EGYPT: Carter meets again with Hamas

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Former U.S. President Carter whirled into Cairo today with his Middle East roadshow, calling the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza “abominable” while adding that there are “officials in Israel quite willing to meet with Hamas” and that may happen “in the near future.”

His white eyebrows bright in the spotlight, Carter spoke to students and faculty at the American University here after talks with President Hosni Mubarak and a separate three-hour meeting with Hamas officials. The Bush administration and Israel have set rules not to talk to the militant Palestinian group but, Carter said, “I consider myself immune” from such restrictions.

He added that he wasn’t acting as a negotiator or mediator, but hoped that he “might set an example to be emulated” by others. The former president’s meetings with Hamas officials in recent days have outraged Israelis, but Carter was undeterred, even suggesting that his recent book, ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,’ was aptly named because apartheid “is the exact description of what’s happening in Palestine now.”

He played to a mostly appreciative audience, except for one American student from Amherst who suggested that by meeting with Hamas, Carter was giving legitimacy to terrorists. A murmur went through the crowd. Carter paused, and said: “My daughter was (once) arrested in Amherst.”

The former governor from Georgia said he told Hamas officials that “the worst thing” they’re doing to their cause is firing rockets into Israel, which he called ‘abominable and an act of terrorism.” Before the college student could grin in agreement, Carter did the mathematics of bloodshed. He said that for every Israeli killed in the conflict, 30 to 40 Palestinians die because of Israel’s superior military and “pinpoint accuracy.”


He then slipped back into diplomatic mode: ‘I’m not blaming one (side) or the other. . .Any side that kills innocent people is guilty of terrorism.”

It was almost 30 years ago that Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made peace at Camp David. In the current crisis, the former president took a moment to remember those times. He drew applause when, with a jab at the Bush administration, he mentioned that he didn’t wait until his final days in office to try to find a way to peace.

Carter said he had “an almost brotherly love for Anwar Sadat.” But Sadat and Begin didn’t get along. Carter recalled that until the last minute it was uncertain whether there would be a deal. He remembered autographing photographs for Begin’s grandchildren. He delivered them to the prime minister cabin’s at Camp David. Begin flicked through the photos and read the names of the children out loud. Carter said Begin had tears in his eyes.

Begin turned to Carter and said: “Let’s try again” to make peace.

—Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo