Noam Shalit: The fact that Carter isn't pro-Israel may be beneficial
Peres tells ex-U.S. leader he has hurt peace process; Carter shunned by other officials over planned meet with Hamas.
Noam Shalit, the father of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured by Hamas in June 2006, said Sunday after meeting with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter that the fact that Carter is not considered pro-Israel could be beneficial in securing his son's release.
"This could help him reach certain people and raise certain ideas that may be received with suspicion coming from someone more pro-Israel," Shalit said after the Jerusalem meeting, Army Radio reported.
Rumors had been circulating over recent weeks that Carter was planning to meet with Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal as he travels to Syria later in the week.
Shalit met with the former president in hopes that the latter may be able to help secure the captive soldier's freedom, perhaps at his meeting with Hamas leaders.
Shalit described the meeting as positive, and told Haaretz he asked Carter to help advance the deal to release his son. However, Shalit provided no further details on the matter and would not say whether he asked the former president to pass on a message to Meshal.
Carter, broker of the first Israeli-Arab peace treaty, arrived in Israel Sunday on a peace mission to the region only to receive a cool reception: Israeli leaders are shunning him for accusing Israel of apartheid and for planning to meet with the head of the violently anti-Israel Hamas group.
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 during this week's visit in Israel.
"Scheduling problems" was the official reason given, a senior Israeli official said - even though Olmert recently took time from his busy schedule to chat with Wentworth Miller of the U.S. TV drama, Prison Break. Olmert's office declined comment.
What is really behind the cold shoulder is Carter's plan to meet with Khaled Meshal, the Israeli official said. "Israeli leaders are not publicly criticizing Carter out of respect for his former position as U.S. president," he added.
In remarks to air Sunday on ABC News' "This Week" Carter said that his upcoming visit to the Middle East will probably include a meeting in Syria with leaders of the militant group Hamas.
"I've not confirmed our itinerary yet for the Syrian visit, but it's likely that I will be meeting with the Hamas leaders," Carter said, bolstering the rumors that he was planning to meet Meshal.
Ahead of his arrival in Israel, Carter said he feels quite at ease about meeting Hamas militants.
"I think there's no doubt in anyone's mind that if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process," Carter said.
Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction and has carried out dozens of suicide bombings that have killed more than 250 Israelis. Israel has no contacts with the Islamic militant group, whose violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June has undercut newly revived efforts by Israel and the Palestinians to strike a final peace deal.
Peres tells Carter he has damaged peace process
The most prominent Israeli to meet with Carter during his visit was President Shimon Peres, Israel's ceremonial head of state, and a Nobel peace laureate for his role in the historic 1993 accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
Sources at the President's residence reported that during their meeting, Peres sharply rebuked Carter over his last book, in which he called Israel an apartheid state.
Peres told Carter that despite the former president's many achievements in advancing peace during the Camp David era, his activity in recent years has caused grave damage to Israel and to the peace process.
The meeting between the two men was low-key and representatives from the media were not invited to document the event.
Carter also met with the parents of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, who were planning to give him a message to pass on to Hamas.
Carter was also scheduled to meet with several Israeli lawmakers, and was planning to visit Sderot, the southern Israeli town most frequently targeted by Gaza rocket squads.
Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work in mediating conflicts, while president and under the auspices of The Carter Center. In 1978, he brokered the landmark accord between Egypt and Israel, for which Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin were awarded that year's Nobel Peace Prize.
But the goodwill Carter earned here through that agreement was all but swept away two years ago with the publication of his controversial book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" which equates the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories with the racial segregation and oppression that once reigned in South Africa.
Jewish groups and some fellow Democrats strongly objected to the book and more than a dozen members of the Carter Center's advisory board resigned in protest.
In a later afterword to his book, Carter criticized the lack of balanced debate in the United States about the Middle East and warned officials against being seen as knee-jerk supporters of every action or policy of the Israeli government.
"For the past two to three years, Carter has embarked upon a crusade of hate against Israel," Uzi Arad, an adviser to parliamentary opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel Radio.
"There is no doubt that Jimmy Carter as a former president should be greeted as a matter of protocol, but it does not mean that the prime minister, the foreign minister and certainly the opposition leader have to meet him," Arad said.
In addition to Israel, Carter is scheduled to visit the West Bank, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Carter will not be visiting Hamas-ruled Gaza.
A Carter-Meshal meeting would be the first public contact between a prominent American figure and Hamas officials since The Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Mashaal in Syria in 2006.
The U.S. lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, and on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Carter for his reported plans to meet with Meshal.
"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.
The State Department says it twice advised Carter against meeting any Hamas representative.