PALESTINIAN ANTI-TERRORISM ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - June 23, 2006)
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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I support the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, of which I am the lead cosponsor.
The political rise of Hamas presents us with a difficult policy challenge. None of us want to see a penny of American taxpayer money going to a Hamas-led government that refuses to meet the basic demands not just of the United States, but of the international community, including the so-called Quartet of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. Those demands are that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept past agreements.
At the same time, the situation in the Palestinian Territories is an explosive one, with potentially disastrous consequences for the Palestinian people, Israel and the entire region. Tensions between Fatah and Hamas militias have been escalating in recent weeks. 165,000 Palestinian Authority employees have not been paid in months. Avoiding a genuine humanitarian crisis and a descent into a Palestinian civil war will require diplomatic flexibility and sustained American engagement.
In this sensitive environment, my friend from Kentucky and I have tried to find the right balance between isolating Hamas, while simultaneously not doing anything to harm the Palestinian people. So let me say a few words to clarify what our bill does--and does not--do.
First, it sends a clear message: the United States will provide no direct assistance to a Hamas-led government unless it meets the three conditions--acknowledging Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence and accepting past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We must not retreat from insisting that these three conditions be met.
The bill affirms support for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something that Hamas rejects. The bill also requires the administration to report on steps it is taking to urge other nations to refrain from providing financial assistance to Hamas. In addition, it places restrictions on diplomatic contacts with, and movements by, representatives of Hamas.
But in dealing with Hamas, it is important that we keep our strategic objectives clear. While our intention is to pressure Hamas to accept the same terms that bound previous Palestinian governments, it is not in the interest of either the United States or Israel to be seen as punishing the Palestinian people. It is critically important that in pressuring Hamas we make it clear to the Palestinian people that it is Hamas that is failing them, not the international community. We must maintain the moral high ground.
That is why our bill allows for assistance to continue to support the basic needs of the Palestinian people. It permits assistance to the Palestinians, through non-governmental organizations, for things such as food, water, health, medicine, and sanitation, as well as for democracy promotion, human rights, and education.
It also recognizes the important distinction between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas--who has committed to the Road Map and a negotiated two-state solution--and Hamas, by incorporating exemptions to support Abbas in fulfilling his duties as President.
Lastly, our bill creates an Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Reconciliation and Democracy Fund to support organizations that are trying to build bridges between the two societies through the promotion of democracy, civil society development and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
My friend from Kentucky and I have been able to make important changes to address the most significant issues raised by the administration and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. These include broadening the President's waiver authority as well as narrowing the focus of the bill to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority. I look forward to continuing to work with the administration as the bill moves forward.
Mr. President, Hamas has a decision to make. It must respond to international demands and, even more important, be responsive to the Palestinian public which voted for reform, but not poverty, international isolation and a government that can't pay its own bills or keep the lights on. If Hamas ultimately proves unable to provide for its own people, it won't be because of the restrictions in this legislation. It will be because Hamas is either unable or unwilling to make rational policy decisions over destructive terror and xenophobic ideology.
Simply put, Hamas must choose between bullets and ballots, between destructive terror and constructive governance. It cannot have it both ways. The legislation I have sponsored with my colleague, the senior Senator from Kentucky, is an attempt to clarify the choices for Hamas and to make clear our rejection of a group that is committed to terror.