from Gaza,” explained Maen Areikat, the deputy head of the negotiations department for the Palestinian Authority.

Speaking at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem last week, Areikat, a relative moderate among Palestinian officials, made the offhand remark in the midst of a discussion about peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

According to Areikat, the PA desires a “lasting peace” with Israel, which would require Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders (with some modifications), to create a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and offer a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee issue.

The problem is that even if one assumes the best intentions from PA representatives such as Areikat, there can be no “lasting peace” for Israel as long as Hamas maintains control of Gaza, and continues to launch rockets into southern Israel.

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005, thousands of rockets have landed in and around the Israeli town of Sderot, just a few miles east of the Gaza border. While the missiles are generally inaccurate and don’t cause massive casualties, the constant threat of attack has taken a psychological toll on the local population and plays a dominant role in the daily life of the town.

The Israeli government sends a siren to residents warning them of an incoming missile, but they only get 15 seconds to seek cover, for instance, at bomb shelters situated by bus stops. As a result, some mothers have stopped wearing seat belts when driving so they’ll have additional time to protect their children, while other residents are afraid of taking showers.

Terrorists have also been firing rockets into Ashkelon, a few miles to the north, even though it houses the Rotenberg Power Station, which supplies electricity to Gaza, and Barzilai Hospital, which treats Gaza patients. Earlier this year, a rocket landed in the hospital’s parking lot.

Starting with last year’s conference in Annapolis, the Bush administration has made a late push for Middle East peace. But these efforts, which, depending on what happens in Israeli elections in February, could accelerate under Barack Obama, are futile as long as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement cannot stop Hamas.

Areikat argued that the factional split among Palestinians should be of no concern to peacemakers.

“Of course, we would love to have an agreement with all the factions, where we could offer a united Palestinian position on Israel, but if that is not going to be obtainable, then we will continue and we will reach an agreement with Israel,” he said.

Any agreement would then trigger a public referendum, requiring the approval of a majority of Palestinians.

“If majority of people support it, and we cannot implement it in Gaza, then we will have to wait until the conditions are different there so we can implement it,” Areikat said. “I hope we can end that before, but if this situation persists, then unfortunately, we have to deal with it, but we are not going to allow it to be an obstacle in the way of pursuing peace.”

Areikat insisted that Hamas’s victory in the January 2006 parliamentary elections had nothing to do with the group’s founding goal of destroying Israel, and he claimed that like most Palestinians, he had never read the Hamas charter. (His associate, Rami Tahboub, went a step further, declaring, “There is no Hamas charter.”)

But regardless of Areikat’s interpretation of the events, the facts on the ground are that since expelling Fatah forces in June 2007, Hamas has had control of Gaza, using a complex network of hundreds of tunnels to smuggle in weapons and explosives.

Earlier this month, Hamas pulled out of talks with Fatah that were to be brokered by Egypt. Further complicating matters, there is a looming power struggle set for January, with both factions disputing when Abbas’s term is supposed to end.

Hamas has said that Abbas’s term expires in January 2009, and has vowed to appoint a replacement at that time. But Fatah has argued that his term actually extends until January 2010, thus coinciding with parliamentary elections. Either way, it’s not an issue that is likely to be resolved quietly, and Hamas is going to remain a major player.

While Hamas officials have made various head-fakes about offering a ceasefire with Israel in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders, Areikat explained that Hamas was merely playing “good cop, bad cop” in an attempt to “open channels of communication” with Europe. Given that Hamas is part of the Islamic Brotherhood, he said, the group could never truly recognize Israel.

“Hamas is offering a Hudna, a truce,” Areikat said. “A longterm truce, but then maybe in 10 or 15 years they’ll say it no longer applies. But we [the PLO] are offering a long-term peace.”

In other words, Israel is expected to sit down at the bargaining table and offer concessions to the Palestinians even though the Palestinians cannot make peace among themselves, even though the Palestinian president has a tenuous grip on power, and even though there’s no reason to believe that such concessions would mollify a terrorist group that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

One can only wonder how the international community would react if Israel declared that it was offering a long-term peace, but that it had no control over the actions of the Israel Defense Forces.

AG Mukasey Collapses at Fed Society Dinner

A friend just called to tell me that Attorney General Michael Mukasey collapsed a few minutes ago while giving a speech at the Federalist Society’s annual dinner. According to my friend who was in attendance, about 10 or 15 minutes into his speech, Mukasey began to slur his words, his eyes glazed over, and he collapsed. People rushed to the stage, and ambulances were arriving as my friend spoke on the phone. I’ll report back when I hear more, but obviously let’s hope for the best.

UPDATE: He was just carried off in a stretcher with a life-support mask on.

UPDATE II: The WSJ report has this positive bit:

Mr. Mukasey appeared to be somewhat alert as he was carried on a stretcher by District of Columbia fire department medics. He was heard to say he thought he had fainted. A medic could be heard to tell the attorney general “just relax.”

He was taken to George Washington University Medical Center and appeared to be alert and in good condition, according to the D.C. Fire Departmen

Iran Moves Closer To Nuclear Weapon

With Americans distracted by their own economic problems and the media swooning over Barack Obama, we learn:

Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.

The figures detailing Iran’s progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country’s main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium.

Several experts said that was enough for a bomb, but they cautioned that the milestone was mostly symbolic, because Iran would have to take additional steps. Not only would it have to breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors, but it would also have to further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design – a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved.

As I reported earlier this week, Israeli officials are saying that they are prepared to do what it takes to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and this has now been more explicitly corroborated by other reports. One of the early challenges of the Obama administration will be to determine how it would respond to any preemtive action by Israel, including any likely consequences of such action. Or, alternatively, what diplomatic tools he would use to prevent Iran from making the political decision to kick out inspectors and go independent, at which point Iran would possibly be able to build a weapon within a year. Personally, as an American, I’m not comfortable delegating this job to the Israelis, but I don’t view it as feasible that Obama would launch a preemtive strike should it come to that. Either way, can we now finally discredit last year’s national intellegence estimate that claimed Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003?

Time Blogger: Obama Already Beating Racist Terrorists

The Time blogger previously known as Anonymous writes that Obama is already winning the War on Terror:

The Zawahiri letter is one of the first real indications we have of the new international state of affairs (the Ahmadinejad letter of congratulations may also have been a good sign, but was leavened by the author’s lack of real power and the fact that he’s running for reelection). The terrorists are now exposed as racists, on top of everything else. We have many miles to go in Afghanistan and the northern and western precincts of Pakistan, and more blood to shed–and innumerable ways to screw up, since no one has ever gotten Afghanistan right–but the wind seems to have shifted slightly and is now at our back.

Translation: Terrorists have killed innocent civilians by the thousands, decapitated living human beings, and used woman and children as suicide bombers, but two wars and seven years of struggle by troops from America and around the world have not stopped them. Yet now that Obama has exposed them as racists, victory is within sight!

Nuclear Syria

Surprise! It turns out that the Syrian facility that Israeli planes destroyed in September of 2007 is looking like a nuclear reactor after all:

The first independent investigation of the suspected nuclear site in Syria that Israel destroyed last year has bolstered U.S. claims that Damascus was building a secret nuclear reactor, according to a U.N. report that also confirmed the discovery of traces of uranium amid the ruins.