Home inFocus Congressional Roundtable: Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Congressional Roundtable: Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

In August, inFocus posed questions to Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) on the Palestinian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Kyl is a third-term senator who serves on the Senate's Judiciary Committee, where he is the ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security. Ros-Lehtinen, first elected to Congress in 1989, is the ranking member on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

iF: What is the most pressing challenge for U.S. policy makers as a result of the Hamas takeover?

JK: U.S. policy makers are in the position of having to oppose a dangerous terrorist organization by working with and, indeed, supporting, the Fatah organization, which has a past severely tainted by corruption as well as a refusal to meet the “Roadmap” conditions set forth by President Bush. As such, there is a dangerous foe to oppose, but without a strong or committed Arab ally.

kylmapphoto_thumb_274x206Overall, the Palestinian people and regional Arab countries must be convinced that a terrorist organization like Hamas will not provide the means to a prosperous future for this generation or those that follow. The Administration has made it clear that it plans to help do this by contrasting the conditions in the West Bank and in Gaza, as well as aiding, in conjunction with the Israelis, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and building diplomatic support for his government.

IRL: Hamas’ violent coup in Gaza has established a terrorist stronghold in the heart of the Middle East, significantly endangering our strategic interests and the security of our regional allies. Hamas’ ascendancy also enhances the position of its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, who have worked assiduously to undermine the United States and destroy our ally Israel. Additionally, Hamas’ success can only encourage and embolden other Islamist and terrorist groups to continue their efforts to combat the West and impose Islamist rule throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

Ileana_Ros-LehtinenPolicymakers must therefore take a proactive approach to ensure that Hamas—and any of its agents or institutions under its control—as well as other Palestinian terrorist organizations, do not receive recognition, legitimacy, or aid from foreign governments. Concurrently, we must promote and support the emergence of a viable Palestinian entity that can and will provide effective, representative, and transparent governance for its people; renounce terror; combat radical Islam, anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic incitement; abide by previous agreements; establish a monopoly on force; compel the numerous Palestinian militias to disarm; and unequivocally recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

However, the U.S. and our allies must not allow our desire for a responsible Palestinian actor to blind us to the absence of such an actor. Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly proven himself unable or unwilling to take the steps necessary to provide strong governance and make peace with Israel. While Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank, has taken encouraging measures that include cracking down on illegal militias and money laundering, we remain concerned that his government recently “accidentally” issued payments to members of Hamas. Moreover, progress in disarming militias is tenuous at best. Fatah’s armed force, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, announced on August 22 that it would end its self-imposed ceasefire with Israel and re-arm. The U.S. and other responsible nations cannot accept half measures or backsliding. Only a truly responsible Palestinian entity will serve the interests of peace and security. Accordingly, we should condition aid to any Palestinian body on clear, measurable progress in reforming, fighting terror, and recognizing Israel.

iF: Describe your involvement in congressional efforts to isolate Hamas since the Gaza Strip takeover.

JK: I have been working with, and in some cases pushing, the Administration to work vigorously to ensure that the flow of arms to Hamas across the Egypt-Gaza border is halted. Without the flow of arms across that border, Hamas would not have had the military capability to defeat President Abbas’ forces. Egypt must do more to stop the flow of arms to Hamas, as I insisted in a recent letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. I have been pleased to work with the Republican Jewish Coalition, along with several other groups, toward this goal.

IRL: Long before Hamas’ success in the 2006 PA parliamentary elections, I opposed the inclusion and legitimization of violent terrorist groups in the Palestinian political process. Through its coup and crackdown on dissent in Gaza, Hamas has proven why fundamentally anti-democratic organizations should not be permitted to manipulate democracy for their own ends.

After Hamas’ election victory, I sponsored the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which banned aid to any Palestinian government controlled by a foreign terrorist organization. A modified version of that bill was enacted into law in December of 2006.

I also led efforts to pass an amendment to ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not indirectly funding the terrorist organization through intermediaries like the United Nations.

Moreover, I have repeatedly urged my colleagues in Congress and the European Parliament to coordinate our efforts to isolate Hamas. I have sought the support of the Secretary of State and other leading U.S. and foreign officials for these critical measures.

iF: Senator Kyl, how has the Gaza crisis influenced your view of the American-Israeli strategic relationship?

JK: I have long believed that the American-Israeli strategic relationship is very important to both countries and that Israel is a beacon of democracy and tolerance in a troubled region. I am proud of my long record of working with Israel and my role as co-chairman of the U.S.-Israel Joint Parliamentary Committee on National Security, a group consisting of members of Congress and the Knesset that continues to meet and explore ways our two legislatures can work together to advance our common security interests.

iF: Can America isolate Hamas effectively when it also allows humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip?

JK: The Administration has been working to ensure that the Palestinian people do not have to rely on Hamas for sustenance and civil life. Empowering President Abbas is a tactic the Administration has chosen to that end. We must act vigorously to ensure that the aid we provide Abbas to and the Fatah party is not misdirected.

IRL: I have always stated that America should not contribute taxpayer dollars for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. While the Palestinian people are not to blame for the deplorable actions of Hamas, funneling money into Gaza—money that can and likely has been redirected into Hamas coffers—risks the security of our interests and allies and removes any impetus for the Palestinians to hold Hamas accountable for their quality of life. It is crucial that Congress and responsible nations ensure that humanitarian funds are not redirected to serve Hamas’ jihadist agenda. The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act contains a provision to exclude Hamas-controlled institutions from receiving aid, which is one way we have attempted to preclude the group’s access to humanitarian funding.

iF: What can be done to ensure that outside actors, such as Iran, Syria, or even al-Qaeda, do not aggravate an already tense situation in Gaza?

IRL: I have always tried to hold a comprehensive view of extremism that includes terrorist groups and their state sponsors, as well. It is not just Hamas and other Islamist terrorist groups, then, but also their sponsors—Iran and Syria—that the U.S. and our allies must confront.

I have been involved in a number of bills that intend to deny Hamas resources that threaten U.S. interests and allies. In 2006, I authored the Iran Freedom Support Act, which, among other measures, strengthened sanctions against the Iranian regime. This year, I introduced two additional bills—the Iran Sanctions Act amendments legislation, which passed the House earlier this summer, and the Syria Accountability and Liberation Act—which seeks to punish these countries for their continued destabilizing role in the region.

JK: The most serious threat is Iran, with the lesser threat from Syria. I have introduced legislation addressing divestment from terror-sponsoring states, including Iran and Syria, S. 2015, and have authored legislation with Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), called the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Enforcement Act of 2007, that imposes a much tougher economic sanctions system. These countries are not only threats to Israel’s security, but the whole Middle East and the United States. We must act in a serious and measured way to make Iran and Syria realize that their actions have consequences, including, for a start, economic isolation.

I believe the most important thing we can do to prevent al-Qaeda from attacking Israel, or the United States, is to ensure that it is defeated in Iraq. A loss by the United States in Iraq, such as through a precipitous withdrawal, will be a victory of historic proportions for al-Qaeda.

iF: Thank you both for taking the time out of your busy schedules to speak with us.