- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

TEL AVIV — Former President Jimmy Carter, en route to a meeting with the leader of Hamas in Syria, won praise from the Israeli family of Hamas hostage Gilad Shalit amid continuing rebukes from Israeli and U.S. officials.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other members of the Israeli Cabinet have refused to meet with Mr. Carter, a Nobel Peace laureate.

Israeli President Shimon Peres received Mr. Carter in Jerusalem yesterday as did the family of Cpl. Shalit, a soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas gunmen in 2006.

“Maybe, because the former president isn’t considered pro-Israeli according to the American tradition, [that] could help him meet with certain people,” Noam Shalit told the Israeli news Web site Ynetnews.com.

Mr. Shalit, Cpl. Shalit’s father, also said Mr. Carter is in a position to “raise ideas that would be viewed with suspicion if they were raised by other people.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Mr. Carter heard pointed criticism of his Middle East activism from the normally diplomatic Mr. Peres.

“We thank you for your contribution to Israel’s peace with Egypt, but you’ve caused many problems in recent years with your comments and meetings,” Mr. Peres said.

Mr. Carter’s freelance shuttle mission has won him a rebuke from the Bush administration, including National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley yesterday.

“The position of the government is that Hamas is a terrorist organization and we don’t negotiate with terrorists. We think that’s a very important principle to maintain,” Mr. Hadley told ABC News. “The State Department made clear we think it’s not useful for people to be running to Hamas at this point and having meetings.”

Mr. Carter demurred, saying, “I feel quite at ease in doing this.”

“I think there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that, if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process,” the former president said.

Mr. Carter’s recently published book likening Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory to South African apartheid has eroded his standing among Israelis.

“I happen to be in favor of an informal quiet attempt to dialogue with Hamas,” said Yossi Alpher, a co-editor of Bitterlemons.org, an online opinion forum on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

“The moment someone like Carter very openly sets about meeting with Hamas, the first damage done is to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

In Syria, Mr. Carter is to meet exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, an event that has drawn the most criticism from U.S. and Israeli officials.

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