When approaching a conflict, any world statesperson would consider trying to break up the logjam. A Christian leader who has always stood for justice and human rights and who takes the issue of the sancity of life seriously has no choice but to try and see what he or she can do to stop the bloodshed. In a protracted conflict, adding new ideas from a high-profile figure can help shake up the status quo. While it is unlikely for an ex-president to be able to extract major concessions, what President Carter has done in his meetings with Hamas is to show the world that the issues are much more gray than Israeli and U.S. government spin portray them to be. The visit and seven-hour talks that Carter conducted with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal put to rest the attempts to paint them as merely an al Qaeda-like terrorist organistion that one should never consider talking to. In spite of its indiscriminate violence against civilians, this movement was elected in free and fair elections two years ago that Carter and other international monitors observed.
Carter's visit also showed that while Hamas, like most Palestinians, are bitter about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, they are pragmatic enough to accept a two-state solution negotiated by the moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, so long as the Palestinian public gets a chance to approve it in a popular referendum. It is important that the sitting president take this into consideration when deciding U.S. policy. Keeping 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza under permanent siege is illegal and immoral. Israel, and indirectly the U.S.'s, refusal to accept the offer by Hamas of a ceasefire is illogical.
While Carter has certainly not won over enough concessions from the Palestinian movement, he has shown that they are open for talks. Naturally they would be more willing to make concessions in return for recognition by the U.S. and other world powers.
President Carter should be applauded for his efforts. With the words of our Lord Jesus, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, professor at Princeton University, and founder of the Arab world's first Internet radio station, Ammannet. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.