(by Joshua Mitnick, April 11, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) – TEL AVIV — Former President Jimmy Carter will receive the cold shoulder in Israel next week over his plan to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in the Syrian capital during a tour of the Middle East.
Citing scheduling difficulties, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu turned down requests for meetings from the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
“You draw your own conclusions,” said an Israeli official who declined to be identified. “Israeli officials have expressed outrage at the possibility that he’ll meet Mashaal. … He’s the leader of a terrorist organization.”
The meeting could undermine a joint policy by the U.S. and Israel to keep Hamas politically isolated. Mr. Carter would become the most prominent Western figure to meet with Hamas, which is considered by the U.S. and the European Union to be a terrorist organization.
Mr. Mashaal is considered a leading Hamas hard-liner who opposes peace talks with Israel or any recognition of the Jewish state.
The U.S. State Department said it advised the former president against meeting with Hamas officials.
“U.S. government policy is that Hamas is a terrorist organization and we don’t believe it is in the interest of our policy or in the interest of peace to have such a meeting,” spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
“If [Mr. Carter] decides to travel to Syria, we will provide full support befitting a former president of the United States,” Mr. McCormack added. “One thing we will not do, however, is have the Department of State, in any way, engage in any sort of planning related to a meeting with Hamas.”
Mr. Carter helped mediate summit negotiations between Israel and Egypt that led to their peace treaty nearly 30 years ago. He recently drew attention with a book he authored that compares Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories to the South African system of apartheid.
The U.S. considers Hamas one of the “extremist” groups in the Middle East which should be boycotted until it changes its positions on recognition of Israel and of the peace negotiations.
The meeting with the Hamas leader in Damascus would be the headline event of Mr. Carter’s trip to the region starting Sunday, which also will include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Jordan.
Mr. Carter, who will stop in Israel before going to Syria, also is scheduled to visit Sderot, the Israeli border town that has been bombarded by missiles from Gaza.
A spokesman for Hamas in Damascus said the Islamic group “welcomed the request” of the former Democratic president and that the meeting would occur April 18.
Mr. Carter is expected to meet in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who refuses to negotiate with Hamas until it agrees to undo its violent seizure of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. A spokesman for the Palestinian president expressed indifference at the idea of Mr. Carter meeting with Hamas.
“It doesn’t make any difference negatively or positively for us,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah. “With all due respect to President Carter, he can meet anyone he wants.”
To be sure, Mr. Carter won’t face a full-on boycott in Israel next week: he has meetings scheduled with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and even such right-wing politicians as parliament member Avigdor Lieberman and Trade Minister Eli Yishai.
A top lawmaker from the dovish Meretz party commended Mr. Carter for seeking the meeting, though doubted anything would come of it.
“Khaled Mashaal is the hardest nut in Hamas,” said Ran Cohen. “I don’t think he is someone who it is possible to convince to give up his terrorist fanatical approach.”
“I want to strengthen Carter and not weaken him,” he added.
A Carter-Mashaal meeting would be the first public contact in two years between a prominent American figure and Hamas officials. In 2006, the Rev. Jesse Jackson met Mr. Mashaal during a visit to Syria.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. Why have the Israeli Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and opposition leader turned down requests for meetings from former President Jimmy Carter during his trip to the Middle East?
2. What stand has Mr. Mashaal taken on Israel?
3. How does the U.S. State Department view Mr. Carter’s meeting with Mr. Mashaal?
4. How does the U.S. government view Hamas?
5. How does Hamas view Mr. Carter’s meeting with Mr. Mashaal?
6. Which Israeli leaders will meet with Mr. Carter?
7. a) Do you think Mr. Carter should meet with Mr. Mashaal? Explain your answer.
b) What do you think Mr. Carter’s meeting with Mr. Mashaal will accomplish? Explain your answer.