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Carter-Hamas talks yield little

Chicago Tribune

Former President Carter wrapped up his controversial Middle East tour Monday with an upbeat account of the militant Hamas movement’s position on Israel, but with no apparent progress in promoting a cease-fire or bringing the Islamic group into peace efforts.

Hamas turned down Carter’s proposals for a one-month suspension of rocket attacks on Israel and a rapid prisoner exchange that would have transferred a captive Israeli soldier to Egypt. Israeli and U.S. officials, who objected to Carter’s meetings with leaders of Hamas, said they saw no change in the group’s basic positions. And Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshaal, said after Carter’s remarks that Hamas still would not recognize Israel.

Carter, who met Meshaal in Syria and senior Hamas officials from the Gaza Strip in Egypt during a nine-day visit to the region, said they had told him they would accept a peace agreement with Israel negotiated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if it was endorsed in a popular referendum, even if Hamas opposed such a deal.

The position was similar to pragmatic formulas put forward by Hamas in the past.

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In a speech and remarks to reporters, Carter presented the Hamas language as an opportunity for mediators to engage the group in an effort to end the violence in the region.

Throughout his trip, the former president, who brokered the 1978 Camp David accords that led to Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab state, Egypt, has argued that the U.S. and Israel should keep channels open to Hamas rather than isolate the group.

“We believe the problem is not that I met with Hamas and Syria,” Carter said. “The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with these people.”

Israel and the U.S. have demanded that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian accords before it can be part of negotiations, conditions the group has rejected. Carter argued that excluding Hamas from talks had only led to more violence.

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Speaking in Damascus, the Syrian capital, Meshaal said that Hamas accepted a state in the West Bank and Gaza “with Jerusalem as capital, genuine sovereignty without settlements, and full right of return for refugees, but without recognizing Israel.” He said Hamas was offering Israel a 10-year truce if it withdrew from all lands seized in the 1967 war. Israel has ruled out a full withdrawal.

Hamas’ charter calls for Israel’s destruction, and the group has been evasive about the final borders of a Palestinian state. Sami abu Zuhri, a Hamas official in Gaza, said Hamas would regard any future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “transitional.”


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