NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The United States and European Union should recognize the terrorist organization Hamas as a legitimate component of the Palestinian government, former President Jimmy Carter said at a human rights conference in Dublin, Ireland, June 19.
Hamas, he said, had won free and fair elections in 2006, making the United States’ refusal to aid the Palestinian faction and recognize its right to govern a “criminal” act.
Carter said he believes both Western governments and Israel are favoring the rival Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which now only governs the West Bank. Fatah also governed the Gaza Strip until Hamas fighters violently overthrew the party there earlier in June. Hamas, which executed members of the rival party in the street after its victory, had prevailed over the Fatah-controlled security forces in Gaza because of its fighters’ “superior skill and discipline,” Carter said.
The split in power in the Palestinian Authority prompted Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian government, an emergency power provided for in the government’s constitution.
In remarks at Mansfield College in Oxford, England, Carter said Israel will never find peace with the Palestinians as long as the country is occupying its “neighbor’s land,” or the territories captured in successive wars with surrounding Arab countries. It was in those territories –- particularly in Gaza -– that Hamas organized in 1973. Since 1993 when the first Hamas suicide bombing took place in Israel, more than 350 Hamas attacks have claimed 500 lives, according to statistics from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Carter said the United States and Israel have decided “to punish all Palestinians for making this political choice, to cut off humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered and imprisoned people, and withhold about $60 million per month of revenues belonging to the Palestinians. Almost all the European nations acquiesced with this persecution and abuse.”
Baptist Press made repeated attempts to contact Carter for this story. Deanna Congelio, spokeswoman for the former president, said Carter was unavailable for further comment.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Carter’s criticism of U.S. policy toward Hamas is illogical since the United States had taken steps in the war on terror to defund terrorist groups.
“If the United States has laws against aiding terrorists, then I think the ‘criminal’ act would be sending Hamas money and recognizing it as a legitimate political organization,” Land said.
“This kind of nonsensical comment,” Land added, “makes me grateful once again that Carter was only a one-term president. And he was the least effective president of the 20th century.”
Hamas’ charter dedicates the organization to the destruction of Israel; the organization has refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel as the Fatah party has. As a result, the Bush administration and the European Union imposed economic sanctions on Palestine after the elections which swept Hamas into power in 2006. The U.S. government also seized the assets of the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in America, which the government accused of funneling money to Hamas and other terrorist groups.
Virtually all of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget or $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion is supplied by the U.S. and the European Union, but the Palestinian Authority also receives as much as $20 million annually from Iran. The government is now bankrupt and deeply in debt, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative public policy advocacy group founded during the Reagan administration, said it is unfortunate that Carter “wants to say good things about Hamas at the same time journalists and other observers in the Middle East are increasingly frustrated with the group. Arab television channels showed Hamas killing Palestinians in the street. Patients were killed in their hospital beds and peace demonstrators were killed.
“So they won an election. I realize that the first person to mention Adolf Hitler in an argument usually loses the argument,” Tonkowich continued, “but I’d remind the former president that Hitler came to power with popular support, just like Hamas. Knowing what we know, I don’t think we would support him,” Tonkowich said, adding that the Palestinians are dealing with the consequences of choosing a terrorist organization at the polls.
Both Land and Tonkowich said Carter had broken presidential etiquette by speaking out against the actions of the Bush administration, especially with his claim of criminality. Carter also claimed that the United States is attempting to divide the Palestinians into two people, with one faction controlled by Hamas in Gaza and the other controlled by Fatah in the West Bank.
“I question the wisdom of that,” Tonkowich said. “He’s speaking for one person, but he seems to be speaking for more. He’s one of the few figures on the religious left that the media is paying attention to.”
Land and Tonkowich also said that the problem of conflict in Israel and Palestine should be approached with an even hand, with neither side receiving a “blank check.” But for Carter’s part, Land said he doesn’t feel the former president can be impartial in the peace process.
“Some have been given to wonder why the former president has such a tilt toward the Arabs in this discussion,” Land said. At least one publication, Investors Business Daily, has suggested that Carter cannot be impartial because of the large financial contributions Arab leaders have made to the Carter Center.
Carter’s most recent book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid,” stirred controversy when he claimed that terrorist groups should cease their programs of violence only after Israel rejoins the peace process. On page 213 of the book, he wrote, “It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombing and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.”
Carter later said that some sections of the book were poorly worded, but that in principle his argument against Israel remained the same -– Israel is the oppressor nation and the Palestinians the oppressed people within their own land. Several members of the Carter Center’s executive board, many of them Jewish, resigned soon after the book’s publication, claiming that the former president had lost credibility as a private peace negotiator.
Carter said in Oxford June 21 that he had spent a great deal of his life “trying to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors, based on justice and righteousness for the Palestinians.”