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Commentary Last Updated: Apr 23rd, 2008 - 00:32:29

Carter the bold peacemaker
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 23, 2008, 00:15

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If any one individual could make a difference in the Middle East, former President Jimmy Carter is in the running. His statements display sincerity, impartiality and the kind of objective wisdom that few elder statesmen acquire once they are no longer in a competitive arena. He has close links with regional leaders, is generally respected by all sides and has proved that he has a personal commitment to peace.

Many Americans do not consider Jimmy Carter an ex-president of note and he is not revered in the way that Ronald Reagan and others are. Perhaps because they tend to associate his presidency with Iran's 444-day-long occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran, forgetting that he brokered an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1978 and is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

It's unfortunate that Carter's term of office came too early. Arab states were invited to join Egypt at the peace table but their chairs remained empty. There had been too many bloody wars with Israel and memories were too fresh to give up the struggle. Still, putting Israel and Egypt together was an incredible coup for President Carter bearing in mind their mutual enmity stretched back decades.

Imagine the face of our world if a mature and experienced President Carter inhabited the White House today. For one thing, 83 percent of Arabs wouldn't have an unfavorable opinion of the US as a recent Zogby poll indicates, while 88 percent wouldn't classify the US as the country that most poses a threat to them.

A Carter White House wouldn't have led an invasion of Iraq and wouldn't now be clamoring to punish Iran. Furthermore, a Carter-envisioned "road map" to a Palestinian state might have led to a positive destination rather than taking the more gullible within this region on a merry-go-round.

He might not have the international clout he once enjoyed but Carter is determined to pursue his personal peace mission even in the face of the US State Department's disapproval. Israeli politicians have shunned him over his decision to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, considered a terrorist by Israel and the US, while Sean McCormack a White House spokesperson accused the former president of opening himself up to exploitation by Hamas and Syria.

"I don't think people are going to confuse the efforts of a private citizen, former President Carter, with the very clear policies of the United States government," McCormack said in an effort to deprive Carter of any remnants of legitimacy.

He's right about one thing. The former president's efforts based on the principle of getting people together could not possibly be confused with those of the Bush administration, which is only interested in fomenting division and stirring up belligerency.

Carter believes that peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without the participation of Hamas, which he says should be engaged in the process instead of isolated.

To this end, he recently met twice with Meshaal and his second-in-command Moussa Abu Marzouk. Both meetings were described as warm and dignified. Discussions included such subjects as the ongoing siege of Gaza, a deal involving the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and a unilateral cease-fire on the part of Hamas. Carter is said to have laid certain proposals on the table, which Meshaal is believed to be considering along with other senior Hamas officials.

If Meshaal responds positively to Carter's requests, then the latter's bold move will signify as a major ice-breaker that could lead to bigger and better things. But somewhere along the way, Israel and the US will have to render support to Carter's efforts else they will go for naught along with the former president's credibility in Palestinian eyes.

Sadly, I don't believe this US administration is capable of a major U-turn over Hamas, which, ironically, must thank the White House for its January 2006 election into office. George Bush pushed for a new democratic Middle East and a Hamas-led Palestinian National Authority was the result.

Bush is also responsible for the rift between Fatah and Hamas and the resultant two separate Palestinian entities. It's a division that has taken Israel off the hook. This time, it really doesn't have a partner for peace representing all Palestinians.

Nevertheless, with the US ballot on the horizon, there is hope. It's known that Carter supports Democratic hopeful Barack Obama for the top job and as a superdelegate, Carter's vote will count when it comes to the party nomination. If Obama makes it into the Oval Office, he might return the favor by giving the former president more of an official peacemaking role.

In the meantime, Carter would do well to prepare the way forward while Hamas leaders should capitalize on this public relations opportunity to display their softer, more reasonable sides. If they were to return Shalit and declare a unilateral cease-fire those steps would display good intentions and make it more difficult for their detractors to whip up international support.

It may also quieten the right-wing loons who are flooding the Internet which such messages as "Carter hasn't found a dictator, thug or terrorist that he hasn't wanted to embrace . . ." and "Somebody shred his passport please".

Carter is a true patriot and a brave man. His book, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid," shows his fearlessness of America's pro-Israel lobby that vindictively accused him of being anti-Semitic. He's a man who follows his own truth, no matter where the journey ends. The world needs more leaders like him and courageous individuals unafraid to stand strong beside him. Who knows! 2009 may signify the beginning of another era when Carter's views may at last find a solid platform.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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