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Will Carter's Hamas foray bear fruit?

The former president said Monday that the Islamist militants are prepared to accept the right of Israel to 'live as a neighbor next door in peace.'

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After defying the US-led boycott on Hamas by meeting its leaders in Damascus, Syria, former President Jimmy Carter told Israelis in Jerusalem Monday that the Islamist militants assured him they would respect a peace treaty ratified by the Palestinian public.

Despite this stated shift in Hamas's rejection of a peace treaty with Israel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate cautioned that he is not about to coax Israel and Hamas together in the same way he shepherded Israelis and Egyptians to their watershed peace treaty in 1979.

"I don't ever intend to be a mediator between any of the disputing groups … that's not my goal," he said in a speech. "I don't have any expectation that I would be an acceptable spokesperson for either the US or Israel."

At the end of his Middle East tour, the remark highlights a key question about President Carter's freelance diplomacy: What value is there to talks with groups like Hamas – called a "terrorist organization" by the US and Israel – when the messenger himself does not speak on anyone's behalf?

Israel and Hamas already have a channel of talks via Egypt, which is being used to negotiate a prisoner swap to free Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit from nearly two years of captivity in Gaza. The Egyptians are also thought to be mediating talks on a cease-fire and the reopening of the border between Gaza and Egypt.

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