Hamas would accept Israel, says Carter
By Tobias Buck in Gaza City
Published: April 21 2008
Jimmy Carter, the former US president attempting to broker an understanding between Israel and Hamas, said on Monday the Islamist Palestinian group stood ready to accept the Jewish state as a "neighbour" and would back a peace deal under certain conditions.
Mr Carter said: "I met with Hamas leaders from the West Bank, Gaza and Damascus. They said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians – a departure from long-standing Hamas doctrine that refused to recognise two states."
In a statement released shortly after his speech in Jerusalem, Hamas neither confirmed nor denied his claims. However, it did adopt a broadly conciliatory tone, expressing support for a referendum on a peace agreement and promising "flexibility" and the willingness to take "the necessary steps".
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, did not say what those steps were.
Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, said in Damascus that it would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war but would not recognise the Jewish state. He raised the prospect of a "a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition" should Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders.
Mr Carter has been criticised by Israeli and US politicians for meeting senior Hamas officials, including Mr Meshal, who lives in exile in Damascus. While the former president has stressed he is not engaged in an official diplomatic effort, he has urged Israel and the US to end their boycott of Hamas.
The two countries are supported by the European Union in viewing Hamas as a terrorist organisation, though many in the Arab world see it as a legitimate resistance movement.
"He [Mr Carter] made this trip on his own initiative," said Tom Casey, a US State Department spokesman. "We counselled him against engaging with Hamas, in keeping with long-standing US policy. They still refuse to acknowledge or recognise any of the basic Quartet principles . . . The bottom line is Hamas still believes in the destruction of the state of Israel."
Mr Carter said he knew the meetings would be "viewed negatively in some quarters", but insisted it was a mistake to isolate Hamas and Syria. "We believe the problem is not that we met them but that the US and Israeli governments will not meet. This unwillingness to talk makes peace harder to achieve," he said.
The winner of the Nobel peace prize then cited a passage agreed with Hamas: "If [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas succeeds in negotiating a final status agreement with Israel, Hamas will accept the decision made by the Palestinian people and their will through a referendum . . . even if Hamas is opposed to the agreement."
The group's official charter still calls for the destruction of Israel, but its leaders have signalled they are prepared for some form of accommodation provided Israel withdraws from the occupied West Bank and lets refugees return.
Mr Abbas, who also leads Fatah, the rival faction to Hamas, is due to meet US President George W. Bush on Thursday
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.