OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Israel’s secret service declined to assist U.S. agents guarding former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during a visit in which Israeli leaders shunned him over his plans to meet Hamas, U.S. sources said on Monday.
"They’re not getting support from local security," one of the sources said, on condition of anonymity.
American sources close to the matter said the Shin Bet, which helps protect visiting dignitaries and is overseen by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office, declined to meet the head of Carter’s Secret Service detail or provide his team with assistance as is customary during such visits.
The source described as "unprecedented" the lack of Shin Bet cooperation with the U.S. Secret Service.
An Israeli security source said the Shin Bet security service provided no protection to Carter during his visit to the Jewish state because no request was made.
Carter, who brokered Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab neighbor, Egypt, signed in 1979, met Israel’s largely ceremonial president, Shimon Peres, on Sunday. But Israel’s political leadership, including Olmert, steered clear of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The former U.S. leader has angered the Israeli government with plans to meet Hamas’s top leader, Khaled Meshaal, in Syria, and for describing Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories as "a system of apartheid" in a 2006 book.
Carter has defended talks with Hamas as an opportunity to gauge the group’s willingness to accept Arab peace overtures.
Syria and Hamas
On Monday, Carter said that Syria and Hamas must be involved in any future peace deal, but the White House said he was acting in a private capacity.
"I think it’s absolutely crucial that in a final dreamed-about and prayed-for peace agreement for this region that Hamas be involved and that Syria be involved," he said at a conference near Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.
"I’ll be meeting with all the factions of the Palestinians which is also controversial, I know," Carter said.
In Washington the White House said Carter did not represent the United States in his Mideast tour.
"The president believes that if President Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Carter stressed he was on a fact-finding tour for the Carter Centre, but said he hoped his trip would have a positive influence on the Middle East peace process.
"My hope is, although I’m not in a negotiation or mediation role, that we can induce the Palestinians, all of them, to have a ceasefire, and move toward justice and peace," he told an audience of a few hundred business people.
He said that while he did not know whether Hamas and Syria would be "amenable to any suggestion," he should at least be able to pass on their views to U.S. leaders.
And, he added, pointedly, "I hope that by then the leaders of the Israeli government will deign to meet me."
"It will be the opportunity for Hamas to clarify its position and break the policy of isolation imposed by the United States, and Israel, along with others, against Hamas," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
"That is why Israel is exercising pressure to try to prevent this meeting," he said.