Will Carter's Hamas foray bear fruit?
The former president said Monday that the Islamist militants are prepared to accept the right of Israel to 'live as a neighbor next door in peace.'
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"They have fought a long time and they have a very long-range vision of the future, and one has to be aware of that in gauging their true intentions. Their red lines have not changed," says Dr. Ranstorp, of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College. He says that it's more likely Hamas seeks new legitimacy through Carter's visit.Skip to next paragraph
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"What I see is, 'this is how we can get back into the international community, and to use Carter's visit to gain some momentum,' " he says. "They could do something that wasn't expected or thought possible. But I am still a skeptic."
Hamas accepts the establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict but would not recognize the Jewish state, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Monday, Reuters reported. Commenting on efforts by Carter to persuade Hamas to back peace talks between Mr. Abbas and Israel, Mr. Meshaal said his Islamist group would "respect Palestinian national will even if it was against our convictions."
Though the former president is remembered fondly in Israel for the Egyptian peace treaty, he has outraged many with his book linking policies in the Palestinian territories to the South African system of racial apartheid.
"He's saying we should talk and he's talking. Whether this brings tangible benefits depends on both sides of the conflict and how they view Carter," says Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based Middle East expert. "The Israelis are quite happy with the Bush administration's approach to the conflict and see no need to back Carter. On the other hand, he is more useful to Hamas because he's risking so much trying to bring them into the equitation."
Carter's mission coincided with an upsurge in border fighting between Israel and Hamas, with the militants launching attacks that killed three soldiers. Israel's retaliation left more than 20 Palestinians dead, including a Reuters cameraman.
Nicholas Pelham, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, says Carter's mission erodes the taboo of engaging Hamas and could help Israel "climb down the tree" from the three requirements – recognize Israel, accept previous agreements, and forswear violence – for speaking to the militants.
To be sure, Abbas's PA has been skeptical. "If Carter intended to convince Hamas to accept the commitment of the PA, like to the two-state solution, that's fine," says Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "But at the end of the day, Carter is the head of the Carter institute in Atlanta."
Even those who recognize a need to engage Hamas have questioned Carter's preference of public diplomacy. Yair Hirschfeld, an Israeli political scientist who helped run the secret talks between Israel and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that became known as the Oslo Accord, said talking to the media should come last.
Still, Carter's announcement about Hamas's flexibility on the Shalit swap is meaningful. "It's not the way I would have prepared it. But ... the proof of the pudding is in the eating," says Mr. Hirschfeld.
Ilene R. Prusher contributed reporting from Jerusalem.