The Real News senior analyst Aijaz Ahmad concludes that Hamas’ new, slightly softened stance could represent “a major breakthrough” in the ongoing standoff between Israel and the Islamic militant group.


Story Transcript

VOICEOVER: Former US President Jimmy Carter stated on Monday that Hamas is prepared to accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace. Carter had met with Hamas senior leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus on Saturday, defying both American and Israeli official policy banning contact with the organization.

(CLIP BEGINS)

Jerusalem, Israel
April 21, 2008

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER US PRESIDENT: They said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians, and that they would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace, provided the agreements negotiated by Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas were submitted to the Palestinians for their overall approval.

(CLIP ENDS)

From Damascus, Mashaal offered terms of a truce with Israel.

(CLIP BEGINS)

Damascus, Syria
April 21, 2008

KHALED MASHAAL, POLITICAL LEADER, HAMAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We agree to a state on the June 4, 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements, with full right of return, but without recognizing Israel.

(CLIP ENDS)

Carter met with Israel’s president and deputy prime minister in Jerusalem. Israel’s foreign minister, defense minister, and Prime Minister Olmert declined to see him. The Real News spoke to Professor David Newman of Ben-Gurion University to assess Carter’s recent meetings with Middle Eastern heads of state.

PROF. DAVID NEWMAN, POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY, BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY: I think it was a mistake on the part of Israel’s government not to meet with Carter, if only because he is a former president of the United States of America, number one, and that’s not the way you treat a president of the country who is your most important strategic ally, even if his positions today do not necessarily correspond with the positions of the present government. You know, if Begin at the time had decided not to go to Camp David with Egypt because he felt that Carter was not sufficiently pro-Israel, there would never have been a peace agreement with Egypt.

VOICEOVER: According to Carter, Hamas would honor any peace accord if the Palestinian people voted for it in a referendum. Does this reflect a turning point in Hamas-Israeli relations?

NEWMAN: I think within Israel you would find a great deal of skepticism, particularly while, you know, the rockets are coming through from the Gaza Strip. For the Hamas itself, that is in a sense a more moderate position than they have portrayed in the past. And I think it does reflect the fact that within Hamas, there are internal differences of opinion as to what is the right direction to take. They are also faced, and so many other groups like Hamas in history have been faced, with the question of what happens when you actually get into power and you have to implement things and do things. You can’t just be a radical opposition to the leadership. And there are those to date in Hamas who will say, “Well, we got there because we showed that the Fatah way of negotiating is wrong and we have to have violence against Israel. Therefore we have to continue down this path.” But I think there are other people in the Hamas who say, “Look, we have got to power, and although we are [harming] Israel with rockets, we are actually being harmed in a much bigger way every time Israel retaliates. The situation on the ground in Gaza is probably worse socially and economically than it has been for forty years. We’re in power. We need to show some responsibility. We need to get ourselves into a position where the world stops isolating us. So let’s try and open up a more moderate stance.”

VOICEOVER: The Real News senior analyst Aijaz Ahmad spoke to us about the significance of the recent statements and of Carter’s visit to the Middle East.

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: A very important thing to understand in this context is just who Jimmy Carter is. He’s not only a former president of the United States, but the one president who negotiated between Israel and Egypt the most durable peace agreement that there has ever been between Israel and the Arabs. And it is because of that agreement that there has never been, since then, an Arab-Israeli war. So painting him today as somebody who’s somehow opposed to Israel, particularly sympathetic to Palestinians, and so on is really contrary to historical fact. As the head of Carter Center, he has been intimately involved in observing the two key elections in Palestine, both 2005 and 2006, and therefore understands the political landscape. The principal achievement of President Carter during this trip is that he has tried to establish the fact that it is both necessary and legitimate to speak to Hamas, contrary to the position taken not only by the Israeli government, but also all the western governments. The criterion for legitimacy for Carter is simple: you don’t have to like Hamas; you don’t have to agree with Hamas; you simply have to recognize the fact that Hamas won the elections of 2006 and thus represents a very vast amount of Palestinian public opinion. In talking to Hamas, President Carter seems to have extracted from them a very interesting public statement, namely that President Abbas has the right to negotiate any peace agreement with Israel that he considers appropriate, and if the Palestinian people accept that agreement, Hamas will accept it too. Finally, President Carter has also helped clarify and make public a position that Hamas has been expressing for a long time but has not been covered in the media. What it says is that Hamas would be willing to live side by side with Israel as a neighbor and would even offer a complete truce for ten years. This is a major breakthrough, I believe, and this should be taken up by the United States, the western powers, and anyone else who wants to see peace established between Palestinians and Israelis.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.