Talks in the Middle East

Carter: Hamas Ready To Live Beside Israel

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

JERUSALEM, April 21 -- The armed Islamist movement Hamas is prepared to accept Israel as a neighbor if the Palestinian people approve the terms for peace, former president Jimmy Carter and the group's exiled leadership said Monday following a visit to the region that included seven hours of negotiations.

Carter, the most prominent Westerner to formally talk with the organization, said he secured that agreement even as Hamas rejected his proposal for a unilateral, month-long cease-fire. Hamas, which has vowed to destroy Israel, also declined to meet with an Israeli deputy prime minister who has expressed interest in discussing the fate of a captured Israeli soldier.

But Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said his trip had shown the value of negotiating with Hamas leaders, something Israel and the United States have refused to do.

"We do not believe that peace is likely, and we are certain that peace is not sustainable, unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way," Carter said in an address to the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations before flying back to the United States. "The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working."

Israeli officials reacted with scorn to Carter's meetings and the agreement, saying they amounted to a propaganda coup for the Islamist group with no progress to show for it. In the past, the group has made similar declarations to the ones announced Monday by Carter and Hamas, the Israeli officials said, and has no intention of honoring them.

"It was sad to see how Hamas is using former president Carter to try to get legitimization it does not deserve," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel.

Israel's top leaders all avoided Carter during his visit, and U.S. officials criticized him for meeting with people that Washington and Israel have formally designated as terrorists.

Yossi Alpher, an Israeli political and security analyst, said that while Carter had not achieved any dramatic breakthroughs, his meetings were "symptomatic of a slow erosion in the boycott of Hamas at the international level."

In an interview, Carter, 83, said that furthering that erosion was his goal. Hamas, he said, had shown enough flexibility to make talks worthwhile, and he believed the group was no longer determined to destroy the Jewish state.

"It may be something they wish, but they know it's a fruitless concept," he said.

Carter said the group's "ultimate goal is to see Israel living in their allocated borders, the 1967 borders, and a contiguous, vital Palestinian state alongside." Carter was referring to the borders that Israel had before the 1967 Middle East war, when it captured Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. In 1982, Israel completed a pull-out from the Sinai Peninsula, another conquest of that war.

Hamas's 1988 charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and its officials have repeated that stand in the years since. The charter also encourages the killing of Jews.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company