Carter said peace efforts had ‘regressed’ since the US-hosted Annapolis conference

Jimmy Carter, the former US president, has called for Hamas to be included in peace negotiations, saying they are willing to “live as a neighbour next door in peace” with Israel if Palestinians approve a deal. Carter said on Monday that Hamas leaders told him they would accept a negotiated peace agreement, if voted for by the Palestinian people.

His comments, delivered in an address to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and a subsequent news conference at the King David Hotel in West Jerusalem, came after he met several Hamas leaders, including Khaled Meshaal, the group’s exiled political bureau chief, in Syria last week. Carter said Hamas leaders had told him they would accept a peace agreement negotiated by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president whose Fatah faction controls the West Bank, if Palestinians approved the deal in a vote. Peacemaking “They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians … even though Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement,” Carter said. “It means that Hamas will not undermine Abbas’ efforts to negotiate an agreement and Hamas will accept an agreement if the Palestinians support it in a free vote.” Carter, who has angered Israel by meeting Hamas, also said the peace efforts had “regressed” since a US-hosted conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November. “The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria,” he said. “The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved.” In his speech, Carter reiterated that he has no mandate to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Speaking of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was seized by Hamas in a cross-border raid in June 2006, Carter said he was disappointed that his proposal to Hamas to release Shalit had been rejected. But Carter said that he understood the Palestinian group could not free the Israeli soldier outside of a prisoner exchange with Israel. ‘Side by side’ Speaking to Al Jazeera after the news conference, Carter reiterated that he believed Hamas would accept the existence of Israel if the Palestinian population voted to accept it. The Carter proposals

The former US president has put forward the following guidelines in an effort to start peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis:

1. An end to hostilities, or a truce between Hamas and Israel, which includes a halt to rockets attacks.

2. Securing the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas fighters.

3. The release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. “There has been a lot of conflicting statements about this issue. But from what I understood, and announced, if Abbas and [Ehud] Olmert [the Israeli prime minister] agree to a peace deal, that would ultimately allow the two states to live side by side. Hamas was asked whether they would accept the decision – they said yes.” Carter also said the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip made establishing a peace deal more urgent. “A resolution needs to be made, as people [in Gaza] are continuing to suffer. I believe however, a greater, and more effective American role is needed here – going beyond the commitments made by the Bush administration to reach a peace agreement.” Engaging Hamas Amani Soliman, Al Jazeera’s Middle East analyst, said Carter’s attempt to engage Hamas was a major breakthrough. “What he has done was a long time coming, considering that Hamas needed to be involved in the peace process,” she said. “Despite the engagement with Abbas, Tzipi Livni [the Israeli foreign minister], and other Fatah negotiators, Carter is adamant that Hamas be included in the equation – which can be viewed as a breakthrough for a Western diplomat to take this route.” Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Gaza, said that Hamas’ willingness to continue to secure a peace deal, implicitly reflects the group’s recognition of the state of Israel. “This effectively pulls the rug from under Israel, as they have constantly maintained that the reason they will continue isolating Hamas is because they will no recognise their state. The ball is now in Israel’s court.” ‘Breaking the ice’

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Damascus, said that Hamas had expressed willingness to go along with Carter’s proposals.

“However, also from the Hamas side, the point being made that something must come in return,” Hanna said.

“What Jimmy Carter is trying to do is to break the ice – trying to get some sort of momentum going in a situation that has been utterly static.” Hamas officials said they talked to Carter about an internationally backed Israeli embargo on Gaza and a possible Israel-Hamas prisoner swap. But Hamas did not respond to Carter’s requests that it halt rocket fire on Israeli border towns and agree to talk to Eli Yishak, the Israeli deputy prime minister, about a prisoner exchange. Over the weekend, Israel killed seven Hamas fighters in a series of air strikes after the group detonated two jeeps packed with explosives at an Israeli crossing on the Gaza border. Israel and the US, which both consider Hamas a terrorist group, have criticised Carter’s efforts to broker negotiations. Israel’s conditions for including Hamas in any process – For Hamas to accept the right of Israel to exist.

– For Hamas to renounce violence.

– To accept the previous agreements signed between the Israelis and the Palestinians e.g. the Oslo Accords.

Source: Al-jazeera.net

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