What happened
Former president Jimmy Carter said Monday that the militant group Hamas had agreed to respect a peace treaty with Israel creating a Palestinian state as long as the Palestinian people ratify it. After several days of talks, held in Damascus, Syria, Carter said that Syrian leaders were eager for a peace deal “as soon as possible.” (The New York Times, free registration) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refuted Carter’s statement that no one in the Bush administration had told him not to meet with Hamas, which the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization. “The United States is not going to deal with Hamas, and we certainly told President Carter that meeting with Hamas was not going to help.” (The Washington Post, free registration)

What the commentators said
As Ronald Reagan once said of Carter, said Herb Keinon in The Jerusalem Post, “There he goes again.” The former president outdid himself by coming out of his ill-advised meeting with Hamas leaders and pinning the blame for the lack of progress toward peace on Israel. Carter’s stamp of approval marked a “symbolic victory” for Hamas, which is pushing for worldwide acceptance based on its victory in Palestinian elections two years ago. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza showed the group’s true colors when he said shortly after Carter’s statement that Hamas' readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum doesn’t mean it will accept the result.

It’s legitimate to ask what value there is to talking with Hamas “when the messenger himself does not speak on anyone's behalf,” said Joshua Mitnick in The Christian Science Monitor. And it’s clear that Carter’s lonely mission was not an unqualified success—he failed to get Hamas to agree to a unilateral ceasefire, and failed to win the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. But Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal expressed flexibility on the Shalit case and on the idea of peace with Israel, which Hamas has always rejected. Even such baby steps are “meaningful.”

Nothing meaningful can come out of a meeting with a “terrorist mastermind” such as Meshaal, said Mortimer Zuckerman in USNews.com. This man is “responsible for dozens of deadly suicide bombings and thousands of mortar and rocket attacks that have killed more than 250 Israelis, not to speak of the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas last June, which undercut newly revived efforts by Israel and the Palestinians to strike a final peace deal. And, oh, yes, several of Mashaal's victims have been Americans.” All Carter accomplished by “acting out his stubborn and self-righteous moralism” and holding these talks was to legitimize a bunch of murderers.

Please, said Linda Heard in Arab News, “Carter is a true patriot and a brave man.” What is his crime—believing that “peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without the participation of Hamas”? “The ironic thing,” said Kevin Peraino in Newsweek.com, “is that some recent polls have shown that a majority of Israelis—including large segments of the hawkish Likud party—favor direct negotiations with Hamas.”