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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

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By Mr. McCONNELL (for himself, Mr. BIDEN, Mr. DEMINT, Ms. MIKULSKI, Mr. MARTINEZ, Mr. NELSON of Florida, Mr. HAGEL, Mr. NELSON of Nebraska, Mr. DEWINE, Mr. TALENT, Mr. ALLEN, Mr. FRIST, Mr. BURNS, Mr. THUNE, Mr. REID, Mr. SALAZAR, Mr. KERRY, Mr. BUNNING, Mr. LIEBERMAN, and Mrs. BOXER):

S. 2370. A bill to promote the development of democratic institutions in areas under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, today, along with my friend, the senior Senator from Delaware, Mr. Biden, I send to the desk the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 and ask that it be referred to the appropriate committee.

Senator Biden and I are joined in our efforts today by Senators DEMINT, MIKULSKI, MARTINEZ, Senator Nelson of Florida, HAGEL, Senator Nelson of Nebraska, DEWINE, TALENT, ALLEN, FRIST, BURNS and THUNE, all of whom are original cosponsors of this legislation. This is a bipartisan bill, and I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their leadership on the important issue of how the United States addresses the challenges posed by the new Hamas-dominated government in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian elections of January 25 produced a majority of Hamas supporters in the Palestinian parliament. Perhaps the Palestinians were frustrated with the corruption of the ruling Fatah Party, or perhaps they were tired of the slow pace of reforms. Either way, the Palestinian people cast their ballots for an organization that supports terrorism and rejects Israel's very right to exist. That is antithetical to our security interests in the Middle East, and it should be unacceptable to this Senate.

In light of the recent election, Senator Biden and I are submitting this legislation for the Senate's consideration which we hope will send an unequivocal message to the Hamas leadership: renounce terror, recognize Israel and live up to the commitments made by the previous Palestinian government.

In short, this legislation urges the Palestinian people to take another step toward joining the community of peaceful nations and a step away from the ranks of terrorism.

Our bill would do the following: it would restrict assistance to the Palestinian Authority, PA, unless it is determined that no PA government ministry is controlled by terrorists, that the PA publicly acknowledges Israel's right to exist, that the PA has recommitted itself to all its prior agreements with Israel, that the PA has made progress toward dismantling terrorist infrastructure, and that the PA has instituted fiscal transparency. This bill would essentially deny visas to certain PA officials and restrict their travel to the United States. It also limits diplomatic interaction with Palestinian terrorist groups. Finally, this bill contains rigorous audit and oversight requirements to ensure compliance with its provisions.

Let me also tell you what this bill does not do. It does not cut off assistance to the Palestinian people with respect to food, water, medicine, sanitation and other basic human needs. Thus, humanitarian assistance that does not go through the Palestinian government will continue. Moreover, funding for democracy programs will also be continued. Both Senator Biden and I appreciate the need not to punish the Palestinian people for actions its future government may take. Our concern is with the new regime taking power and in giving them the proper incentives to embrace peace and to abandon the pro-terror stance they have taken up until now.

Democracy is about more than just elections, it is also about responsible, accountable governance. The Palestinian elections a few weeks back reflect this fact. International observers indicate that the Palestinian elections were essentially free and fair--which in and of itself is certainly a good thing.

I strongly support democratic elections. That said, any right-minded person deplores the result of those elections.

A key part of democratic governance is that elected officials are responsible for the actions they take. If Hamas takes power and persists in sponsoring terror, rejecting Israel's right to exist and refusing to accept prior commitments made to Israel, then they should be held accountable for their actions and for the foreign aid investments in the West Bank and Gaza paid for by American taxpayers. The PA's budget is supported in large part by foreign assistance, and Hamas has been put on notice by the United States and many in the donor community about the steps it must take in order to receive assistance in the future.

Along these same lines, I must say I am somewhat mystified at the recent diplomatic efforts undertaken by Russia. Russia broke from the Middle East Quartet and hosted representatives from Hamas in Moscow.

In so doing, the Russians granted Hamas a measure of international legitimacy Hamas had hitherto lacked, while the Russians appear to have received no meaningful concessions in return. I am afraid I fail to see the benefit in Russia's actions other than emboldening other nations to follow a similar course of dealing with a terrorist organization. I suspect the Russians would be less than elated if Israel hosted Chechen separatists in Jerusalem.

Foreign aid is not an entitlement. It is assistance from the American people to other nations, and it should be conducted in furtherance of U.S. interests and those of our allies. It is not to be given to organizations that actively work against those interests. Hamas, as it now stands, is just such an organization.

The ball is squarely in Hamas' court. It can either work for the good of its citizens as an accountable democratic government should, or it can continue to act as a revolutionary group to the profound detriment of its citizens.

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