Jimmy Carter, the American president more widely and rightly recognized than any other for forging a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East, met with President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday.
Their discussions were private but, hopefully, Carter shared with Obama some of his thoughts regarding what he refers to as “An Unnecessary War” on Palestine’s Gaza Strip. And, hopefully, Obama listened.
Carter has long argued that is it necessary for the U.S. to engage with Hamas, the target of Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reports in Friday’s editions that, “The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.”
We’ll see whether Obama is ready to make a break not just with Bush but with a good many of his fellow Democrats on an issue where Carter has long been a lonely advocate for change.
There can be no question, however, that the former president continues to bring clarity to the conflict.
Here is what Carter wrote Thursday in an opinion piece that appeared in the Washington Post:
I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided.
After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.
Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.
We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.