April 23, 2008 - "You don't make peace with your friends, but with your enemies." How often have we heard this slogan lately? If repeating a cliché often enough could make problems disappear, we would already have peace in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, reality has an annoying way of spoiling the pristine simplicity of even the best-crafted aphorism.
This may seem an uncharitable way to describe a Nobel laureate's mission for peace, but let's examine its implications.
Impatient with the lack of progress in the peace process, Jimmy Carter decided to do something about it - in defiance of the stated policy of the United States Government, which classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization.
So Carter went to the Middle East and met with Hamas top leadership, ostensibly to get the peace process moving. After all, the Israelis should be reminded, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. So knowing what's best for Israel, he met in Damascus with Khaled Meshaal, the top official of Hamas. Carter described Meshaal as a clear thinker, who showed no signs of fanaticism.
Meshaal is a clear thinker, and a shrewd one as well. Here is what Carter got from Meshaal: "Hamas accepts the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and with full and real sovereignty and full application of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return."
What does Israel get for this? A "conditional" ten-year cease-fire, but no recognition under any circumstances.
So Hamas can build its new state on the model of Hezbollah, fortifying batteries of rockets ready to use against Israel once the ten years are over.
But would Israel even get ten years of peace? The phrase "ten years" is significant to anyone who knows Islamic history. It evokes the famous treaty of Hudaybiyya (or Khudaibiya; there is no standardized English spelling) that Muhammad made with the Quraish tribe, which controlled Mecca at the time. Muhammad agreed to a hudna or "truce" that was to last for ten years. After two years Muhammad became strong enough to defeat the Quraish, so he broke the treaty on a pretext and conquered Mecca. Muhammad set the example, and since that time the language of a "ten year" hudna between Muslims and non-Muslims became code for a pause in the fighting that Muslims can use to build up their strength, then break at a strategic moment. Meshaal, of course, is counting on his Western audience not to know this.
We have heard this kind of language before. In an interview on Egyptian TV in 1998, during the Oslo years, Yasser Arafat reassured his Arabic audience that the Oslo treaty was an "inferior peace" on the model of Muhammad's Treaty of Hudaybiyya, a peace made to be broken.
In addition, Meshaal insists on an unrestricted right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel, which he knows would mean the end of the Jewish state.
So in essence, what Carter extracted from Meshaal was nothing more than a pack of deceptive, empty words.
To those who may still not believe that this is what Meshaal really meant, a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said that even if Israel gives Hamas everything it wants, the agreement would be "transitional" only, with Hamas still free to seek to incorporate all of Israel as part of its state when the time is right. Another Hamas spokesman, Abu Jandal, promised even more aggressive attacks against Israel from the Gaza strip than the rocket strikes that still continue to terrorize the Israeli south.
So don't believe me. Believe the leaders of Hamas, and take seriously what they say.
It is clear that Carter got no real concessions for peace from Hamas. What he did get was to make Hamas look legitimate.
Hamas is implacably opposed to Israel's existence on religious grounds and considers Israel's destruction a divine command. Their Charter says so, and they have repeated it many times. Religious people do not compromise on what they believe to be their sacred duty. Therefore both the United States and the European Union have sought to marginalize Hamas and to strengthen the less extremist Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has problems of his own, but he is not an intractable religious fanatic.
Carter is effectively undoing the efforts of the US and the EU, and is undercutting Abbas and the more moderate Palestinian leaders. Hamas knows this, and is using Carter to gain international recognition and support for its message of religious hate. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar stated that Carter's visit will elevate Hamas in the eyes of the world, and he proclaimed that "This meeting is a message to those who don't recognize Hamas' legitimacy as a movement," meaning not only Israel but Abbas, the US, and the other Western democracies.
By strengthening the most intransigent faction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Carter is doing tremendous damage to the cause of peace. But Jimmy Carter, ex-President, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, feels he knows better than all the people here and in Europe who have worked so hard to establish that terrorism and religious hatred must never be rewarded or justified.
But hey, we make peace with our enemies, don't we?
"Arafat Invokes 1974 Phased Plan Calling for Israel's Destruction." Egyptian Orbit TV, April 18, 1998.
Bronner, Ethan. "Carter Says Hamas and Syria Are Open to Peace." New York Times, April 22, 2008.
Michael, Maggie, Associated Press. "Carter Hugs More Thugs." New York Post, April 18, 2008.
Soltis, Andy. "Jimmy's Ha-Mess." New York Post, April 22, 2008.
Peace with Realism