Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mashaal's offer is meaningless


...Jimmy Carter ended his nine-day trip to the region with a promise from Hamas to offer Israel tacit recognition and a 10-year truce if Israel in turn withdrew to the pre-1967 borders.

Khaled Mashaal, whose group has sworn to destroy Israel, told reporters in Damascus on Monday that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank with Israel as its neighbor, but stressed that his group would not formally recognize it, a move immediately dismissed by the US as meaningless.

"We agree to a (Palestinian) state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements, but without recognizing Israel," Mashaal said."We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition." Mashaal said he made the offer to Carter during talks between the two men on Friday and Saturday in the Syrian capital.

...In Washington, deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey brushed aside Hamas's offer, saying the group's past rhetoric contained "all this language about truces and other kinds of issues. But the bottom line is, Hamas still believes in the destruction of the state of Israel; they don't believe Israel has a right to exist," adding it was clear "that nothing has changed" in Hamas's attitude - including that the group still refuses to explicitly recognize Israel and denounce terrorism.

....Carter, who ended his visit to the region on Monday, ....said repeatedly that in those meetings, as well as in others he held, he was simply on a fact-finding mission .... But he did more then just receive information. He tried and failed to broker deals regarding a cease-fire with Hamas and the release of Schalit.

He did, however, wrangle a promise from Hamas that it would send a letter from the young man to his parents. The gesture was acknowledged by Mashaal on Monday, who told reporters in Damascus that he had agreed to this "humanitarian" gesture out of respect for Carter.

Schalit's father, Noam, who, along with his wife, spoke with Carter both before and after his strip to Damascus, said he would wait until receiving the letter before commenting on the gesture.....

....one government official said [Carter] had done more harm than good, even with the promise of a new letter..... In an attempt to pressure the Israeli public to pressure the government, Hamas is interested in opening up another negotiating track ...[that] goes directly to the public. Carter...serves this purpose, because the impression that things could move much faster if only another channel of communications were tapped is exactly the message Hamas wanted the Israeli public to hear.

The official said it was clear that Hamas was using Carter for its purposes...[and] that Hamas also used Carter to give it legitimization. The US and European Union position is that Hamas should not be engaged until it accepts three preconditions: recognizing Israel, disavowing terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In comes Carter, ... and he meets Hamas without its having to pay any price, which is exactly what the organization wants to have happen with the rest of the world.

But, during his Jerusalem speech, Carter defended his actions....He ...reported that Hamas would accept any deal negotiated by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, even one they disagreed with, as long as it was approved by the Palestinian people through a referendum.....

....But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said Hamas's readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum "does not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum." Such a referendum, he said, would have to be voted on by Palestinians living all over the world. They number about 9.3 million, including some 4 million living in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

A spokesman for Carter said the former president had already left the country and had no response to the comment.....

*AP contributed to this report.

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