Over the summer, the Obama administration supported a draft cease-fire plan that would have strengthened the Hamas position in Gaza. Now 88 senators are urging the Obama administration to take a very different approach to the group: gradual regime change. Over time, they want to hand Gaza over to the more moderate Palestinian Authority, which oversees the West Bank today.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry obtained by The Daily Beast, the 88 senators write, “we must support efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza. Hamas has demonstrated conclusively both that it has no interest in peace with Israel and that it has no concern for the well-being of Gaza residents.”
Support for a gradual regime change in Gaza is very different than the State Department’s position this summer during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. The first draft of the ceasefire plan from Kerry would have delivered reconstruction assistance to Hamas before the group began disarmament, a key Israeli precondition for rebuilding Gaza after its war. That war killed at least 2,000 Gazans, at least 495 of whom were children. By contrast 66 Israeli soldiers and five Israeli civilians were killed in the war.
The letter to Kerry was circulated in the senate by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican and Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat.
Israeli and Palestinian delegations—which include Hamas representatives—are scheduled to meet in Cairo Tuesday as well. In exchange for a lasting cease-fire, Hamas wants Israel to lift an embargo on some goods flowing into Gaza and Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing. Increasingly, however, many Israeli politicians have begun to support a plan try to reinstall the Palestinian Authority inside Gaza. And now, the vast majority of the U.S. Senate has followed suit.
Of course, this may be nothing more than wishful thinking on Capitol Hill and in Jerusalem. In Israel’s last three wars in Gaza, the Israeli military has been unwilling or unable to attempt to dislodge Hamas from power. And Hamas is unlikely to give up the territory without a major, major fight.
Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 in violent street clashes with remaining Palestinian Authority security forces between June 10 and 15 that year. At the time, the other major Palestinian party, Fatah, did not recognize Hamas control over key ministries—even though Hamas candidates won more seats than Fatah in legislative elections in January 2006. Hamas has remained in power in Gaza ever since.
Since 2007, Hamas has built up an arsenal of rockets and missiles capable now of hitting Israel’s northern most cities. In addition, Hamas has also built a network of tunnels, Israeli leaders say the group planned to use in terror attacks inside Israeli territory.
After Israeli-Palestinian Authority peace talks collapsed this spring, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority came close to forming a unity government. But the unity deal failed to materialize after the Palestinian Authority declined to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants.
The senators in their letter to Kerry say they support humanitarian aid to Gaza but will oppose reconstruction of Gaza until Hamas disarms, a position which is the same as the Israeli government. The senators also urge Kerry to continue to work against efforts from Abbas to target Israel in international forums, such as the International Criminal Court.
“All Palestinians deserve a government that will seek to advance their safety and prosperity—not use them as human shields,” the senators write. “Real peace between Israelis and Palestinians will require a Palestinian partner that controls the West Bank and Gaza, is focused on economic development and stability in both areas, and will accept Gaza’s demilitarization. We must start this process now.”