Carter briefs Israelis on mission


Jimmy Carter gave Israelis an account of his shuttle talks with Hamas and Syria.

The former U.S. president, whose Middle East peace mission has not been endorsed by the Olmert or Bush administrations, appeared Monday before a Jerusalem audience to give a summary.

Carter said that Hamas supreme leader Khaled Meshaal, whom he met in Syria, and other Hamas politicians he spoke to in Egypt made clear that they would back a peace deal reached between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel on condition it were approved in a referendum.

“It means that Hamas will not undermine Abbas’ efforts to negotiate an agreement and Hamas will accept an agreement if the Palestinians support it in a free vote,” he told the private Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

Carter called for Israel to drop its objections to direct talks with the Palestinian Islamist groups, noting that indirect contacts are already under way via Egypt.

He said those efforts, for a prisoner exchange in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would be returned from Gazan captivity, have not borne fruit, and added that Hamas promised him it would allow Shalit to write his parents a letter as a good-faith gesture.

The Hamas leadership issued a statement of clarification after Carter’s speech, saying that they would see any Palestinian state established in the West Bank and Gaza as purely “transitional” – an indication that there would be no formal recognition of the Jewish state.

Carter further described Damascus as eager to restart peace negotiations with Jerusalem and said the main misgiving voiced by Syrian President Bashar Assad at this point is over Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s desire for secret talks.

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