Week in Review: Hamas Win, Oprah Scott Simon reviews the week's news with Barbara Slavin of USA Today. Topics include the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections and Oprah Winfrey's castigation of author James Frey.
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Week in Review: Hamas Win, Oprah

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Week in Review: Hamas Win, Oprah

Week in Review: Hamas Win, Oprah

Week in Review: Hamas Win, Oprah

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Scott Simon reviews the week's news with Barbara Slavin of USA Today. Topics include the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections and Oprah Winfrey's castigation of author James Frey.


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

SAYID SIYAM (Member, Palestinian Parliament, Through Translator): This victory sends a message to Israel, the U.S. and Europe. The Palestinian people have chosen Hamas despite the threats that the West would cut aid. The people voted for change, a victory for Hamas, which is based on resistance.

SIMON: The interpretive remarks of Sayid Siyam, a Hamas candidate who is now a member of the Palestinian cabinet speaking on Thursday. Hamas won a landslide victory this week among Palestinian voters and will now try to form a new government ending 40 years of rule by Fatah.

News analyst Dan Schorr is away, and Barbara Slavin who is a diplomatic reporter for USA Today, joins us.

Barbara, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. BARBARA SLAVIN (Diplomatic Reporter, USA Today): You're welcome.

SIMON: And we have trotted out all the clichés in our business: unprecedented, historic, precedent shattering. Hamas won 36 of 132 parliamentary seats, only 43 for Fatah. Let me just get you to begin to talk about the significance.

Ms. SLAVIN: Yes. Well, I'm going to give you another cliché. I'm reminded of the old adage in the Middle East, It can always get worse. I know some people are trying to put a positive gloss on this, but it's really difficult to see how anything good comes out of this, at least in the short term.

The peace process was already pretty much defunct. Now it's really dead. There's already fighting between Fatah and Hamas people in Gaza. Difficult to see how they're really going to form a government. The idea was that they were sort of going to be gradually brought into the governing process, get a few ministries, learn the ropes.

Now, all of the sudden, they've been given the whole show, and it's very difficult to see how all this is going to work out.

SIMON: Let me follow up in a couple of ways. There are people in Israel who say that the beauty of Sharon's disengagement plan was that it was unilateral. That in a sense it didn't depend on what government took power. Although, they didn't, I think it's safe to say they didn't foresee this happening. Do you think there's hope in that direction--Israeli policy?

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, again, there would have been more hope if there had been a bit of a better showing for Fatah. But clearly, the Israelis have been going unilateral, that's the consensus, throughout the political spectrum; much easier to define your own borders than to try to do it with the Palestinians, who have great difficult conceding territory. I think that is the direction in which they're likely to go.

The question is whether they can withdraw from more territory now that depends on whether Gaza stabilizes, whether the West Bank stabilizes. It's going to be very difficult for them, I think, to withdraw. But they will continue to build that fence.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. President Bush, the European Union, several states announced that they might curb aid to the Palestinian Authority or figure out ways to re-route it until Hamas, unless Hamas, renounces violence and accepts the existence of Israel. Do you see that changing? Do you see Hamas doing that?

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, not in the short term. Again, I think it's going to be difficult. This is their entire platform, is the destruction of Israel and a one-state solution; namely, a Palestinian state with a Palestinian majority. I think one concern we have to have is that there are other sources of funds potentially for Hamas and other groups there. Iran, for example, you know, fundamentalist groups elsewhere in the region. The United States and Europe are not the only sources of money, unfortunately.

SIMON: And, well, let me put some of the positive gloss back on this.

Ms. SLAVIN: Okay.

SIMON: On the other hand, isn't it better that if Hamas comes into power they don't shoot their way in, at least not entirely but elected and free? And at least what Jimmy Carter says certainly seemed to be fair and not fraudulent elections?

Ms. SLAVIN: It's good if they can evolve, but they're going to have to evolve very quickly. And my concern is that the international community is not going to have the patience required, and that Hamas and Fatah will not be able to coalesce.

SIMON: Hmm. Do they have leaders?

Ms. SLAVIN: They do. They do.

SIMON: I mean, do they have leaders of the Democratic experience competent kind?

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, not of the democratic experience. Most of them are survivors of the Israeli assassination attempts. As you know, the Israelis assassinated several of their top leaders. I think you mentioned one of them, Ismail Haniyeh, who has just said he won't accept Israel's right to exist. He was wounded in an air strike that killed the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin. Another one is Mahmoud Zahar; the Israelis nearly killed him last year, and they did kill his son and bodyguard.

SIMON: We should explain, of course, the Israelis say look, they were plotting to kill Israelis. These are war targets.

Ms. SLAVIN: Right. No. The Israelis consider them a terrorist organization, as does the United States.

And then there is the external leadership, Halid Mashal. And you may remember that there was a botched Israeli attempt to assassinate him by injecting poison into him in Jordan. They caught the would-be assassins, and the Israelis had to cough up the antidote in order to get their people back. It was a huge embarrassment for Israel. So, Halid Mashal is in Damascus, and he's very much around.

SIMON: You, of course, mentioned Iran and potential support that Hamas would get from Iran. So, I want to take advantage of that to turn to the standoff with Western powers over its nuclear program.

A Russian proposal to enrich Iran's uranium may be on the verge of being accepted; explain that to us.

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, the Iranians are playing games with us. This is a proposal the Russians came out with a couple of months ago. And the Iranians have been cool, and then warm and then cool. This week, they sounded a little bit warmer. But that's probably because the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to meet, have an emergency session in Vienna next week, and they may refer Iran to the Security Council.

The Iranians, I doubt, would accept this as a full solution. They might accept it as part of a solution. But this issue has become so important for the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that I don't know if they can give up enrichment of their own fuel.

SIMON: I want to turn to the Canadian elections; elected its first conservative government in 12 years. And this is just a few years after the conservatives were more or less skunked. I think they were down to no members in parliament.

Steven Harper will be the new prime minister, sworn in February sixth. What do you foresee for him?

Ms. SLAVIN: I think there are going to be better relations with the United States. Clearly, he doesn't have the same resentment that his predecessor did. He's talked about reconsidering joining the U.S. missile defense shield. He is more supportive on Iraq, although I doubt he'll send troops there. And there will still be trade disputes, but the tone will change.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. What do you make of the fact that several commentators have pointed out John Howard, Tony Blair, George Bush were all re-elected. There's been a change of government in Germany, change of government now in Canada, and it must be said the Chirac administration is on rocky shoals.

Ms. SLAVIN: I think it was a sort of throw the bums out mentality everywhere. And we've seen it in the Palestinian territories too.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. I think a lot of people this week are talking about the fact that Oprah Winfrey looked at James Frey and just said hey. I can't trust you. I was wrong. I was duped.

Ms. SLAVIN: It's an amazing story, you know. But she's still so powerful, so popular that whatever she chooses just rockets up to the top. And her new selection, which is--guess what? Another memoir. Elie Wiesel's Night is number one on the USA Today bestsellers' list. And A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is number two.

SIMON: What do you make of that? What do you make of a real classic? Is it Number One whose, you know, integrity is beyond being impeached; certainly in Elie Wiesel? And...

Ms. SLAVIN: Power of Oprah. I hope I write a book, and I hope she likes it.

SIMON: Well, I just wonder if it's a memoir? But do you there are serious questions for publishing involved?

Ms. SLAVIN: Yes. I think people have to start setting standards for memoirs. And they have to say this is fictionalized, or it's sort of like what it was supposed to have been. But clearly we have to start setting some standards, and they have to start fact-checking.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. By the way, I'm told I mispronounced Mr. Frey's name. Boy, I hope this doesn't prevent anyone from picking up his book if they can't say it when they get to Barnes & Noble. It's not Fray, it's Frey, right? Okay, I stand corrected.

Barbara Slavin, diplomatic reporter for USA Today. Thanks very much.

Ms. SLAVIN: My pleasure.

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