Former Pres. Jimmy Carter in Jerusalem: "I understand the interrelationships in the Middle East as well as anybody"

It was billed as a meeting with “Israel’s human rights community”. Then, a notice was sent by email that journalists would be allowed a brief Q + A period at the end. Then, it became a “public meeting” — former President Carter’s only public appearance in Israel.

Though the stars of the Israeli human rights community were there, sitting politely in suits and dresses, President Carter in the end didn’t say anything to them, really. Unfortunately, he spoke not a word about their work, about how they are only a few, who often stand up alone against the massive tide of Israeli public and official opinion, about how they are challenge the state to live up to its national and international obligations, and how they inform the world about endless and growing problems as they continue to uphold the rights of Palestinians living under the belligerent Israeli military occupation.

Instead it became a very weak press conference.

And not one of the Israel human rights leaders there said a word.

But, from Carter himself, we learned that he was meeting Quartet Special Middle East Envoy Tony Blair in the afternoon (Blair then headed down to Gaza, for his first visit in over a year, and well after the normal Erez crossing checkpoint hours — Blair was clearly given VIP treatment). Carter announced that he was going to Gaza himself on Tuesday, for a graduation ceremony in UNRWA schools. Carter — who went to Damascus and back at the end of last week, where he met with the Hamas “Politburo” — said he’ll meet a second time with Noam Shalit, the father of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized and has been held captive since late June 2006, presumably somewhere in Gaza. In Gaza, he is scheduled to meet the Hamas leadership.

Blair and Carter will both be in Gaza on Tuesday.

Carter is scheduled to meet the deposed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh — two years after the Hamas rout of Fatah Preventive security forces in Gaza which PA President Mahmoud Abbas called a “military coup” before disbanding the hard-won National Unity Government in what was effectively a “political coup”- Carter said on Monday: “I’ll try to deliver letters to Shalit when I’m in Gaza, but I can’t predict what will happen”.

One Israeli journalist asked Carter why he was urging Israel to talk to Hamas — did Carter also think the U.S. should speak to al-Qaeda?

Carter’s response was muscular: “There is no equality in my opinion. Hamas was authorized by your former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to run for office. They prevailed in 35 cities and towns in free elections”. Carter added that Sharon then certified the results and allowed Hamas to form a government [!]. Then, Carter went even further, and said that “compared to Fatah I think that the Hamas administration was without corruption”. He added that “When Prime Minister Sharon was stricken, acting Prime Minister Olmert — and I was here representing the Carter Center at the time — accepted the Hamas credentials and their pledge of non-violence, and they were approved to run. Then they won the majority of votes in both Gaza and the West Bank. They won, but were put into prison because they won. Twelve elected Hamas-affiliated legislators have now been released (and we met three of them yesterday in Ramallah), but thirty-five are still in prison — just because they are Hamas. So, the President of the United States and two of your Prime Ministers approved them to run for office, and I have nothing to say, But I don’t see any rationality in equating Hamas to al-Qaeda … [Though] it’s easy to prevent progress by condemning people as terrorists”.

In response to another question from a journalist about Sunday night’s speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Carter repled that “I heard the speach. I understand theinterrelationships in the Middle East in its entirety as well as anybody”.

Carter said that Netanyahu “acknowledged the possibility of a two-state solution — if this, and if that., and if they accept Israel as a Jewish State.

Carter continued: “No Arab has been willing to do that so far” [implying that Netanyahu asked Arab States to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, which Netanyahu did not actually seem to do]. “I consider that to be a problem”. Carter added later that “the demand that Arab countries have to recognize Israel as a Jewish State is a very serious problem”.

Another problem, according to Carter, is that Netanyahu had said “Fatah had to remove Hamas from Gaza” — which Carter said was a”nother thing that had never been required before”.

Carter noted that “President Obama has called for the sharing of Jerusalem, but last night Netanyahu said it would never be shared”.

Then, Carter said, “the most serious thing is that President Obama has very wisely emphasized the issue of settlement expansion … and he said it would continue. But the U.S. does not approve any further expansion”.

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