Every day that Jimmy Carter continues his works of peace and humanitarian outreach justifies the day that I cast my first vote in a presidential election for him some... okay, a lot of years ago. His recent foray to establish another line of communication with Hamas is another act of courage -- where courage means ignoring the inevitable hail of criticism and invective thrown your way because you are guided by a strong, moral compass. And maybe this is bearing some fruit.
Here is what Reuters is reporting just a few minutes ago, via The New York Times website:
Hamas would accept a deal creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if it was approved by Palestinians in a vote, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Monday after talks with Hamas leaders.
Carter said he had "no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel's right to live in peace" within pre-1967 war borders.
In a speech, Carter said he heard from Hamas leaders they would "accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians." He was referring to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and a referendum on a deal Washington hopes to clinch this year.
"It means that Hamas will not undermine (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas's efforts to negotiate an agreement and Hamas will accept an agreement if the Palestinians support it in a free vote," he said.
Now, I have a few points to make on this. But, before that, I think it's worth giving a bit of bio background to give a feel for why I write this. 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.
So, I write this from a deep, personal experience -- not one that comes from just ideological slogans lobbed from the comfy confines of the U.S., nor from the perspective of some ideologues who see one side or another in this conflict as evil incarnate or pure goodness.
President Carter is carrying on a simple idea put forth by none other than Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general/politician who is so revered in the U.S. (who, by the way, modern Israelis have a much more complicated and mixed assessment of his legacy--but that's another story). Dayan famously said: "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies."
That is just a fact of life. I'm not going to spend a lot of time here defending or criticizing either Israel or Hamas. Both sides, led my democratically-elected governments, have a lot to account for, in the positive and negative. Trying to establish a set of scales upon which you value one set of misdeeds versus another is not a particularly useful exercise. The point is: how do you find a way to resolve the endless bloodletting?
The idea that you make progress towards peace by refusing to talk to your adversary, as belligerent and threatening as they might be, is childish, idiotic and just plain dumb. I've never quite understood the notion that you boycott talking to somehow until they agree to your conditions -- and maybe that would make me a bad diplomat. In my labor world, sometimes you do go out on strike but that comes after a long process of talking to people who do not have your interests in mind--and would like you go away. Now, it is true that most employers aren't likely these days -- at least, in this country -- to take out guns and begin firing at you. But, most adversaries, when you are actively engaged in real conversation, not posturing, will usually hold their fire, too.
I suspect that this post will be met with a lot of justifications for one side or another, or a recitation of the sins of one side or another. I may even agree with some of them.
But, for a moment, I wanted to just give thanks -- on Passover -- to President Carter who just wants to hear what people have to say. We should give space to people who explore conversations and seek to find common ground.