When Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, George W. Bush was merely a student at a university. Today Carter is visiting our region despite [the protests of] President Bush, whose Department of State criticized Carter’s trip because during which he will meet with Hamas leaders, including Khalid Mishal. Is Carter’s meeting with Mishal in itself a problem? In fact, the Americans are going too far in blaming Carter and in boycotting the Hamas leader. In reality, Mishal has little to be blamed for because most of Hamas’s decisions are now made abroad, I mean outside the Palestinian arena, i.e. Iran.
Mishal has been too busy attending to his daughter’s wedding — an occasion on which we congratulate him and his family — to attend to the telephone calls that sought to warn him against involving Hamas in a military conflict with the Egyptians. He opted not to answer those calls in order to avoid committing himself to pledges that might not please the neighbors in Tehran.
Mishal knows the nature of the regional conflict more than the rest of Hamas leaders, as he lived in Kuwait for 23 years and left it only in the wake of Saddam’s invasion of that country. So what would Carter say that could add to Mishal ideas or change his mind? And if he changed his mind, what could he do, now that the Palestinian decision-making has been hijacked? This meeting is between two men: a brave Carter who is a retired president with no power, and a brave Mishal who is not the master of his decision.
We have known Carter as the best US leader who sought to be fairer in handling the Arab-Israeli conflict as much as the political circumstances permitted. I think that were it not for Carter, the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David talks might not have ended up with the agreement that gave the Egyptians all that they had asked for. Carter, who is described as a weak president, does not lead a political trend in his country nor does he belong to an important lobby. All his assets are his reputation as a peace-loving man who loves helping the poor.
Carter is still being blamed for his leniency with the Khomeynists in Iran during the early days of the revolution. Some believe that though Carter was right in abandoning the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, he did make a mistake in not supporting the military to allow them to take over power and block the way before the clerics. In 1977 and following the eruption of demonstrations in Tehran, Carter opted to take a neutral stand, leaving the Iranians to determine their future. Instead of appreciating Carter’s stand, the new Iranian revolutionaries insulted him twice: First by taking 52 employees of his embassy in Tehran hostages for 444 days and, second, by releasing them to celebrate his departure from the White House, only to discover that his successor, Ronald Reagan, was hell compared with Carter’s paradise.
As to why Carter is now coming to our region, the only explanation is that he wants the people to recall his moderate stand, whatever anger it provoked at the time. His latest book “Palestine, Peace not Apartheid,” has provoked the wrath of Israel’s supporters because he attacked Israel and described it as a colonialist power that subverted peace. Since his book was published two yeas ago, Carter has been the object of controversy, and his current tour of the region will only create a fresh controversy.