JERUSALEM: Former US president Jimmy Carter said on Monday the Islamist Hamas movement told him it would recognize Israel s right to live in peace if a deal is reached and approved by a Palestinian vote.
Carter made the comments following two meetings in Damascus with exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal that angered Israel and the United States which consider the Islamist movement a terror group.
They said that they would accept a Palestinian state within 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, Carter said.
Hamas would agree to such a deal, yet to be negotiated by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, provided it is submitted to Palestinians for their overall approval even though Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement, Carter said in Jerusalem.
In a letter read out by Carter, the Islamists said they were also willing to form a new government with the moderate Abbas – their arch foe and the leader of the secular Fatah party.
We are ready to negotiate with president Abbas on forming a coalition government and to have a professional police force and to form a government not from Hamas or Fatah but from technocrats, Hamas said.
Carter stressed there was near universal consensus that no progress had been made in peace talks since they were restarted at a US conference in November, and that Palestinians are increasingly angry as Israel continues to develop settlements and maintains hundreds of roadblocks in the occupied West Bank.
He insisted Hamas and Syria both had to be involved in any attempt to resolve the Middle East conflict.
The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working. It only exacerbates the cycle of violence, misunderstanding and animosity, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize laureate said.
We believe the problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria, the problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet these people, he told the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.
Carter said Hamas rejected his proposal for a unilateral, 30-day ceasefire, saying they couldn t trust Israel to follow up by lessening attacks on Gaza and in the West Bank.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, ousting troops loyal to Abbas. Israeli troops and Hamas militants are often involved in armed clashes, mainly in Gaza.
Carter also said Hamas had agreed to allow Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in a deadly cross-border raid from Gaza in June 2006, to write a letter to his parents.
The former US president wrapped up his nine-day trip to the Middle East, which also took him to the West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. -AFP