Sunday, August 3, 2008

John McCain just might pitch a curveball

Apparently John McCain's campaign has floated the trial balloon of a Jewish running mate -- and not the boring-as-plain-matzah Joe Lieberman: A young Jewish congressman from the battleground state of Virginia has joined the shortlist to be John McCain's vice-presidential running mate.

With strong backing from hard-line conservatives, Eric Cantor [right] would shore up many of John McCain's weaknesses Photo: AP

Eric Cantor, 45, would be a dramatic choice for Mr McCain, who is running almost level with Barack Obama in national polls but whose aides believe he needs to shake-up the White House race if he is to prevail in November's general election.

Aides to Mr McCain revealed that Mr Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, had been asked to submit documents as part of a rigorous vetting process to hunt out any closet skeletons.

He joins a shortlist believed to include Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and Mr McCain's bitter rival during the Republican primaries, Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota governor, and Rob Portman, a former Ohio congressman and budget director in the Bush administration.

Of the four, Mr Cantor would be by far the most exiting - though potentially risky - choice. A prodigious fundraiser with a young, photogenic family, support from evangelical Christians and strong backing from hard-line conservatives, he would shore up many of Mr McCain's weaknesses.

Mr Cantor would be the first Jewish vice-president, an historic milestone that Senator Joe Lieberman just missed in 2000 when Al Gore lost to George W Bush by 567 votes.

It was probably Mr Lieberman's presence on the ticket that enabled Mr Gore to get so close in Florida, where Jewish voters are an important factor. Mr Lieberman has since left the Democratic party and joined forces with Mr McCain. Campaigning by both Mr Lieberman for a McCain-Cantor ticket in Florida could give the Republican a powerful advantage in the swing state.

Virginia has been a traditionally Republican state but is very much in play in 2008 after a steady trend towards Democrats. Mr Obama is strongly considering choosing Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia, as his running mate.

It might be a good move: it would throw a monkey wrench into Obama's efforts to reassure the Jewish community that he's good for Israel. It also makes it tough to paint McCain as in the pocket of the Christian Right.

Boy, that Abbas sure is brave -- with other people's lives

So Hamas is sweeping through Gaza City and rounding up or wiping out Fatah-affiliated clans and fighters. In a fit of humanitarianism, Israel admitted almost 200 of the fleeing Fatah fighters to save them from being massacred, sending some of their wounded to Israeli hospitals.

Now Israel wants to move along the able-bodied among these refugees. You'd think they'd be welcome in the West Bank, which is the only area that's secure for Fatah members.

You'd be wrong: Watchdog petitions court against return of Fatah refugees.

The Association for Civil Right in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday to prevent the state from returning Fatah refugees to Gaza after they fled the territory on Saturday.

The petitioners stated that forcing the Fatah loyalists to return to the Strip could endanger their lives and called it a serious violation of human rights and of Israeli law.

The court ordered the state to respond to the petition by Monday.

Earlier on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to grant West Bank asylum to dozens of supporters who fled Hamas-ruled Gaza to Israel under fire, during fierce factional fighting.

Abbas stood his ground, with aides explaining that he felt his embattled Fatah group must maintain a presence in Gaza. The escape posed a dilemma for Abbas. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza last summer, he had agreed to resettle some 250 of his Gaza loyalists in the West Bank.

It's been a costly arrangement - the refugees each get $350 a month, in addition to government salaries, and Abbas's cash-strapped government covers rent for dozens of the most senior among them. The 2007 exodus also sent a message that Fatah is abandoning Gaza to Hamas.

Abbas wanted to send a different message this time, aides said.

"Fatah officials in Gaza should stay in their posts and should not leave Gaza to Hamas," Fahmi Zaghrir, a West Bank spokesman for Fatah, said Sunday. An exception would be made for those wanted by Hamas, added Nimr Hamad, an Abbas adviser.

However, there were concerns that the returnees could face mistreatment by Hamas.

Hamas confirmed it detained the first group of 32 who were sent back to Gaza on Sunday. The organization said it released all but five in that group.

Gee, it's sure brave of Abbas to insist that his Fatah members go back to the Gaza Strip unarmed to face up to Hamas. Wonder how many of them will decide that Hamas membership offers a better career path -- or even just a better chance of survival -- than sticking with the pathetically weak Fatah Party.