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Risch: Plan for post-Hamas Gaza a ‘work in progress’

Sen. Bill Cassidy, who visited Israel this weekend, said Israelis are relying on the U.S. for leadership amid discontent with their own government

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 16: U.S. Sen. James Risch (R-ID) walks to the Senate chambers on February 16, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that in conversations with U.S. and Israeli officials in recent days he has heard a plan for future governance of the Gaza strip after Israel’s campaign against Hamas, but said it’s still a “work in progress.”

“The answer is yes,” there is a plan, Risch told Jewish Insider during a sit-down with reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m probably not the best person to articulate that, because it’s still a work in progress… I think you’ve got to take it a piece at a time. I think it’s a work in progress. I don’t think there’s anyone who can sit here and say, ‘The vision is this and this is how it’s going to work.’”

Israel has pledged to eliminate Hamas, presumably leaving a power vacuum in the Gaza Strip, where it serves as the governing body. But Israeli officials said they don’t intend to reoccupy Gaza, from which it unilaterally withdrew in 2005, following the war. 

Risch’s comments appear to run somewhat counter to reporting yesterday that Israeli officials told President Joe Biden during his visit that they don’t have a post-war plan for Gaza.

Risch said he expects that Israel aims to offer the Palestinian people the “opportunity” to “step up and move forward” without Hamas — comparing the situation to Germany’s success following the elimination of the Nazi regime.

“Obviously, there would be pushing and shoving, as there always is, in a political determination as to who’s going to run it,” Risch continued. “But it certainly can’t be run any worse by any organization that steps up.”

Risch said that he expects that Arab and Islamic countries in the region will help shape Gaza’s political future and “will be a lot better at it than we would.” 

Risch said that he’s expecting the administration to request $10 billion in supplemental aid for Israel in the coming days. 

He also said he’s expecting the Biden administration to declassify evidence to corroborate its assessment that Israel was not responsible for the Tuesday explosion at a hospital in Gaza in the next few days.

The Idaho senator said that U.S. efforts to deter Iran from entering the conflict in Israel appear to be working — ”the Iranains don’t want to get into it with us and we certainly don’t want to get into it with the Iranians” — although the situation is “dangerous” and potentially volatile.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who traveled to Israel over the weekend with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), told JI yesterday that the families of Hamas hostages with whom he spoke emphasized the importance of having strong U.S. support.

“Some of the family members who are incredibly disappointed with their government… I just can’t express strongly enough their disappointment at what they described as the incompetence of their security agencies and their political leadership,” Cassidy said. “But they very much were looking for the United States. [They said,] ‘You are our partner… we are relying on you [the U.S.] as a country’s leadership.’”

He also discussed the “depth of emotion” he felt from both Israeli political leaders and the families of hostages.

“For the generals and the political leaders, it was being channeled into what they’re doing next. A resoluteness and a recognition that it’s going to be a really hard time for the country, for the region… for the Palestinian people,” he said. “For the parents, the family members, theirs was more the grief, which was, ‘There’s nothing we can do but hope and pray.’”

The Biden administration announced yesterday a $100 million U.S. aid package for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, with aid moving through Egypt into Gaza. 

Cassidy told JI that such aid was a “prominent ask” from the Israeli government. 

Pushing back on those skeptical of sending aid to Gaza, where it might be misappropriated by Hamas, Cassidy said that, “it should be those who are in the thick of the battle,” Israel, evaluating that concern, “and they are the ones requesting.”

Pressure had also been mounting from Capitol Hill, particularly among Democrats. 

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) led 33 Democratic senators in urging the administration to provide humanitarian assistance, while Reps. Dan Goldman (D-NY), Blake Moore (R-UT), Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) led 103 other lawmakers on a letter to Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. Motaz Zahran urging the country and others in the region to establish safe zones for civilians in southern Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to flow through Egypt.

But some Senate Republicans appeared to make the case yesterday that the U.S. should not provide aid to Gaza until the war is finished.

“We should not provide any resources to Hamas or Gaza until [Hamas is destroyed],” Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) said. “We didn’t rebuild Europe until after Nazi Germany had been defeated and that is the way this should be done now.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) introduced legislation barring funds to Gaza until all hostages are freed and the administration can certify that the aid would not benefit terrorists.

“They’re holding Americans and we’re going to give them money,” Scott said. “This is crazy… Why would we spend a minute of our time [or any] of our money to figure out how to get more aid to Gaza to help terrorists? This makes no sense.”

Risch, noting that he’s heard from “multiple… very credible sources” that Hamas stole a tranche of aid that had moved into the Gaza Strip — a claim first publicized and later retracted by the U.N. agency tasked with dealing with Palestinians — said that it’s not “sustainable” to cut off humanitarian aid in the long term.

“I think everybody would like to help ordinary Palestinian people. But nobody wants to help Hamas,” he said. “They’ll hold people up as human shields — they’ll steal their food and their water, too.”

Elsewhere on the Hill, Reps. Haley Stevens (D-MI) and French Hill (R-AR) introduced a resolution condemning Hamas’ attack on Israel and demanding the immediate return of its hostages. The resolution is co-sponsored by nearly 200 lawmakers from both parties, including some members of the Squad and others on the far-left, who had offered equivocal responses to the Hamas attack and declined to join another resolution expressing support for Israel and condemning Hamas.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) urged Appropriations Committee leaders yesterday to provide $500 million in funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program in their 2024 appropriations bills, up from $305 million this year. Their request highlights concerns of heightened threats to Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities in response to the Gaza conflict.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) led 27 other senators and 75 other House members on a letter pressing the administration on the use of cryptocurrency by terrorist organizations following reports that Hamas had funded its attack partially using the digital currencies. 

Signatories include some lawmakers who had been prominent supporters of the crypto industry.

Reps. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) and Brian Mast (R-FL) led a letter with 30 other House members to the Department of Defense urging it to transfer the two U.S.-owned Iron Dome systems to Israel

Goldman and Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) introduced a bill to ensure that Americans stranded abroad during emergencies are not required to repay the State Department for their evacuations. The bill would also extend protections to permanent U.S. residents.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), a leader among progressive critics of Israel in the House, joined calls endorsed by a growing number of his colleagues for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. He said that $3 to $5 billion in aid to Gaza will likely be necessary.

“My concern, however, is that the retaliation by Israel is less targeted at Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and more closely resembles a collective punishment against all Palestinians and others living in Gaza,” Pocan said in a statement. “From public comments to the sheer volume of bombs and areas targeted, this attack does not appear to be strategically targeting Hamas as originally stated.”

More than 300 activists affiliated with the anti-Zionist groups Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow were arrested during a protest in a House office building yesterday calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, while hundreds more massed outside.

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