Carter reprises peacemaker role
Says agreement reached between Hamas, Fatah
WASHINGTON - Jimmy Carter is still trying his hand at peacemaking - this time among Palestinians themselves. In an interview with the Globe yesterday, Carter said he had obtained an agreement in writing from the leaders of the militant movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the moderate Fatah party, which rules in the West Bank, to form a unity government of technocrats.
"They both have some preconditions, which is not very good," the former president said. "But [Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad, representing Fatah, could form a government with Hamas in a very short time under the auspices of Saudi Arabia and Egypt."
Past efforts to form a unity government have failed, in part because the Bush administration discouraged Fatah - a moderate party that has agreed to peace talks with Israel - from joining with Hamas, a group the United States classifies as a terrorist organization because it refuses to give up violence against civilians as a means of achieving a Palestinian state.
Talks to form a joint government began in 2006, after Hamas won parliamentary elections. But efforts were frustrated by the international community's rejection of Hamas, and Israel's arrest of dozens of Hamas legislators after militants tied to the group kidnapped Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid. In 2007, tension between Hamas and Fatah erupted into open war, with Hamas chasing Fatah out of Gaza.
The situation has complicated efforts for the Obama administration and its envoy, George Mitchell, former US senator from Maine, to restart peace talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state.
Carter, who is promoting his new book, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land," said he met on Dec. 10 in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and later communicated with Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, and that both endorsed the idea of forming a joint government of technocrats in order for new elections to be held.
Following the meetings, Carter said he sent a letter to both leaders outlining a framework for a new government which they had discussed, and said they both sent him a written response approving the plan. Carter declined to detail the components of the proposal they endorsed but said he forwarded the letters to Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian official in charge of efforts to broker a lasting cease-fire with Israel.
Israelis - who have been negotiating with Fatah - have vehemently opposed a unity government that would give Hamas more legitimacy. But this week, the European Union endorsed the idea this week as a means of rebuilding war-torn Gaza and ending the political isolation of the people there.
Whether the Obama administration will shift its policy toward a unity government or toward Hamas remains to be seen. Obama's public statements on Hamas echo those of President George W. Bush. But shortly before Mitchell left for his trip to the Middle East, he asked Carter to urgently send a copy of his new book - which includes a chapter titled "Can Hamas Play a Positive Role?" Carter said.
"I think George Mitchell will carry out his mandate," Carter said.