On Tuesday, 88 senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Gaza. It reads in part:

[W]e urge you to focus on three key objectives: (1) preventing Hamas from rebuilding its military capabilities; (2) enabling the Palestinian Authority to move toward becoming the Palestinian governing authority in Gaza; and (3) preventing negative developments at the UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, and the International Criminal Court that could derail any prospects for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
First, we fully support the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. We must also condition reconstruction assistance on the establishment of a system to prevent Hamas from rearming and rebuilding its military capability. . . .
Second, we must support efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza. Hamas has demonstrated conclusively both that it has no interest in peace with Israel and that it has no concern for the well-being of Gaza residents. Meanwhile, the West Bank has experienced periods of significant relative economic growth and stability, in part due to cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces there. All Palestinians deserve a government that will seek to advance their safety and prosperity-not use them as human shields. Real peace between Israelis and Palestinians will require a Palestinian partner that controls the West Bank and Gaza, is focused on economic development and stability in both areas, and will accept Gaza’s demilitarization. We must start this process now.
Third, while we work with the Palestinian Authority to extend its effective jurisdiction to Gaza, we must work equally hard to ensure that Palestinian officials do not take further harmful steps at the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, or the International Criminal Court. The Palestinian Authority must avoid steps that would undermine the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We must let Palestinian Authority President Abbas know that America’s willingness to cooperate with him will continue to depend on his willingness to return to the negotiating table with the Government of Israel and avoid unilateral measures that bypass direct negotiations.

Strangely, the signatories did not include Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who recently ran into trouble with his attempt to “clarify” his position on aid to Israel. (His budget plan in 2011 would have eliminated it and other foreign aid.) I asked longtime aide Doug Stafford why Paul didn’t sign. He responded via email: “Senator Paul is in favor of cutting off all aid to the Palestinian Authority until the conditions in Senator Paul’s Stand with Israel Act are met. While certainly well intentioned, the letter in its language telegraphs the problem with it. The letter seeks to keep money flowing to the PA, yet attempts to keep it from Hamas. As the authors of the letter note, this idea had failed miserably time after time.”

Indeed, Rand Paul introduced legislation and repeatedly has said he wants to cut all aid to the Palestinian Authority (which hasn’t and isn’t likely to meet his conditions in the bill). Paul got little support in Congress for exactly the reasons that prompted the letter. Israel does not want the PA to disappear and neither does any responsible U.S. administration. Both need the PA to reform, end corruption and live up to its obligations. For better or worse, mostly for worse, the PA is the only entity capable of cooperating with Israel in the West Bank on security and perhaps gradually supplanting Hamas in Gaza, though I have my doubts that is possible.

This raises the interesting question as to what would happen if the PA became even less effective (as it would with a total cutoff of U.S. funds) in acting with Israel on security and ceased to operate as it does now in the West Bank as the local governmental authority. I suppose Hamas would supplant it and then Israel would be bombarded from both directions. Although well-intentioned, Paul’s position, if enacted, would be disastrous for Israel and for our joint interest in pushing back against Hamas.

The letter from a bipartisan grouping of pro-Israel senators including disparate figures — from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — tells us that with very few exceptions at the extremes of both parties, there is a conscientious and robust majority in the Senate to do more than simply mouth platitudes about “having Israel’s back,” as the president says. As with the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill, which had some 77 supporters including all Republicans but two (Rand Paul being one of them), there is a large block of senators willing and able to challenge Obama on Israel policy and take pains to repair the frayed U.S.-Israel relationship.

When not hindered by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is running interference for the White House, Congress can act as a check on the White House’s anti-Israel instincts. It’s one more reason to put a GOP majority in the Senate and to remember the perils of electing a president who mouths support for Israel but has very little understanding or empathy for the difficult choices facing the Jewish state.