JERUSALEM – Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met a prominent Hamas figure in the West Bank on Tuesday, further rankling Israeli officials who have boycotted Carter over his contacts with the militant Islamic movement.
Nasser al-Shaer, considered a leading member of the pragmatic wing of Hamas, served as deputy prime minister in a government headed by the group after it won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Al-Shaer said he and Carter, who met in Ramallah, discussed efforts to arrange an unofficial truce between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli government leaders have shunned Carter, a Nobel Prize winner who brokered the first Arab-Israeli peace accord, because of his plans to meet Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Syria this week as part of a Middle East tour.
Carter said he would try in his meeting with Mashaal to “get him to agree to a peaceful resolution of differences, both with the Israelis … and also with Fatah.”
The Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, dominant in the West Bank, was routed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip last June.
“Since Syria and Hamas will have to be involved in a final peace agreement, they ought to be involved in the discussions leading up to … peace,” Carter said. “I’m just trying to understand different opinions and communicate … between people who won’t communicate with each other.”
Israel and the U.S. have boycotted Hamas because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel, and oppose Carter’s plans to meet Mashaal. An Israeli foreign ministry official said Tuesday that Carter’s meeting with Hamas “dignified” a group that refuses to negotiate with Israel.
Carter also laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who was shunned by Israel and the Bush administration after he was accused of fomenting violence. Many visiting foreign dignitaries have paid their respects at the tomb, but President Bush pointedly avoided the site when he visited Ramallah earlier this year.
A controversy over security arrangements for Carter in Israel took a new twist Tuesday, when the U.S. Embassy said that because of a “misunderstanding” among its staff, it had not delivered a request for protection to Israel’s Shin Bet security service.
Carter is being guarded by his U.S. Secret Service detail without the customary help from the Shin Bet, which is under the authority of the Israeli prime minister’s office. An Israeli official said no request for help had been received, but Carter’s delegation said it had been told by the U.S. Embassy that a request for assistance had indeed been relayed to the Israelis.