Former President Jimmy Carter's plans to meet this week with a major Hamas leader run counter to the principle of not negotiating with terrorists, and they may well undermine Middle East peace efforts.
U.S. policy does not preclude contacts and talks with terrorists. But the bottom line has been that terrorists should not be rewarded for their criminal actions.
Mr. Carter, of course, is no longer in a position to officially negotiate for the U.S. government. Indeed, the State Department has advised him publicly against the planned meeting in Damascus with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. In an ABC television interview Sunday, the former president said he was "quite at ease" with his planned meeting despite the criticism. Mr. Carter said his goal was to "support fully the peace efforts in the Middle East."
But Hamas is a terrorist organization that conducts premeditated, politically motivated violence deliberately targeted against noncombatants. Furthermore, despite repeated public and behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade the group to change its stance, Hamas refuses to renounce terrorism, and its policy calls for Israel's destruction. Its media continue their incitement against Jews as "pigs" and "monkeys."
Hamas has engaged in an extensive military campaign of firing rockets and mortars from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel even though Israel has withdrawn from Gaza. It continues to smuggle long-range Iranian missiles through tunnels originating in Egypt. There is every reason to believe that Hamas would use a cease-fire to continue increasing its arsenal in an effort to provoke an even bloodier conflict.
For a high-profile person such as Mr. Carter to put the gloss on Hamas and publicly meet with its leader at this stage only encourages Hamas to believe that if it remains steadfast in its "resistance" and rejectionist rhetoric, the West will try to make deals or concessions without Hamas having to end terrorism and its opposition to Israel's existence.
Mr. Carter tried to justify his plans by saying that he has met with Hamas before. But relatively low-profile meetings before Hamas staged its coup against the Palestinian Authority and launched the recent large-scale rocket attacks against Israel are in a separate category. Mr. Carter notes that some Western pundits and even some Israelis believe that eventually they will have to talk to Hamas. But this is irrelevant to Mr. Carter's meeting. Cautious, private, low-key talks through intermediaries are not the same as a high-profile visit by a former Nobel Peace Prize winner that will provide a propaganda platform for the leader of the major Palestinian terrorist movement.
Mr. Carter's well-publicized meeting plans amount to rewarding terrorists in advance without any negotiations. They are reminiscent of the European Union's actions in pumping hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars into Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization "to help the poor Palestinians" without insisting on strict accountability to minimize the PLO and Fatah's notorious corruption.
The widespread corruption in Fatah, fed in part by the EU money, was a major reason that Hamas won the parliamentary elections in January 2005. Thus, well-meaning but foolishly indulgent attitudes helped lead to the situation that Gaza is in today.
Despite Mr. Carter's pious statements, his meeting with the Hamas commander in chief for death and destruction in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is more likely to prolong and exacerbate that conflict than to help end it.
Michael B. Kraft, a counterterrorism consultant, is a former senior adviser in the State Department's Counterterrorism Office and co-editor of "The Evolution of U.S. Counterterrorism Policy."