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About 'The Road to the White House'
Question #4
What would be your policy on Gaza's transformation into an Iranian-influenced "Hamastan"? Isolation? Engagement with Hamas? Encouraging Mahmoud Abbas to rebuild ties to Hamas, or to try and wrest back physical control?... Contributors: (read it all or click on name to read post) Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York (D) Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas (R) Senator Barack Obama of Illinois (D) Amotz Asa-El Senator Joe Biden of Delaware (D) Hillary Clinton: The Hamas takeover of Gaza is deeply disturbing, increasing the danger to Israeli citizens already under attack from rockets fired indiscriminately from the Gaza territory. In the last few weeks, these rockets have killed three people and wounded many more. The United States must continue to support our ally, Israel, as it defends itself against these attacks and insist that Hamas cannot be recognized until it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist. Israel and the international community are committed to supporting the new government of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, strengthening the PA and its ability to meet its responsibilities, in direct contrast to Hamas. The appointment of former British Prime Minster Tony Blair as the new Quartet Representative will support efforts to create viable and lasting Palestinian government institutions, strengthen the Palestinian economy, and ensure that the resulting benefits reach the Palestinian people. I believe the United States should strongly support these efforts. There are not many good options at this difficult time, but the security of Israel and of the Middle East is best served by helping to create a Palestinian Authority that can provide tangible benefits and a better life for its people, in contrast to the violence and isolation offered by Hamas. Sam Brownback: The following is a letter Senator Broback sent to the White House on June 22: Dear President Bush: I write to express my concern over the current situation in Gaza. The violent campaign by Hamas to secure control of Gaza has dealt a strong blow against those in the region who desire peace. Hamas' actions during this takeover-kidnappings, summary executions, indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli civilians-expose and reinforce the group's radical, terrorist agenda. Unfortunately, Hamas' ability to exert its will in Gaza may further embolden militant Islamic extremists within the Palestinian community and beyond. Only by directly addressing the problem of Hamas and militant Islamic extremism will we begin to tackle the root causes of instability and violence. You made this clear in your press conference on June 19, when you said, "We recognize that it was Hamas that attacked the unity government. They made a choice of violence. It was their decision that has caused there to be this current situation in the Middle East…" I strongly support this assessment. However, I was disappointed to read the statement by the Quartet regarding the same situation. The Quartet statement failed even to mention the word Hamas, let alone assign responsibility for the crisis to the terrorist group. Such whitewashing of the facts is both misleading and dangerous, and I urge you to use our nation's influence among the Quartet principals so that the relevant facts and root causes are addressed. Also, I am concerned about your decision for the US Government to contribute an additional $40 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). While there can be no doubt that the Palestinian humanitarian crisis will worsen due to Hamas' cruelty and violence, UNRWA is the wrong agency to manage this crisis. Not only does UNRWA suffer from a lack of oversight and transparency, but also, as recently as 2004, UNRWA employees have been accused of providing shelter and assistance to Hamas and other terrorist groups that flourish in Palestinian refugee camps. These, along with many other serious problems with UNRWA, make the UN agency ill-suited to receive US taxpayer dollars. Finally, I respectfully ask that your Administration broaden the scope of the discussion about Gaza to expose the long reach of Iranian sponsorship of terror in the Middle East. Hamas has collaborated with and received financial assistance from the Iranian regime for decades. The violence in Gaza, Hizbullah's attacks last summer, and the ongoing insurgency in Iraq, all have ties to the mullahs in Tehran, who stand to benefit from the spread of instability and extremism. I remain hopeful that despite these setbacks, we will soon see the advancement of freedom, moderation, and respect for human rights, and I thank you for your leadership in promoting these goals. Sincerely, Sam Brownback, US Senator Barack Obama: A Hamas mini-state in Gaza is extremely dangerous for Israel, for Egypt, for US interests, and destabilizing to the region as a whole. It threatens to become a major safe haven and launching pad for terrorism, and an Iranian foothold on Israel's and Egypt's doorstep, not to mention making life miserable for the residents of Gaza. The United States should work to support and strengthen Palestinian moderates who seek peace, while increasing the isolation of Hamas and other extremists who offer no peaceful way forward and who bring only more suffering to Israelis and Palestinians. Last month's summit in Sharm e-Sheikh was encouraging. I applaud the efforts of Prime Minister Olmert, President Mubarak, and King Abdullah to strengthen President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - two Palestinian leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to non-violence and achieving peace with Israel. These leaders seek peace and deserve the support of the international community. I commend these regional leaders for their initiative. But it is critical that the United States demonstrate leadership if this effort is to succeed. A senior US presence at this summit could have been helpful. The absence of US leadership in the past has helped open the door to extremism in the West Bank and Gaza. Direct US presidential leadership is needed now to ensure the Europeans maintain their isolation of Hamas; to press Egypt to do everything possible to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza; and, to get other Arab states to provide political support to President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad and humanitarian aid to Gazans that does not flow through Hamas institutions. We need to help these moderate leaders demonstrate that they can deliver for their people. Israel and the Palestinian Authority can work together to improve the security of their people, and we can help by ensuring a resumption of aid, improved security cooperation, a renewed negotiating process, and help reforming Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. This moment is an opportunity to let Palestinians know that the United States will work toward the goal of achieving a viable, democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza living side by side with Israel and peace and security, but that this goal can only be achieved through acceptance of Israel and a commitment to non-violence. John McCain: The unfortunate outcome in Gaza will lead to more suffering for its people as the terrorist Hamas has assumed control of the territory through force of arms. It also faces Israel with the threat of continued terrorist attack from Gaza, something no sovereign state would or should be expected to ignore. There can be no "engagement" with Hamas. No one should expect Israel to "engage" movements committed to its destruction. For Hamas and their ilk, the issue is not the borders resulting from the 1967 war, it is about the borders resulting from the 1948 War of Independence. Hamas, and its Iranian sponsors, do not want peace, they want the destruction of Israel. We must contain Hamas, and support Israel in its legitimate efforts to ensure Hamas control of Gaza does not further threaten Israeli security. While Israel and its supporters have little choice other than attempting to support the government of Mahmoud Abbas, we should have no illusions. Abbas has not been a strong leader, has not been able to control Palestinian terrorism, and has not been effective in asserting control. Assistance to Abbas must be given with the understanding that his control is less than total. The US should also work to ensure Hamas is isolated for its terrorism - within the region and in Europe. We should also work to make Iran pay a price for support of Hamas, Hizbullah and other terrorist groups. Finally, we should support Israel in its necessary and just efforts to defend itself from the dangers posed by Hamas. Joe Biden: I would do what I called on the Bush Administration to do two years ago - and that it failed to do: urgently support Abbas and Salam Fayad to shore up their position in West Bank and help them deliver real benefits to their constituents. But I would tie our assistance to genuine transparency and accountability. At the same time, I would work to isolate Hamas. We should not talk to Hamas unless and until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept past agreements. These are the demands not just of the United States, but of the so-called Quartet: Russia, US, the European Union, and UN. Hamas has to decide between bullets and ballots - either it lays down its arms and acts democratically, or it continues as a terrorist organization and is treated as such. It cannot have it both ways. I would seriously talk to our European allies, Israel, Egypt, and Abbas about the possibility of an international force deployed along the Egypt-Gaza border to prevent smuggling of arms into Gaza. I know that Israel is interested in such a force. I would also support alternatives to Hamas. I would urge Palestinian leaders to reform Fatah, to combat corruption and build efficiency. I would use a $20 million fund that I created last year to promote democratic alternatives at the grass roots in the Palestinian areas - a fund the Administration has never used. And I would press the oil-rich Arab states to do the same.