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What Will Carters Meeting With Hamas Accomplish?

April 11, 2008
Aaron Goldstein
For the record, I am not surprised that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is traveling to Syria to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal.  The only thing about Carter’s visit that surprises me is that he didn’t go through with it sooner.

In fact, Carter has wanted to visit Syria for time now.  Carter said so in a scene filmed for Jonathan Demme’s documentary Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains.  While Carter was en route to Boston’s Logan International Airport after his controversial appearance at Brandeis University in 2007 to promote his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he expressed anger towards the Bush Administration, singling out National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in particular.  The 39th President was irate the State Department would not grant him permission to visit Syria so he could meet with its dictator, Bashar al-Assad.  

Carter protested that he had known the junior Assad since he was in college.   I am sure Assad would regale Carter with tales of his days at Phi Beta Jihad on the campus of the University of Damascus where he would make pledges dress up as Orthodox Jews and pelt them with eggs.  Ah, good times.

So if Carter has been keen to have an audience with Assad it is hardly a stretch of the imagination that he would want to have an audience with Meshal.  Who knows?  Maybe Carter and Meshal will get along so famously that Carter will invite him to sit in the President’s Box at the Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver.

All levity aside, Syria is but one stop on a nine day “study mission” of the Middle East that commences on April 13th.  Other stops include Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia (a key donor to the Carter Center) and Jordan.  Carter is scheduled to meet with Meshal on April 18th. The press release announcing the tour boasts the Carter Center “has supported human rights defenders throughout the region as they seek to build peaceful and democratic societies.”    


Naturally this statement begs several questions.  Does Carter consider Khaled Meshal a defender of human rights?   If he believes Meshal is a defender of human rights why does Meshal praise Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s statements the Holocaust is a myth and that Israel should be wiped off the map as “courageous declarations’?   


Does Carter believe Hamas seeks to build a peaceful and democratic society?   If he believes Hamas seeks to build a peaceful and democratic society why does the Hamas Charter call for the State of Israel to be destroyed and replaced with a Palestinian state based on Islamic law?  


If Carter honestly believes Meshal is a defender of human rights and also believes Hamas seeks to build a peaceful and democratic society then the former President is a fool who ought not to be suffered gladly.


But it is possible Carter does realize Meshal is no defender of human rights. It is also possible he knows Hamas wants a peaceful and democratic society about as much as Robert Mugabe wants to voluntarily leave power in Zimbabwe.   In that case, why is Carter meeting with Meshal?   What does he think he will accomplish?


For one thing, Carter gets one last chance to give the Bush Administration the one finger salute and undermine its position.   He also gets yet another chance to stick a thumb to the eye of American Jews who have been increasingly critical of him in recent years.  


It also gives Carter a platform to state he is restoring America’s good name by talking with its adversaries. This, of course, assumes America was ever in good standing with the likes of Hamas or that America should want to be in good standing with Hamas.   


A visit with Meshal also gives Carter a forum to tell the world Hamas are a happy go lucky kind of people who want to live in peace with their Zionist comrades.  I am sure he would tell Americans they have an inordinate fear of Hamas.  After all, this is a man who said in Man From Plains that Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, supports peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  This is the same Haniyeh who told students at Friday prayers in Tehran in December 2006 that Hamas would never recognize the State of Israel and would fight for the “liberation of Jerusalem.”  ()  


However, I can see one possible tangible outcome from this meeting.  Meshal has publicly said kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is alive and might be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.  Carter could use this meeting as an opportunity to intervene on Shalit’s behalf.   If Carter does intercede and Meshal arranges Shalit’s release it would be a public relations coup for both Carter and Hamas.  

By arranging for the release of an Israeli soldier, it would effectively neutralize the argument that Carter is anti-Israel.  It would also make him an international hero entitling him to a slew awards and recognition on top of the awards and recognition he has already received.  For Hamas, it would be given a human face and the world would say, “Ah, Hamas isn’t so bad.”  

Consequently, Israel would come under international pressure to recognize Hamas.  We should have no illusions about Hamas though.  It would not release Shalit without a heavy price but it would be a price the world would never know about.  Sure, the release of Shalit alive and well would be welcome news but Carter and Hamas would come out of it smelling like roses after dancing on manure.   If Meshal truly wanted Shalit released he would have already done so.   Moreover, if Meshal was truly committed to defending human rights then Hamas would not have entered Israel and kidnapped Corporal Shalit in the first place.


The United States, along with many other countries, have declared Hamas a terrorist organization.   Therefore Jimmy Carter ought not to meet with Khaled Meshal or any official representing Hamas.   Carter’s meeting with Meshal and Hamas does not serve the interests of the United States nor peace in the Middle East.   This meeting serves only the personal objectives of Carter and the political objectives of Hamas.   A former President of the United States ought to know better.   

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Aaron Goldstein writes about the things that pique his insatiable curiosity.  In addition to politics, he is an aficionado of baseball, poetry, music and ketchup flavored potato chips.  Aaron satiates his various appetites in Boston.  

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