Former president Jimmy Carter called on the West to recognize the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas as a legitimate “political actor” that represents the bulk of the Palestinian population.
Carter made the comments in an article he co-wrote with former Irish president Mary Robinson in a new issue of Foreign Policy magazine. It was published as a cease-fire took hold Tuesday after four weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which governs Gaza.
In a sharply worded rebuke to Israel, Carter and Robinson said, “There is no humane or legal justification for the way the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting this war.”
Israel launched an air and ground offensive into Gaza in response to Hamas militants firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. The Palestinian Health Ministry said nearly 1,900 Palestinians, most civilians, have died in the fighting. Israel said 64 of its soldiers and three civilians were killed.
Hamas, the United Nations and the United States have condemned Israel for strikes on schools used as shelters that have caused many civilian casualties. The United Nations, the United States and Israel have accused Hamas of hiding weapons in schools and other civilian locations.
Carter has emerged in recent years as an outspoken critic of Israel, taking provocative stands on the long-running Mideast conflict.
Carter achieved a major diplomatic achievement with the Camp David Accords in 1978, which produced peace between Israel and Egypt. Since then, he “has kind of wandered off the highway,” said Aaron David Miller, a vice president of the Wilson Center and a former Middle East negotiator for Democratic and Republican presidents.
Following Carter’s advice to recognize Hamas would alienate Israel, undermine Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a more moderate figure who governs the West Bank, and anger the Egyptians, who helped negotiate a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, Miller said.
The article accuses Israel of rejecting an opportunity for peace in the region by not allowing the formation of a joint Palestinian government in Gaza. This year, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to form a unity government.
“Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise,” Carter and Robinson wrote.
“Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor — one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people — can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons,” they said.
Carter and Robinson said the Israelis should at least partially lift the blockade of Gaza and allow government workers there to be paid.
They criticize both sides for causing civilian casualties.