After meeting with three different sets of Hamas leaders — in Damascus, Ramallah, and Gaza — Jimmy Carter posted a “Trip Report” last week describing his meetings. He said he met with Khaled Meshaal and other Hamas leaders in Damascus and “left written proposals for them to consider.” Two days later he met with Hamas legislators in Ramallah: “They had a copy of the proposal I had made to Meshaal in Damascus and we discussed its wording.” Three days after that, he went to Gaza and “had extensive meetings with Prime Minister [Ismail] Haniya” that the New York Times reported lasted three hours.
Questions about Carter’s trip arose at the State Department press briefing the next day, with Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley responding that Carter “is a private citizen, and the meetings were private.” Asked if the State Department had provided security for Carter, Crowley promised to obtain an answer. There followed a colloquy on whether the administration had any prior contact with Carter (since the Bush administration was “quite outspoken about its opposition to President Carter meeting Hamas”):
MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t know if there were any contacts with him.
QUESTION: Then is it possible to find out? And then if there was contact, which I suspect there probably was, if the Administration took a position on whether he should meet these –
MR. CROWLEY: Without commenting on the specific issue, it’s not unusual when presidents travel around the world. They can check in. I don’t know if he did in this particular case. I’ll – we’ll ask the question.
The next day, the State Department disclosed that there had indeed been prior contacts: Carter had met with Near Eastern Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary David Hale and with National Security staff, and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had assisted the Secret Service with security for Carter’s trip to Gaza. The Department did not answer the query about whether the administration had supported or opposed Carter’s prospective meeting with Hamas.
The following day a “senior Hamas movement’s leader” in Gaza said Carter had “presented a printed text of a proposal that overcomes the international Quartet’s requirements and leads to direct dialogue with the United States”:
Hamas sources in Gaza revealed that Carter presented a one-page proposal that calls on Hamas to accept the Arab peace initiative of 2002 and accept that final goal of the Roadmap plan, which is the two-state solution.
Carter told Hamas leaders that if they accept the two suggestions, this will lead to a direct contact with the U.S. administration and will lead to lift the political and financial embargo on Hamas, said the sources.
Blogger Elder of Zion linked to a Google translation of an Al Quds report quoting Hamas leader Yehia Moussa saying “Carter told us that the American President (Barack Obama) wants to go beyond the conditions of the Quartet, and has the desire to do so, but on [sic] Hamas to provide an acceptable scenario.”
Carter told the President [sic] of the Palestinian government (article) in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, during a meeting a few days ago that he had talked with a number of senior officials in the administration of President Obama in this regard, and that he told them that he intended to make contact with the group in this regard, the sources said.
John Hinderaker at Power Line posted an Israeli report quoting Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri as saying that “We know Carter is not acting alone. He is acting as part of the large American system” and that Hamas has “excellent relations with elements in the circle of the decision making in the U.S. administration.”
In his trip report, Carter asserted his “primary goals” were to “induce [Hamas] to comply with the Quartet’s ‘3 conditions’ (recognize Israel’s right to exist; forgo violence; and accept previous peace agreements), help form a unity government with elections next January, and exchange the release of Corporal Shalit for a reasonable number of prisoners held by Israel,” and his public position in Gaza was that he was there as a private citizen.
But we now know Carter met not only with the State Department before his trip, but with the administration’s national security staff; the State Department helped facilitate his visit to Gaza; he carried with him a written proposal, whose contents have not been disclosed, which the administration undoubtedly saw before it was presented; he discussed the proposal with multiple Hamas leaders in three cities; and he apparently told them he had been in contact with senior Obama officials regarding his efforts.
There is a certain imbalance in an administration that asserts the strictest possible interpretation of Israel’s Phase I Roadmap obligations, while simultaneously facilitating meetings for a former president with the terrorist group the Palestinians — as part of their own Phase I obligations — are required to dismantle. And the proposal presented at the meetings does not appear to have been merely one by a private citizen: the proposal ought to be disclosed, together with a better explanation of the administration’s role in it.