Two surprises greeted the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas last week. First it triumphed over corruption-mired Fatah in the Palestinian elections. Next it unexpectedly secured the endorsement of a former American president.
The president in question is, of course, Jimmy Carter. Not a few outrages have issued from the 39th president since he appointed himself, on no compelling grounds, the world’s premiere ethicist. Now, however, Carter may have outdone even himself.
A lone point of consensus following Hamas’ victory in last week’s elections, which Carter monitored with a group of observers, was that the international community would suspend funding to the new Palestinian government until it forswore violence and recognized the existence of Israel. Against this approach, Carter took it upon himself to make the case for Hamas. This was no easy task. American law expressly prohibits the provision of aid to a terrorist organization and European countries have, reluctantly but firmly, adopted a de facto ban.
Not to worry, though, for Carter had a plan. In an interview this weekend with the New York Times, Carter explained that that the U.S. and Europe should, as the Times put it, “redirect their relief aid to United Nations organizations and nongovernmental organizations to skirt legal restrictions.” Thus did the erstwhile leader of the free world advocate criminal action on behalf of a terrorist group.
Fairness dictates noting that Carter attempted to justify that position. “It may well be that Hamas can change,” he explained. As evidence, he adduced the supposed moderation — under his influence — of Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. In Carter’s version of the history, Arafat and the PLO, inspired by his rousing vision for peace, agreed to renounce terrorism and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Of the many myths in Carter’s self-serving syllabus of accomplishments, this has always been among the more invincible.
The actual history is worth retelling. Not long after he assumed office, Carter asked his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to determine whether Arafat was genuinely ready for compromise. Brzezinski sensibly concluded in the negative. Carter, convinced as ever that peace was at hand, ignored him. More than that, he actively tuned out Arafat’s incitement in Arabic — such as his repeated pledges to destroy Israel and his intentionally inflammatory claim that “U.S. policy was an imperialist plot to liquidate the Palestinian cause” — while clinging, against all evidence, to his faith in what he called “Arafat’s moderate line.”
The results were predictable. Arafat’s repeated provocations thwarted all progress toward peace negotiations and his anti-American declamations put U.S. diplomats on notice. As Barry and Judith Rubin point out in their illuminating biography of Arafat, a striking rift emerged in American policy toward the PLO. In 1979, even as Carter continued to sing hosannas to Arafat’s pragmatism, the State Department was warning American embassies to guard against the possibility of PLO attacks.
Once out of office, Carter stubbornly resisted enlightenment about Arafat’s true intentions. Through his Carter Center, funded in part by Palestinian money, he maintained contact with PLO operatives and publicized their agenda. When Arafat claimed that he was unable to excise a reference to Israel’s destruction from the PLO charter because of pressure from unspecified hardliners, Carter accepted it unquestioningly. Similarly, when the PLO leader insisted that he was powerless to advance the peace process, Carter credulously announced that “Chairman Arafat has done everything he can.”
Arguably the saddest part of Carter’s overture to Hamas is how typical it is for his career. One wants to be charitable — to attribute his misplaced sympathies to some unstable mix of utopian idealism and political naivete. But apologies for the president increasingly ring false. After considering his years of befriending the worst the world has to offer — from Yugoslavia’s Tito to Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu, from North Korea’s Kim Il Sung to Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, from Fidel Castro to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, from Arafat to Bashar Assad — one is forced to conclude that Carter’s values are, to borrow a metaphor, not merely endangered; they are effectively extinct.
In The Real Jimmy Carter, his superbly scathing catalogue of the ex-president’s accumulated folly, Steven Hayward notes that in Carter’s hometown of Plains, Georgia, it was said of the prominent native son that after an hour you love him, after a week you hate him, and after ten years you start to understand him. More than a quarter century has passed since Carter was unceremoniously evicted from office. Some of us just want to forget him.