Soon after Jimmy Carter announced that the militant group Hamas was prepared to accept Israel's "right to live as a neighbor in peace" beside a Palestinian state, Hamas' political leader begged to differ. Hamas would not recognize Israel's right to exist, Khaled Mashaal said from Damascus; it would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. That clarification was a revealing addendum to Mr. Carter's trip to the Middle East, which ended Monday. This is not something that got lost in translation. Affirming Israel's right to exist is not in Hamas' playbook, even with the establishment of a Palestinian state. And that, along with renouncing violence, is a necessary prerequisite of a sustainable peace deal.
Mr. Carter's meetings with Hamas leaders were an attempt to broker an engagement with Hamas that could facilitate peace negotiations. Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since it forced supporters of moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from Gaza a year ago, has been the spoiler in efforts by the Bush administration to restart peace talks. Hamas continues to condone and instigate rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, which have hardened the United States and its allies against lifting a boycott of the Hamas-controlled area. The Islamist group is on the U.S. terrorism list - and for good reason: It established and perfected the use of suicide bombers against Israel.
And yet no credible peace deal can be reached without taking into account the 1 million Palestinians in Gaza, which Hamas controls. Mr. Carter - or another respected middleman - could be a way to reach Hamas, if the militant group were legitimately interested in partnering with Mr. Abbas to revive talks with Israel. But Hamas, which supports the destruction of Jewish state, has given no indication that it is ready for the concessions and compromise expected of all parties in a peace deal. It has its own conditions, including a Palestinian diaspora-wide vote on any peace deal with Israel.
A back-door approach may be the only way to engage Hamas, but its leaders must first renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist. Palestinians deserve a state of their own, and they shouldn't have to wait decades to achieve it because Hamas can't see its way to a peaceful resolution of this conflict.