Former President Jimmy Carter plans to meet with Khalid Mishaal, a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, more commonly known as Hamas. Carter believes that in the revival of the Middle East peace process, Hamas must be included in the discussions, and has taken it upon himself to make that happen.
No doubt Hamas has a key role in the peace process. The fundamentalist group, regarded by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization, demonstrated its political power and importance by winning the last Palestinian elections handily in 2006.
Last year they forcibly expanded their control of the Gaza Strip, in effect turning the area into an Islamic enclave and marginalizing any residual influence of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and his Fatah party. Hamas turned a blind eye as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another terrorist organization, increased its Qassam rocket attacks into southern Israel. Recently there were two deadly suicide bomber attacks inside Israel and Hamas may have even been directly involved in Katyusha rocket attacks on cities as far north as Askhelon.
In response, the Israelis tightened their grip on the Gaza Strip, imposing a blockade on most consumer items as well as some food and fuel items since Gaza needs Israeli fuel to generate electricity. Because of growing popular frustration with the blockade and with Hamas for causing it, Hamas breached the border with Egypt, opening the frontier for a massive inflow of badly needed food, fuel, medicine, consumer goods, etc. According to the Israelis, Hamas also imported additional weapons, including more rocket-making materials as well as longer-ranged Katyushas.
Visit could not come at a worse time
It is against this backdrop that President Carter has decided unilaterally to meet Hamas’ top political leader. This visit could not come at a worse time. We have a former president traveling to a country on the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism to meet with the leader of a terrorist organization that conducts daily attacks on one of America’s closest allies. This sends the wrong message to Hamas; the wrong message at the wrong time.
It claims that if you are Hamas — or any terrorist organization — conduct terrorist attacks, kill innocent noncombatants, remove rival political party officials, breach an international border and import advanced weaponry, then you will be rewarded with international recognition by one of the world’s foremost peace negotiators that you are a legitimate interlocutor in the peace process.
The Israelis are the ones who need to talk to Hamas, as they have in the past. As long as Jimmy Carter is sitting down with Khalid Mishaal in Damascus, what incentive is there for Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas official Ismail Haniyah to talk to the Israelis? What incentive is there to stop the daily attacks on Israel?
Mr. Carter, please reconsider what you are doing. You are attempting to negotiate between two opposing parties, one of which has specifically asked you not to do so. The U.S. State Department has asked you not to do so. Just whom do you represent at the table?
The use of “good offices,” a neutral third party to facilitate negotiations, is a well-known concept. After all, that’s what you did at Camp David. There, of course, both sides were looking to the United States and to you to play the honest broker role.