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Con: Plain talk with Hamas might be best way to foster peace

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John B. Quigley
May 10, 2008
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, Did Jimmy Carter hurt U.S. chances to broker a Middle East peace by meeting with leaders of the Hamas?

Jimmy Carter’s recent foray to Damascus has netted him scorn and few compliments. The former president, who held talks there with leaders of Hamas, stands accused of lending credibility to terrorists. The State Department has come down on Carter for ignoring the official U.S. policy, which is to isolate Hamas.


The State Department says it told Carter not to go. Carter, who had an extended discussion with a top department official before his trip, says the department never asked him to stay home.


The Hamas leadership in Damascus did, indeed, welcome Carter’s visit as a boost to its standing. And the visit might have had such an effect. The real question, however, is what might come out of the trip.


Even though Israel, like the United States, is trying to bring Hamas down, Carter’s visit seems to have been welcomed by at least some Israeli officials. Carter raised with Hamas the issue of Israel’s soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is being held at a secret location in Gaza.


While the official U.S. and Israeli policy is not to talk with Hamas, Israel has been in discussions with it via the Egyptian government. Israeli officials even asked Carter to arrange more contacts. Hamas has offered a cease-fire, which would see it stop firing rockets into Israel, in exchange for Israel stopping its military raids into Gaza.


The State Department says that Carter’s trip could hamper its own efforts at a Palestinian-Israeli peace, which involve excluding Hamas. But the department’s approach is going nowhere fast.


The State Department has been after Hamas since it won parliamentary elections in Palestine in 2006 and took over the Palestine government. The United States had hailed the Palestine elections as an exercise in democracy, but it refused to deal with the winners.


The U.S. effort to defeat Hamas intensified after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. The United States has done little to criticize Israel for its cutoff of resources to Gaza, which has taken the suffering Gaza population to new depths of degradation.


The State Department has promoted negotiations between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who represents the opposing Palestinian political party, Fatah.


Despite the U.S. portrayal of Hamas, it has made clear that were there to be a deal between President Abbas and Israel, and if the deal could pass a referendum in Palestine, it would go along.


An acceptable deal is light-years away, however, in part because the United States espouses solutions advocated by Israel’s most hard-line elements. On the critical issue of the Palestinians displaced back in 1948 from home areas in what became Israel, the Bush administration has come down squarely in support of Israel’s longstanding refusal.


The Bush administration funnels billions of dollars to Israel in aid, even as Israel puts in more settlers in the West Bank. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said several weeks ago that Bush has given Israel “permission” to expand its West Bank settlements, in contradiction to Bush’s official “road map” for peace, which calls for a freeze on settlements.


Reuters quotes an aide to Abbas as saying, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent trip to Jerusalem, “We heard from the Americans that Israel would not accept the return of Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem would be divided, Israel wants to annex settlement blocs, and so in short, what we are being offered is much less than the 1967 borders.”


An agreement solely on Israel’s terms might find Hamas increasing its rocket attacks into Israel.


The United States is a greater obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace than is Hamas. Given the bankruptcy of the U.S. approach, Carter’s initiative with Hamas can hardly do harm. It might even do good. Making peace will require total involvement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.


John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at The Michael E. Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, 55 W. 12th Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43210, or e-mail him at Quigley.2@osu.edu.

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