A lot of ink and electrons have been spent on President Jimmy Carter's recent meetings with Hamas leaders and the President of Syria. Although his efforts appear to have been in vain, I support Carter's effort for a number of reasons.
First - let me set some givens about some things:
1. Hamas is an organization labeled as "terrorist" by most of the world; I prefer not to use that loaded term, but instead to refer to Hamas as a criminal organization that plans and carries out international crimes (mostly in Israel) including murder of civilians
2. Hamas was put into power in the Gaza by a democratic election
3. the focus of this post is Carter and Hamas, not Israel
Carter pissed off the Israeli and U.S. governments by meeting with Hamas because neither government will talk with terrorists, and certainly not a terrorist group that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. Carters point, and one that I have made on this blog, is that a refusal to talk to your enemy means that peaceful change is not possible. Standard U.S. foreign policy under the Bush Administration for dealing with governments they don't like is to call them names (i.e. "Axis of Evil") and not talk to them (and one one occasion, invade and occupy them). Carter looked for an opening and tried to make some headway.
Did the meetings with President Carter give Hamas "legitimacy," as widely claimed by the press and certain government spokespersons? No. Their election to power by the people in Gaza gave Hamas legitimacy. The meetings with Carter did not change any one's view of Hamas; those who support Hamas as "freedom fighters" still see them that way, while those who consider them to be terrorists or criminals also have not changed their view. If anything, the actions and statements of Hamas immediately following the Carter meetings - more attacks and hate statements against Israel - clearly underscore the nature of the beast.
What if Carter had had some success, such as some movement towards continued talks, a cease-fire, the release of the captive Israeli soldier? Would Carter's mission have been so roundly criticized then? The probability of success was certainly extremely low, given the fanaticism and bellicosity of the Hamas leadership. But trying, in my view - and Carter's - is certainly better than not.
What I've never understood about Hamas is why the Palestinian people support their criminal actions against Israel. Israel will never be "driven into the sea" and the Middle East will never be the same as it was before the 1940's. This is fact. Wouldn't people rather find a way to coexist with their neighbor, build a Palestinian nation and economy, increase their safety, security and standard of living than be in a perpetual no-win struggle? World opinion, and opinion within Israel itself favor a two-state resolution of this 60 year conflict. There are a few difficult issues to resolve, but intelligent and willing people will find the way.
The railing against Jimmy Carter for trying to pursue peace in the Middle East is misplaced. Bush and Company ignored Israel-Palestine for seven years. Hamas (and other criminal fanatical organizations) has continued to provoke with daily rocket launches into Israel and attacks at the border and elsewhere. Israel has shown remarkable patience on the one hand, and occasionally, perhaps, too much force on the other. (I'm not overly critical of Israel on this; after all, if a group a couple of miles from my neighborhood started launching rockets and mortars towards me, I would demand a seek-and-destroy mission by my government immediately. Israel has put up with this for years.)
I appreciate the efforts by Jimmy Carter to find some path towards peace in the Middle East. While I'm not hopeful of success, I think engagement is the better policy.