The yahoo crowd that runs U.S. foreign policy has been struggling to figure out how to get to the right of Israeli's Likud Party when it comes to countering the decision of the Palestinian people to give the political wing of Hamas an opportunity to form a government. But the new Bush doctrine of punishing people for casting their ballots for political parties that are not approved by the commissars in Washington does not sit well with the American president who actually forged significant progress toward peace in the Middle East -- and who understands the region better in his sleep than a wide-awake Dick Cheney before he's had that beer with lunch.
Jimmy Carter has been making the rounds of the television talk shows with an urgent message about what a mistake it would be to punish the Palestinian people for choosing a government that is not to the liking of Israeli or American politicians.
Carter, who led the team from the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute that observed last month's Palestinian elections, made his case well in an opinion piece headlined "Don't Punish the Palestinians," which first appeared Monday in the Washington Post.
Noting that the outlines of the Palestinian government are still taking shape, Carter argued that, "During this time of fluidity in the formation of the new government, it is important that Israel and the United States play positive roles. Any tacit or formal collusion between the two powers to disrupt the process by punishing the Palestinian people could be counterproductive and have devastating consequences."
"Unfortunately," Carter added, "these steps are already underway and are well known throughout the Palestinian territories and the world. Israel moved yesterday to withhold funds (about $50 million per month) that the Palestinians earn from customs and tax revenue. Perhaps a greater aggravation by the Israelis is their decision to hinder movement of elected Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council members through any of more than a hundred Israeli checkpoints around and throughout the Palestinian territories. This will present significant obstacles to a government's functioning effectively."
And it is not just Israel that is taking the wrong course.
"Knowing that Hamas would inherit a bankrupt government, U.S. officials have announced that all funding for the new government will be withheld, including what is needed to pay salaries for schoolteachers, nurses, social workers, police and maintenance personnel," noted Carter "So far they have not agreed to bypass the Hamas-led government and let humanitarian funds be channeled to Palestinians through United Nations agencies responsible for refugees, health and other human services."
The former president offers a dose of realism when he concludes that: "This common commitment to eviscerate the government of elected Hamas officials by punishing private citizens may accomplish this narrow purpose (of limiting the ability of the new government to function), but the likely results will be to alienate the already oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite violence, and to increase the domestic influence and international esteem of Hamas. It will certainly not be an inducement to Hamas or other militants to moderate their policies."
Don't hold your breath waiting for the Bush-Cheney administration to do the right thing. But it would be encouraging if Carter's Democratic Party, the supposed opposition force in American politics, would embrace the wisdom of a former president whose commitment to easing tensions on the planet earned him the Nobel Peace Prize that will ever elude the current occupants of the White House. Unfortunately, most Democrats in Congress are, in all-too-predictable fashion, echoing an administration line that is as dangerous as it is foolhardy.