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Jimmy Carter: Talking Can Lead to Peace

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A week ago, I wrote about Jimmy Carter's meeting with representatives of Hamas. Carter had a simple idea: you only make peace with your enemies and you can only make peace when you talk to your enemies. Today, Carter explains his position more fully in public.

He does so in an op-ed in the New York Times:

A counterproductive (emphasis added) Washington policy in recent years has been to boycott and punish political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. This policy makes difficult the possibility that such leaders might moderate their policies.

While Carter is not explicit about this, I will be: this is a position that has been bi-partisan. Republican and Democratic policymakers set down mandates and believe that, unless an adversary meets those conditions, the U.S. will not engage in discussions with certain factions, movements or governments.

This is not meant to be a campaign diary but here is the truth: all of the remaining candidates in the race--both Democrats and the Republican--support that kind of foreign policy, particularly as it relates to Hamas and the Middle East.

Carter points out that in Nepal, the Carter Center agreed to mediate between warring factions, including a Maoist insurgency that the U.S. had branded as terrorists. The result was a cease-fire and an agreement by all to take part in elections.

After a surprising victory in the April 10 election, Maoists will play a major role in writing a constitution and governing for about two years. To the United States, they are still terrorists.

Carter, then, agreed to meet with Hamas and Syria, understanding that there can be no peace in the Middle East unless those powers are a part of the solution. Here's what he says happened:

We met with Hamas leaders from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria, and after two days of intense discussions with one another they gave these official responses to our suggestions, intended to enhance prospects for peace:

• Hamas will accept any agreement negotiated by Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel provided it is approved either in a Palestinian referendum or by an elected government. Hamas's leader, Khaled Meshal, has reconfirmed this, although some subordinates have denied it to the press.

• When the time comes, Hamas will accept the possibility of forming a nonpartisan professional government of technocrats to govern until the next elections can be held.

• Hamas will also disband its militia in Gaza if a nonpartisan professional security force can be formed.

• Hamas will permit an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants in 2006, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, to send a letter to his parents. If Israel agrees to a list of prisoners to be exchanged, and the first group is released, Corporal Shalit will be sent to Egypt, pending the final releases.

• Hamas will accept a mutual cease-fire in Gaza, with the expectation (not requirement) that this would later include the West Bank.

• Hamas will accept international control of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, provided the Egyptians and not the Israelis control closing the gates.

Because I understand that people don't have time to go back and read previous diaries, I want to reiterate what I wrote in my initial diary:

My father was born in then-Palestine. He fought in the Hagannah (the Israeli underground) in the war of independence; my father's cousin, whose name I carry as a middle name, was killed in that war. I lived in Israel for seven years, during which I went through the 1973 war: a cousin of mine was killed in that war, leaving a young widow and two children, and his brother was wounded. My step-grandfather, an old man who was no threat to anyone, was killed by a Palestinian who took an axe to his head while he was sitting quietly on a park bench; it was a retaliation killing for the massacre of 30 Muslims who were murdered by an ultra-nationalist Jewish settler while they were kneeling in prayer. Half my family still lives in Israel. I have seen enough bloodshed, tears, and parents burying their children to last many lifetimes.

Today, Carter appears on Larry King Live. We should do everything possible to support Carter's attempt to create an open dialogue. That does not mean accepting that everything is good about either Hamas, Syria or Israel--or that they are all bad. It means talking and negotiating.