"The absence of US leadership has helped open the door to extremism in the West Bank and Gaza," Illinois Senator Barack Obama has stated.According to Obama, "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."Obama was one of five leading presidential candidates who submitted comments to the latest installment of the 'Road to the White House' blog on JPost.com. Asked how they would grapple with the new Mideast reality, all candidates said they would work to isolate Hamas (to read their answers in full, visit blogcentral.jpost.com).The Democratic hopeful described the Hamas mini-state in Gaza as "extremely dangerous for Israel, for Egypt, for US interests, and destabilizing to the region as a whole."Gaza, Obama said, "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," he noted.The Illinois Senator commended regional leaders for their initiative to meet in Sharm e-Sheikh. However, he stressed that "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."According to Obama, "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."Sam Brownback's response to the 'Post' was sent in the form of a letter he sent to the White House on June 22, in which he writes: "Dear President Bush: 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."The Republican senator expressed disappointment over the statement made by the Quartet. According to Brownback, "It 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," he added, "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."Another leading Democratic hopeful - Senator Hillary Clinton - said "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."According to 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."Clinton urged the United States to "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," she stressed.Republican candidate John McCain said, "There can be no engagement with Hamas. No one should expect Israel to engage movements committed to its destruction."The new situation, he argued, "faces Israel with the threat of continued terrorist attack from Gaza, something no sovereign state would or should be expected to ignore."According to McCain, "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."McCain also expressed caution when it came to Abbas. "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," he wrote."Assistance to Abbas," he said, "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."Senator Joe Biden of Delaware said he would do what he 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," he emphasized, "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."Biden also suggested talking to the US's 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."The Democratic hopeful said he would use a $20 million fund that he created last year to promote democratic alternatives at the grass roots in the Palestinian areas - a fund the Administration has never used, he says. "And I would press the oil-rich Arab states to do the same."