Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jimmy Carter and the Art of Growing Up

By Tony Karon

"You could say Jimmy Carter was tempting fate by meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal — after all, his entirely appropriate evocation of apartheid in reference to the regime Israel has created on the West Bank earned him the label “Holocaust-denier.” But Carter, bless him, his sticking to his guns, insisting that peace only becomes possible when you talk to everyone involved in a conflict. And I’d say Carter has reason to suspect that despite the pro-forma criticisms of his Meshal meeting from Secretary of State Condi Rice as well as the McCain-Clinton-Obama roadshow, the backlash won’t be anything like the firestorm created by his apartheid book. It was reported today, in fact, that the Bush Administration is regularly briefed on back-channel talks between Iranian officials and a group of former U.S. diplomats led by Papa Bush’s U.N. ambassador, Thomas Pickering. So, far all the posturing and bluster, there’s a back channel. And I’d wager that despite the official sanctimony, Carter will be debriefed on his conversations with Meshal by both Israeli and American officialsbecause Meshal is a key player, like it or not.

The inevitability of talking with Hamas is already widely recognized in U.S. policy circles, and especially in Israel. Already, the Israelis negotiate secretly over issues such as the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit, prisoner exchanges and a cease-fire with Hamas through intermediaries such as Egypt. And a poll published by the Israeli daily Haaretz in February showed that two out of three Israelis support direct talks between their government and Hamas — an option publicly advocated by such high-profile Israeli leaders as former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy and former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami. And just as some Israelis are recognizing that Hamas cannot be eliminated, so too do some Hamas leaders appear to realizing that Israel isn’t going to be militarily defeated, either......"

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