Tried to bring Hamas to table -- Summit fell apart a decade ago
JERUSALEM - The mood was disaster-in-progress when the unflappable Jimmy Carter stepped into the room yesterday to share a few quiet moments with the Toronto Star.
The official returns were flowing in, showing a Hamas victory almost beyond anyone's calibration.
The hard fist of political Islam didn't just enter the Palestinian parliament. It is the parliament.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, shakes hands with former United States President Jimmy Carter, following their meeting at his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Friday, Jan. 27, 2006.
As the numbers sunk in, CNN, BBC, Sky and Fox went into "breaking news" mode, quickly bulking up with pundits uttering obituaries for peace. The greening of Palestinian politics now had consigned the region to another hopeless eternity, it seemed.
At 81, clear-eyed and calm, America's most beloved ex-president who yesterday sanctified the Palestinian election as head of the 950-strong international observer mission took the earthquake in stride.
With the debate turning to whether the Palestinians' major international benefactors, the European Union and the United States, should allow themselves to maintain contact with a government led by Hamas a group that has not unequivocally abandoned its founding principle of the destruction of the state of Israel Carter let us in on a fascinating anecdote he has never spoken of publicly.
Ten years ago, Carter himself sat down with Hamas in an attempt to bridge the gap between PLO chief Yasser Arafat and the then-fledgling militant Islamic group.
As a personal favour to the late Palestinian leader, and in the spirit of the newly minted Oslo Accords, Carter went hunting for Hamas, to lasso them into the political process.
"Arafat asked me if I would contact Hamas and see if they would accept the new government with him as president, and to find out what their demands might be," Carter said.
A series of meetings ensued with various Hamas leaders in the Israeli-occupied territories, and Carter initially found himself confounded by the multi-headed hydra of leadership, Hamas-style. But some of those he spoke to showed interest.
Even 10 years ago, there were indications Hamas might be ready to make the great leap forward into reason and rationality and perhaps even to accept Israel as its legitimate partner in a future that would become two states living side by side.
Finally, a secret summit was arranged for Cairo involving every voice that mattered to Hamas. And just as Carter was preparing for the flight to Egypt, Hamas called it off.
"They cancelled the meeting. Either they decided no, or they decided I wasn't the right person. But they cancelled," said Carter.
"That's the way it was then. Clearly there was no discernable person who could speak on behalf of Hamas and I'm not sure there is yet."
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