trip talk

‘I wish they were close to getting a deal,’ Joni Ernst says following Israel visit

‘From [Israel’s] perspective, they feel that the military action is the only way that they have leverage over Hamas. And I think they are probably right,’ the Iowa senator told JI

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), following a trip to Israel and the broader Middle East over the weekend, expressed hesitance about the possibility of a hostage release deal, arguing that continued Israeli military pressure on Hamas is likely the only path to ultimately achieving a deal.

“I wish they were close to getting a deal,” Ernst said. “But from [Israel’s] perspective, they feel that the military action is the only way that they have leverage over Hamas. And I think they are probably right. So they felt that Rafah was important and that would be used as leverage to bring Hamas to the table. What other leverage do we have?”

Ernst has spent months urging Qatar and Egypt to exert further pressure on Hamas to agree to a cease-fire deal. She alleged that the two U.S. allies aren’t being helpful in the negotiations.

“Look at the deal that they put forward. Israel wasn’t even included in that discussion,” Ernst said. “It was made up by Egypt, Qatar and Hamas. Of course Hamas is going to accept it — they wrote it. Egypt and Qatar, they have to do more.”

Hamas purported on Monday to have accepted a cease-fire deal, although its terms differ from the agreement accepted by Israel and supported by the U.S.

The Iowa senator, who is a member of GOP leadership, has focused her criticism particularly on Qatar in recent months, but said that “Egypt is just as bad right now. [I’m] equally frustrated with Egypt and Qatar.”

Ernst is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC), with whom she traveled, that could potentially revoke Qatar’s major non-NATO ally status. She said that both countries need to be subject to a “hard look.”

“We provide a lot of funding to Qatar, to Egypt, we allow the basing of American troops in Qatar, and all of this needs to be reviewed,” she said. Egypt is among the top recipients of U.S. foreign military aid.

The senators’ visit to the United Arab Emirates provided a “little bit of optimism” on the trip, Ernst said, because UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed (known as MBZ) indicated that the relationship between Israel and the UAE remains strong and ongoing. She praised the Emirati leader for his “great intestinal fortitude.”

“It’s not perfect, by any means, because I think MBZ is a little frustrated,” she said, “but I would say that the Abraham Accords [are] still very strong. I think MBZ really is exhibiting a high level of leadership for the region, and working with Israel and other Arab nations.”

She said the UAE is willing to involve itself in postwar reconstruction and reorganization efforts in Gaza under the condition of a lasting peace between Israel and Gaza. 

Israel’s leadership, on the other hand, is less focused on the day after the war in Gaza, Ernst assessed.

“I don’t even know that the prime minister is able to see what the day after looks like right now,” she said. “I think they are so focused on, obviously, getting rid of Hamas and protecting the people of Israel, but also the return of the hostages. There’s just so much going on in that space right now that I don’t know that he can fully wrap his mind around that.”

Ernst said that’s not a cause for concern for her right now, emphasizing that there have been “robust discussions” about the day after with others in the region and on many occasions over the years. She added that it’s up to the Israeli people to decide what the future should look like.

In the short term, Ernst said that she stands with the hostage families and “will continue to work as hard as possible on putting the needed pressure on the interested entities as best as I can.”

In the long term, “when the future of Israel is to be decided, I am right there standing with Israel and we will be the best friends possible.”

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