JERUSALEM – Former President Jimmy Carter is a “noble person” whose planned meeting with Hamas would help the terror organization “engage with the world community,” Ahmed Yousuf, Hamas’ top political adviser in the Gaza Strip, told WND today in an exclusive interview.
“Carter can achieve something no one else can. He is open-minded and has a very noble cause to come and meet with all people,” said Yousuf, the chief political adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, the deposed prime minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
Yousuf, who is usually the Hamas figure responsible for coordinating meetings with foreign officials, said Carter “should get credit because he is the one who really understands the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict and knows what is needed to achieve peace.”
He indicated Carter’s visit could help end Hamas’ international isolation.
“If he comes and meets Hamas, this will also enhance the image and understanding between America and the Muslim world,” said Yousuf, speaking by phone from Gaza. “Carter’s visit is a good step and a positive step in the right direction. It would engage with the world community. To what degree he succeeds depends on the people in Europe and the U.S.”
Yousuf blasted the Bush administration for “trying to block every attempt to lift sanctions against Hamas.”
He accused “Zionists” and U.S. Jewish groups of “trying to sabotage [Carter's Middle East] trip … . Some reports said American Jewish groups tried to stigmatize him with being connected to terrorism or working against Jewish ambitions at home.”
Asked if he believes Democrats would engage Hamas if the party takes the White House next year, Yousuf replied, “I do believe Democrats will make a drastic change in American foreign policy. I hope they are able to fix the damage done by [President] Bush and the Republicans and engage again in a very positive way with the Arab and Muslim world, where most of their vital interests lie.”
Yousuf slammed Bush for “engaging in a terrible crusade against the Muslim world.”
According to reports, Carter is planning to meet in Syria with Hamas chieftain Khaled Meshaal, who resides in Damascus.
The U.S. and Israel have been trying to isolate Hamas, which is classified by the State Department as a terror group. It is responsible for scores of deadly suicide bombings, and thousands of shooting attacks and rocket firings against Israeli civilian population centers.
The State Department says it twice advised Carter against meeting any Hamas representative.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Carter for his planning meeting with Hamas.
“I find it hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is, in fact, the impediment to peace,” Rice said.
Carter arrived in Israel today in a stop on a wider regional tour, but he was mostly shunned by Israeli leaders. A schedule released by the U.S.-based Carter Center showed no plans for the former president to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Carter did meet Israeli President Shimon Peres in a low key talk that was closed to members of the media.
Israel’s Haaretz daily newspaper quoted sources in Peres’ office stating the Israeli president rebuked Carter over his last book, titled, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” in which he claimed Israel was an apartheid state, and told Carter his activities in the Israeli-Palestinian arena in recent years caused grave damage to Israel and to the peace process.
The former president is defending his plan to meet with Hamas.
“I think someone should be meeting with Hamas to see what we can do to encourage them to be cooperative and to find out what their attitude is,” Carter said on the ABC News program “This Week.”
“If Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, Hamas will have to be included in the process,” he said.
Carter told ABC his aim during his Middle East trip is “to promote peace in the region.”