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ISRAEL: Sitting down with Carter

April 21, 2008 | 11:01 am

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Jimmy Carter knew what he was getting into when he launched his one-man Middle East diplomacy tour.  After emerging as the most prominent American critic of Israeli policy, the former president wasn't expecting to be received here with open arms.

But as the Nobel Peace Prize-winner returned to Jerusalem after meeting with Hamas leaders in Damascus, his aides said they were amazed that not a single Israeli government minister was willing to meet with him during the several days he was here last week.

"We expected a cold reception but not to be treated like this," said one Carter advisor.

Carter hailed the public acceptance by Hamas of a two-state solution on pre-1967 borders, provided the proposed peace deal was approved in a Palestinian referendum. The development, Carter said, proved  Israel and the U.S. were "making a very serious mistake" in refusing to meet with the militant group, which won parliamentary elections in 2006 and now controls the Gaza Strip.

Carter laughed when asked if he thought his actions would spark debate back home about the United States' foreign policy and its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"There’s no chance for debate there,” he said, because the public discourse is hopelessly tilted in favor of Israel.  “You can have the debate in Israel, but you can’t in America.”

“A debate in America is an absolutely hopeless dream,” Carter continued. “There is not a single candidate in America, for governor, for House of Representatives, for Senate or for president that would dare say anything that was not acceptable to Israel.”

—Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

Photo: Former President Jimmy Carter. Credit Ashraf Khalil / Los Angeles Times

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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