Former US president Jimmy Carter called Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal a strong proponent of the peace process Saturday, and said he wasn’t meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because it would be “a waste of time.”
The president, who has been visiting Israel and the West Bank, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Saturday but didn’t meet with Netanyahu or President Reuven Rivlin.
He told reporters that he didn’t ask to meet with Netanyahu or his government, and never has, because it would be a “waste of time.” He told Channel 2 in an interview broadcast Saturday that he requested to meet Rivlin, but the president’s office declined.
Israel officials said last week that Netanyahu and Rivlin had refused invitations to meet with Carter, who was described by an Israeli diplomatic source as “a disaster for Israel,” who holds “anti-Israel positions.”
Carter, who cancelled a planned visit to Gaza on this trip, said Saturday he “deplored” criminal acts by members of Hamas, but said he was looking to support moderate members of the group, which he said wasn’t a terrorist organization.
“I don’t believe that he’s a terrorist. He’s strongly in favor of the peace process,” Carter said of Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal. He said Mashaal expressed interest in the Saudis hosting a “peace meeting” and that the Doha-based Hamas leader would recognize Israel’s right to exist based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, wasn’t “in favor of a two-state solution,” said the former president, who orchestrated the peace accords between Israel and Egypt in 1979.
“I don’t see that deep commitment on the part of Netanyahu to make concessions which [former prime minister] Menachem Begin did to find peace with his potential enemies,” Carter told Channel 2.
Hamas is designated by Israel, the US and others as a terrorist group. it is avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel.
During a visit to Ramallah earlier on Saturday, Carter also urged Palestinians to hold elections to end the de facto division of the West Bank and the Islamist-run Gaza Strip.
He was speaking at a joint news conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We hope that sometime we’ll see elections all over the Palestinian area and east Jerusalem and Gaza and also in the West Bank,” said Carter, a member of The Elders, an independent group of retired global leaders.
No election has been held in the Palestinian territories for nearly a decade.
Abbas’s presidential mandate expired in 2009, but he remains in office since there has been no election. The Palestinian parliament has also not met since 2007.
In 2006, a year after Abbas was elected, Hamas won the most recent Palestinian legislative elections. Differences between Abbas’s Fatah party and the Islamist Hamas then led to the so-called “inqissam,” or division.
Despite the rivals signing a reconciliation agreement a year ago, Hamas is reluctant to hand over power in Gaza to an independent Palestinian unity government they formed.
Carter had planned to go to Gaza, but the visit was cancelled at the last moment.
He said it would be “very important” for “full implementation of the agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah.”
Carter was accompanied by Norway’s former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. She said that despite not being able to visit the impoverished Palestinian enclave devastated by last summer’s war with Israel, “we have had a chance to discuss with people who know the issues in Gaza.”
Reconstruction of the territory has not begun eight months after the end of the conflict, the third in six years.
The Elders group said ahead of the trip by Carter and Brundtland that they were visiting “in a renewed push to promote the two-state solution and to address the root causes of the conflict” in the Middle East.