CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed former President Jimmy Carter on “The Situation Room” Monday to discuss Mr. Carter’s views on Israel and Hamas. From suggesting that Israel has stolen money from the Palestinians, to implying that Hamas is no longer a terrorist organization, and recommending that America get around laws preventing the funding of terrorist states by – get this – giving dollars to the United Nations so that it can funnel American money to the Palestinians, Mr. Carter was in rare form. What follows is a LexisNexis transcript of the first half of this interview, and a video link courtesy of Expose the Left.
*****UPDATE***** With thanks to a reader that sent me an e-mail regarding this subject, it appears that Mr. Carter is wrong about a key statement made to CNN:
“Since August of 2004, Hamas has participated in a cease fire, which I think in Arab is called a hadna (ph). And they have not violated this cease fire all. There have been no terrorist activities attributed to Hamas for the last year and a half, 18 months.”
According to a February 6, 2006 Jerusalem Post article, this is quite inaccurate: “Members of a Hebron Hamas cell responsible for murdering of six Israelis and wounding eight in shooting attacks in 2005, were arrested last month by security forces, the Shin Bet revealed Monday.” The article listed their activities:
“In April 2005, Shakib attempted to shoot at an IDF post in Hebron, but failed to hit the soldiers. Shortly later, Jaber left the cell and Awiwi's cousin took his place.
“On June 24, 2005, the three shot at civilians who were waiting at a hitchhiking stand near Beit Hagai, killing teenagers Avihai Levy and Aviad Mansouri and wounding three other Israelis. Four days later, they opened fire at an IDF jeep traveling on Road 35 north of Hebron, but failed to hit the soldiers. Cell members also planned to shoot soldiers spotted frequenting a billiard club in the Hebron area, but decided against the attack due to lack of sufficient weapons.
“Louie Awiwi then left the cell and was replaced by Mohammed Jilani. On July 22, the cell members opened fire at soldiers manning an IDF post in Hebron, wounding two soldiers and killing a Palestinian civilian.
“On October 16, 2005, the cell members again targeted Israeli civilian hitchhikers in Gush Etzion, killing Oz Ben-Meir, Matat Adler-Rosenfeld and Kinneret Mandel, and wounding three others.
“On December 16, they opened fire at an Israeli car traveling on Road 60 near Beit Hagai, killing Yossi Shok. After the attack, Awiwi telephoned Al Jazeera and the Al Arabia newspaper and claimed responsibility on behalf of Hamas.”
So, according to the Jerusalem Post, the most recent attacks attributed to Hamas were December 16, 2005, or roughly two months ago...NOT the eighteen months asserted by Carter.
BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter is warning that the United States and Israel should not punish the Palestinian people for electing Hamas. The former president makes the appeal in an important article he wrote today in "The Washington Post."
Former President Jimmy Carter is joining us now from Plains, Georgia, with this exclusive interview.
Mr. President, thanks for joining us, especially on this President's Day.
JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Wolf, very much.
BLITZER: The article that you wrote suggests that the United States has to find a way to make sure that money continues to go to the Palestinians. But how do you do that if the government of the Palestinians is controlled by a group that the U.S. government, the State Department, identifies as a terrorist organization?
CARTER: Well, there are several ways to do it. One -- the first thing I'd like to say is that the money that the Israelis are withholding is actually Palestinian money. It doesn't belong to the Israelis, it belongs to the Palestinians.
And this money was destined to be used by the government, whoever is in control of it, for teacher's salaries, for health care, for welfare workers and so forth, and also to pay policemen. And to withhold the Palestinian's money, I think, is going to be a very damaging thing as far as the entire population of Palestine is concerned. They're going to resent it very...
BLITZER: These aren't taxes...
CARTER: ... deeply.
BLITZER: Excuse me for interrupting. Just to explain to our viewers, these are taxes that the Israelis have collected on the Palestinians, which since the Oslo Accords, have gone back to the Palestinian Authority.
CARTER: Well, the Israelis have withheld it briefly on occasion just to just punish the Palestinians for something they didn't like. But these are customs, funds and tax moneys that are collected by the Israelis, but they legally belong to the Palestinians. And to withhold it is just withholding Palestinian money. And as I said, this money would be used of necessity to pay the people who are employed by the government, no matter who is there.
President Abbas explained this to me very thoroughly two days after the election, when he realized that Hamas would be taking over some reins of the government.
Secondly, you know, the United States could very well make it clear, along with Israel and others, that although we are not going to channel U.S. money through the Hamas government, we will channel I would hope the same amount of money for humanitarian purposes through the United Nations agencies. Over half the people that live in Gaza, for instance, are refugees. So the refugee fund, UNICEF, education funds and others can be given to the Palestinian people.
My concern is that in order to try, on behalf of the United States and Israel, to punish Hamas, we'll actually going to be punishing the Palestinian people who are already living in deprivation. And it's going to turn the Palestinian people even more against the West and against Israel, against us and make Hamas seem to be, you know, their only friend. So this will strengthen Hamas and weaken the Palestinian people. I think it's a counterproductive ploy to try to punish Hamas.
BLITZER: Here is the U.S. law of the land, which we looked up, in terms of direct and even indirect funding of a group the U.S. regards as a terrorist organization.
The law currently states this, and I'll read it to you, Mr. President: "It is unlawful for a person in the United States or a subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide 'material support or resources' to a designated foreign terrorist organization," an FTO. And Hamas is listed as an FTO, a foreign terrorist organization.
So how do you work around the law in the United States right now, which is that the U.S. tax payer dollars cannot go to Hamas?
CARTER: Well that's what I think I just said. That we don't have to give it to the Hamas government or even the Palestinian Authority. What we have to do, if we want to, is to give it to the United Nations, with it designated for health, education, the relief of refugees and other matters of that kind. So we can bypass the Hamas government completely if the United States decides to give humanitarian aid.
BLITZER: So let me just be precise...
CARTER: I don't have any doubt...
BLITZER: Let me be precise on this. What you're recommending is that U.S. taxpayer money go to some United Nations organization or a non-governmental organization and they could then give it directly to Palestinians, but not through the Palestinian Authority?
CARTER: Exactly, yes. Exactly. That's what I've been recommending. And I think that's a very feasible thing and a reasonable thing to do. Otherwise, we're going to have -- indirectly or directly, there are about a million people in the West Bank and Gaza who are dependent on salaries from the government. And these include schoolteachers and so forth, as I've described.
And I think that the Palestinian Authority, as a government, could then go to other sources, to the rich Arab countries, Egypt and others, to make up for what the United States withholds. But I don't think we ought to punish the Palestinian people.
BLITZER: Here is what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said the other day on this issue. He said, "Their" -- referring to Hamas -- "Their objective, part of their platform, is the destruction of Israel. They are a terrorist organization. They need to give up their objective of the destruction of Israel. They need to foreswear violence, and I think close down their military wing before anybody is going to treat them seriously as a legitimate interlocutor."
Basically, the European Union, the United Nations, the so-called quartet, they have a similar stance right now as the United States does. How do you get around this, though, in terms of -- this is the new Palestinian authority. There will be a prime minister, Mr. Haniyeh, who is a top member of Hamas. How does the United States or these European countries deal with the Palestinians now?
CARTER: Well, first of all, you have to remember that Mahmoud Abbas, who they call Abu Mazen, is still the president. He is the one that represents the Palestinian Liberation Organization. That's the only organization that has ever negotiated peace agreements or tentative peace agreements with Israelis.
And he's there. He's not associated with the Palestinian government under Hamas. And if the Israelis want to have direct peace talks still of any kind, exploratory or seek a definitive answer, which would be unlikely, then Abbas is available for that purpose without involving Hamas at all. That's one thing.
I don't have any doubt that Hamas has, in the past and maybe even now, still pledges itself to resort to violence. When I was there recently talking to the prime minister of Israel and to his aides, they told me that Hamas was a very disciplined group.
Since August of 2004, Hamas has participated in a cease fire, which I think in Arab is called a hadna (ph). And they have not violated this cease fire all. There have been no terrorist activities attributed to Hamas for the last year and a half, 18 months.
When I met with one of the Hamas leaders after the election, whom I had also met with ten years ago and hadn't seen him since, he told me what the Hamas people want is a peaceful unity government. Whether he's telling the truth, I have no way of knowing.
But my belief is that Hamas now wants a stable, domestically oriented policies in their government to deal with the problems of the Palestinian people. And in my belief is if they're treated fairly, they might very well be less likely to resort to violence than if a Palestinian people are mistreated.
BLITZER: I interviewed...
CARTER: By the way, let me add that eventually, Wolf, they are going to have to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and resolve to their problems with Israel in a peaceful way. There's no doubt about that. They cannot escape that international mandate which they have to fulfill.
BLITZER: So far they've indicated they're going to resist that. In fact, I spoke with Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the co-founders of Hamas, a few weeks ago right after the election on January 29th. And I asked him what kind of Palestinian state he would like to see emerge, whether there should be a secular state. And he was very firm. Listen to his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAHMOUD AL-ZAHAR, HAMAS CO-FOUNDER: Do you think the secular system is serving any nation? Secular system allows homosexuality, allows corruption, allows the spread of -- the loss of natural immunity like AIDS. We are here living under Islamic control. Nothing will change. Islam is our constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's very firm. "Islam is our constitution." He wants an Islamic state in Palestine, beginning with the West Bank and Gaza, but then, of course, including all of Israel. Is there any reason that you have to doubt that's what he wants?
CARTER: I don't have any doubt that's what he wants. I do doubt that that's what the Palestinian people want. It was very interesting in the election, Wolf. There is a small state in the West Bank north of Jerusalem -- I've forgotten the name right now -- where the Hamas had tried to discourage dancing and singing as part of their Islamic restrictions.
And Hamas actually did very poorly in that area, although they did much better in the rest of the country. So I know the Palestinian people very well. They're not going to permit the imposition of sharia law on themselves.
And of course, the dream of some ridiculous Hamas leaders and other countries to take over Israel is obviously fallacious and incomprehensible. So I think what's going to happen now is that the more pragmatic leaders of Hamas, including Haniyeh, who is the new prime minister, I think will prevail and the Palestinian people will prevail.
There's no doubt that they expressed their will clearly in the election. And I don't have any desire to speak for Hamas, which I think has been horrible in the past in terrorist activities. But I think we ought to give a chance to the Palestinian people to establish a kind of government that can be constructive and peaceful if the Palestinian people's rights are honored.
BLITZER: Mr. President, I'm going to ask you, if you don't mind, to stand by. I want to take a quick commercial break. There are so many more questions I want to go through with you on this President's Day. More of my interview with former President Jimmy Carter coming up.