Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Joe Biden traveled to Jerusalem as an official U.S. international observer for Palestinian Authority elections in 2006, where Hamas, a political party that has an armed wing of the same name, was ahead in the polls in the Gaza Strip. Just days before voting began, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hospitalized with a stroke. Biden said he was distraught when he heard the news about the accused war criminal. Sharon “has always been steadfast in fighting for Israel’s security,” Biden said, before heaping praise on the Israeli leader, who was a key player, before and during his tenure as prime minister, in some of the worst massacres of Palestinians. Biden added, “It is his vision for making peace with the Palestinians and achieving a two-state solution that has driven him in recent years.”
Within days, Biden began suggesting that the U.S. and Europe should sanction Hamas and cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority.
When Hamas, which the U.S. government had designated a terrorist organization, won a resounding victory in Gaza, it sent shockwaves through Washington. Biden called the results “sobering” and declared, “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a party that calls for its destruction.” Biden said President George W. Bush was “dead right” in his denunciation of the election results. Within days, Biden began suggesting that the U.S. and Europe should sanction Hamas and cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority. “The fact of the matter is, you cannot pour millions and hundreds of millions of dollars into a group that, in fact, calls for the destruction of an ally, or for any country, for that matter,” Biden said. As the Bush administration called on other nations to adopt this stance, Biden said, “Unless they change their stripes, unless they recognize Israel, unless they change their charter, I think we do exactly what the president says.”
In a Senate hearing a month after Hamas’s victory, Biden offered a twisted logic on the importance of elections. “Elections a democracy don’t make,” he said, pointing specifically to Hamas’s success at the ballot. “Democracies cannot come to fruition without elections, but you need the infrastructure for a democracy, and we’ve not done all that well in the elections being held.” By March, Biden had signed onto a bill that called on Bush to “direct the United States Executive Director at each international financial institution to use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States to prohibit assistance to the Palestinian Authority.”
In a strange twist, the Israeli government said that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-endorsed legislation aimed at Hamas went too far and would hurt innocent Palestinians. In response, Biden co-sponsored a slightly amended version of the bill with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell that included sweeping sanctions against the Palestinian Authority but carved out some small exceptions for U.S. humanitarian aid. “Foreign assistance is not an entitlement. It is not a free lunch,” McConnell said in celebrating the passage of the Biden-McConnell Palestine sanctions bill. “Foreign aid is an act of generosity from the American people to other nations, and it should be conducted in furtherance of U.S. interests and those of our allies.”