The story of Jimmy Carter’s possible breakthrough with Hamas is predictably already disappearing from the media. It should have been good news that Hamas might be willing to consider recognizing the existence of an Israeli state and that Syria, desperate for peace, believes that 85% of outstanding differences with Tel Aviv have already been resolved, but the chattering class did not seem to be impressed. Carter had been engaged in his own shuttle diplomacy over the past ten days, talking to all interested parties, which ominously did not include the Israeli government and the US State Department, both of which have poured cold water on his mission. Speaking in Kuwait this morning, Condi Rice said flatly that “The United States is not going to deal with Hamas.” The New York Times seemed somewhat interested in the Carter talks, featuring its story as a front page item for its late editions yesterday. Today the story had faded to page 12 where Carter’s “upbeat assessment” was dismissed as having a “contrarian quality,” precisely because his trip had been opposed by both Washington and Tel Aviv. The Washington Post reported the story on page 10, extensively quoting criticism by Israeli government sources of the Carter initiative, noting that Hamas had “used” the former president.
But Carter has correctly understood that there has been no progress towards peace in the Middle East without engaging Hamas. Hamas might well be playing a duplicitous game or carefully nuancing verbal understandings that are intended to unravel, but it is still the majority party in the Palestinian territories, controlling both parliament and the post of prime minister. Its control over Gaza is complete. Israel and the United States refuse to talk to “terrorists” not because it is an effective policy but because it avoids challenging the status quo, which is all about rearranging the West Bank to suit Israeli settlers. When that process is over, Tel Aviv and Washington will presumably want “a two state solution” on Israel’s terms, but they will find that Hamas is still a political force that will have to be dealt with.