We are pleased to inform you that Middle East peace is nigh.
You hadn’t heard? Jimmy Carter is Damascus-bound, to meet with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal. “I’m going to try everything I can to get him to agree to a peaceful resolution of differences both with the Israelis . . . and also with Fatah,” quoth Carter in advance of his nine-day “study mission” to the Middle East. Well then. Case closed.
A desire for peace is admirable. Foolishness is not. In meeting with Hamas leaders — plural, for yesterday Carter sat down in Cairo with some of the group’s Gaza-based bosses — our 39th president is playing the part of the fool.
Carter might have benefited from a little more study before his study mission. A good place to start would have been, oh, Hamas’s entire history of words and deeds. Or how about its charter? “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it. . . . The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine [contextually defined as “everything between where I stand and the Mediterranean”] is an Islamic waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. . . . It, or any part of it, should not be given up.”
If you’re Jimmy Carter, you take that statement like a used-car salesman’s asking price. You assume it’s not meant sincerely and start bargaining and, half an hour and a handshake later, you’ve met in the middle. Applied to Hamas, that way of thinking might lead you to say there’s a “good chance” — Carter’s words — that the terror outfit will turn into a nonviolent organization.
But the thing about Hamas is that they actually mean it. Sometimes they send suicide bombers onto buses and sometimes they merely fire rockets indiscriminately from Gaza, but the desire to murder Israeli civilians does not abate. Nor do the death-to-Israel tirades of Hamas leaders speaking to Palestinian audiences — even if, when writing op-eds for the Washington Post, they feel like “sitting at the negotiating table without any preconditions” (Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Gaza-based terrorist and one of Hamas’s founders, as published yesterday).
One precondition should be this: Neither side will target civilians. Another should be this: The state of Israel will continue to exist. Those are the preconditions that Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah — for all their sins, which are legion and grave — have accepted. Which is precisely why Hamas strives to eject them from political power by ballot or bullet (more often the latter).
And that’s the problem with meeting Hamas when you’re a former U.S. president. You’re in the headlines. You give Hamas a stage to play on. You make it look influential and respected in the eyes of the Palestinian-on-the-street. Because you’re you, you give it legitimacy. For you are saying implicitly that its stated positions — and the long history of actions demonstrating that those positions are sincere — should not bar it from taking a seat at the negotiating table. You are, after all, sitting down at the table with it. And in so doing, you are making it harder for those who believe that such positions should be disqualifying to prevail.
No country on earth has been more flexible about talking to its former enemies than Israel, once those enemies made room in their thought for the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Take Egypt. Take Jordan. What’s different about Hamas is that its rallying cry is still Abdel Nasser’s promise to drive the Jews into the sea. That many among the Palestinian masses echo this cry — enough, in fact, to have made Hamas not simply a terrorist group, but a governing party — makes the cry no less indefensible, and those who shout it no less a barrier to peace.
Jimmy Carter may have nothing but good intentions. But by helping Hamas look like something other than what it plainly is — an uncompromising gang of would-be genocidists — he has placed himself in the service of evil.