Jimmy Carter calls for recognizing Hamas 'legitimacy'


Article Highlights

  • Carter: Hamas Deserves “Legitimacy As A Political Actor”

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  • Pres. Carter does not understand Hamas if he believes it can be incentivized to lay down its weapons.

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  • Granting Hamas legitimacy before it renounced terrorism & recognized Israel would be a grave mistake.

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Once upon a time, the architect of the 1979 Camp David accords had some credibility as an observer of the Middle East. Yet the depth of his anti-Israel prejudice was already on display eight-years ago when he insisted that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank “perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa.” His book on that subject was naturally called Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.

If he weren’t a former president of the United States, Mr. Carter could safely be ignored. Yet his authority as a former commander-in-chief validates the anti-Israel sentiment that is widespread in Europe, at the United Nations, and within significant parts of the American left.

Carter: Hamas Deserves “Legitimacy As A Political Actor”

This morning, Carter demanded recognition of Hamas’ “legitimacy as a political actor”. He did so on the grounds that Hamas “represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people”. He did not suggest that Hamas should lay down its weapons or indicate any interest in peace before being granted such recognition. Rather, recognition would “begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons.”

Carter does not understand Hamas if he believes it can be incentivized to lay down its weapons. The purpose of Hamas is armed struggle against the State of Israel. Lest there be any confusion, Hamas is not simply anti-Israel, but deeply anti-Semitic, as its charter illustrates.

Would Hamas Negotiate Seriously If Israel Went All-In?

A friend and colleague suggested that Carter is simply applying a proven approach that led to the successful moderation of the PLO. After all, it too was an anti-Semitic terrorist organization. (Now it is the corrupt proprietor of an autocratic Palestinian Authority which cooperates in suppressing Hamas.)

In 1993, secret negotiations between Israel and the PLO led to the Oslo Accords, which continue to serve as the foundation of the ever-crumbling peace process. Could something similar work with Hamas? I find it implausible, yet the analogy should be explored.

One of the key outcomes of the Oslo negotiations were the letters of mutual recognition in which the PLO renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist. In return, Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and enabled it to assume control of the new Palestinian Authority.

Granting Hamas legitimacy before it renounced terrorism and recognized Israel would be a grave mistake. If the PLO analogy holds, it is only the prospect of recognition that will elicit such a transformation. Of course, less than a decade after Oslo, Yasser Arafat initiated another campaign of terrorism after undermining final status negotiations with Ehud Barak. Only after Israel put down the Second Intifada did the PLO take on a more moderate coloration.

President Carter Thinks Hamas Has Already Changed

For some, firing thousands of rockets at Israel and operating a network of hidden tunnels constitutes proof that Hamas remains fully committed to its revolutionary agenda. Jimmy Carter thinks otherwise. For him, the recent establishment of a Fatah-Hamas unity government indicates that Hamas is a viable partner. As he points out, the unity government has technically endorsed the Quartet principles which include a renunciation of terror and recognition of Israel.

Yet the supposed unity government exists mainly on paper. One might argue that if this war had not erupted, there would have been time for it to evolve into an actual thing. Regardless, Carter wants the West and Israel to make real concessions.  He says the UN Security Council “should vote for a resolution recognizing the inhumane conditions in Gaza and mandate an end to the siege.” He wants Israel to begin lifting sanctions and to allow someone (presumably the Qataris) to cover the salary of civil servants “on the Hamas payroll.” (His words, not mine.)

Carrots For Israel

Pausing to recognize that Israel may not be entirely comfortable with this proposal, Carter offers the Israelis two things. First, the Palestinian Authority (i.e. Fatah) would resume control of Gaza. Second, international monitors would prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Both are implausible.

Carter himself writes, “Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise.” Since its existence depends heavily on control of Gaza, why would it surrender that to Fatah? Carter addresses this point indirectly by arguing that relations between Hamas and Fatah are closer than ever before, but that isn’t saying much.

As for international monitors, southern Lebanon has had plenty of them since Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006, yet Hezbollah has only grown its arsenal and strengthened its control of the population.

In the final analysis, Carter's call to recognize Hamas’ legitimacy rests firmly on his remarkable faith in Hamas’ good intentions.

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About the Author


  • David Adesnik is a visiting fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he works on isolationism, national security strategy, and democracy promotion. He is part of AEI’s American Internationalism Project.

    Before joining AEI, Adesnik was a research analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses. He has served as deputy director of Joint Data Support at the US Department of Defense, where he focused on the modeling and simulation of irregular warfare and counterinsurgency. Earlier, he spent several months in Baghdad as an operations research and systems analyst for the Coalition Provisional Authority’s counter–improvised explosive device (IED) unit, Task Force Troy during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In 2008, he was part of John McCain’s presidential campaign national security staff. From 2002 to 2009, Adesnik was the coeditor of OxBlog, a blog started with a fellow Oxford University classmate.

    A Rhodes scholar, Adesnik has a doctorate and master’s degree in international relations from Oxford University, where he wrote about the democracy promotion efforts of the Reagan administration. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University.

    Follow David Adesnik on Twitter @Adesnik.

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