OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Former US president Jimmy Carter insisted on Monday April 21, that Hamas is not a bloc to peace in the Middle East and will accept a peace deal negotiated by President Mahmoud Abbas if approved by Palestinians in a referendum.
"They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians…even though Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement," Carter said in a televised speech.
"It means that Hamas will not undermine Abbas’s efforts to negotiate an agreement and Hamas will accept an agreement if the Palestinians support it in a free vote."
Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but maintains control of the territory’s borders and has shut down Gaza crossings since June of last year.
Carter, on a multi-leg Middle East tour to promote peace, said Hamas is ready to accept the right of Israel to "live as a neighbor next door in peace".
"There’s no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel’s right to live in peace within the 1967 borders."
Carter, the architect of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, stressed that peace efforts had "regressed" since the US-hosted peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert re-launched peace talks after the conference.
But talks have stalled over Israel’s refusal to put the fate of occupied East Jerusalem and refugees on the agenda.
"The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria," Carter insisted.
"The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved."
Carter said excluding Hamas "is just not working".
Israel and the US, which both consider Hamas a terrorist group, have criticized Carter’s efforts to broker negotiations.
Citing confidential documents, the US magazine Vanity Fair revealed that the Bush administration had drawn up plans to topple the ruling Hamas after its 2006 parliamentary victory with the help of Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan, prompting Hamas to take a preemptive action by taking over the Gaza Strip.
Carter noted that the majority of people in the region do not believe Israel really wants peace.
He recalled a meeting he and his wife had with a group of young Palestinians in Ramallah.
The former US president said they had absolutely no hope for peace and a better future.
Because of the occupation, the young Palestinians have lost everything and do not even have a nationality.
"My wife broke into tears," Carter recalled.
Carter said Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, taken prisoner by Hamas in a cross-border attack in 2006 to use as a bargaining chip to free Palestinian detainees, is in good condition.
He added that Hamas has promised to let him send a letter to his parents.
"The letter is now in its way and will be delivered through the Carter Center."
The former US president said Hamas has refused to release Schalit in return for tens of its ministers and MPs abducted by Israel.
He noted that Hamas has promised the families of Palestinian detainees that their loved one would be freed as part of a swap deal.
"I understand they want to keep their promise to their people."
But Carter added that Hamas has agreed to move Schalit to Egyptian custody as part of a prisoner release deal, should one be moderated through a third-party.
Egypt is currently brokering a prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel. There are more than 11,000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.
(IslamOnline.net & News Agencies)