Kadima MK: Olmert's rebuff of Carter wasn't personal

The government has a policy of not meeting with visitors who planned to talk with Hamas representatives while in the region.

carter ramallah 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
carter ramallah 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not mean to insult former US president Jimmy Carter by refusing to meet with him during his visit here, Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner told Carter when the two men met on Wednesday in Jerusalem. "It was not personal," Plesner told him. He told The Jerusalem Postthat in passing this view along he was not representing Olmert but rather explaining the prime minister's position. Such a meeting would have legitimized views Carter had espoused during his trip that are dangerous to Israel's security, such as calling for dialogue with Hamas, Plesner said. The government, he added, had a policy of not meeting with diplomatic visitors who planned to talk with Hamas representatives while in the region. Also on Wednesday, a delegation of Hamas leaders from Gaza entered Egypt under heavy security for a meeting with Carter. Hamas said that two of its leaders in the Strip, Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas government's foreign minister, and Said Siam, former interior minister, were going to meet with Carter in Cairo either Wednesday or Thursday. The delegation also includes Zahar's son Muhammad, Siam's aide Jamil Rizq and Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu. A Carter spokesman refused to comment on the report, but such a meeting would be in keeping with Carter's schedule so far: On Tuesday he met a Hamas leader in the West Bank, and on Friday he is scheduled to meet with Hamas head Khalad Mashaal in Syria. Carter also plans to visit Saudi Arabia and Jordan before returning to Israel on Monday. "I do not think that it is possible to have peace without Syria and Hamas," Carter said on Wednesday during a public address in Jerusalem. He said this was true whether Hamas represented 10 percent or 42% of the Palestinian population. Although Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have not spoken out against Carter's views, they had all declined to meet with him, citing scheduling concerns. But Plesner said he wanted to offer the ex-president an additional explanation. Carter's vision of Hamas's role in a negotiating process gave the group legitimacy and his call for a cease-fire would allow it strengthen itself militarily, the MK said. Carter has been harshly attacked for his views while in Israel this week. Addressing the issue from Poland, President Shimon Peres, who did meet with Carter before his departure, said that even though the Mashaal meeting was a mistake, top-level Israeli officials should have talked with Carter out of respect for his past work for Israel, including his efforts to broker the 1979 peace deal with Egypt. Not everyone was upset with Carter. He found support from Shas party leader Eli Yishai, who said he himself wanted to meet both with Hamas to discuss the issue of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, who has been held by the group since June 2006, and with members of Hizbullah, which kidnapped IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in July of that same year. Carter is expected to work toward securing the release of the three men during the next few days. "I'm asking you to pass this message on to them [Hamas and Hizbullah] during your trip," Yishai told Carter. Yishai also asked Carter to work to help release Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the US for spying and passing classified information to Israel. But Israel Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman, who also met with Carter, attacked him for the planned Mashaal meeting. "Meeting a terrorist like Khaled Mashaal only encourages and increases terrorism," Lieberman told Carter, according to a Lieberman spokesman. The former strategic affairs minister did not hesitate to tell Carter that he had erred in advocating a land-for-peace policy. Lieberman said that a territorial swap was a better approach and provided Carter with information on his plan that calls for Israel to retain areas in the West Bank heavily populated by Jews in exchange for giving the Palestinian Authority Arab land within the Green Line. A Lieberman spokeswoman said that Carter appeared interested in the plan. But during a public meeting earlier in the day with the Israeli Palestinian Peace NGO Forum, Carter said the 2003 Geneva Initiative offered the best solution for peace. AP contributed to this report.