On Monday, former US President Jimmy Carter addressed the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, and then held a press conference at the King David Hotel in West Jerusalem

The main focus of Carter’s speech at the press conference was regarding his meeting with Hamas movement officials last week in Syria and Egypt.

Carter said that Hamas leaders had told him that the movement is willing to agree on a peace deal with Israel if such a deal is negotiated by Mahmoud Abbas, and if the Palestinian Nation accepts this deal by voting on it.

‘It means that Hamas will not undermine Abbas’ efforts to negotiate an agreement and Hamas will accept an agreement if the Palestinians support it in a free vote,’ Carter said.

The former US President condemmed the Palestinian home-made shells fired by the Palestinian resistance at nearby Israeli areas, adding that he told Hamas that they are using terrorist methods, referring to the home-made Qassam shell fire.

Carter meet with Hamas officials last week in Ramallah, in addition to meeting the head of the Hamas politburo, Khaled Masha’l, in Syria, and a number of Hamas leader from Gaza whom he meet in Egypt.

Israel and the US have condemmed Carter’s meeting with Hamas officials. In his defense, Carter stated at the press conference today, ‘we’re not here as negotiators or mediators. We have no authority. We are here to learn. We believe the problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria, The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved.’

The Hamas movement won the Palestinian legislative elections in Jannuray 2006. The movement formed the National Unity government with President Abbas’ Fatah party, but a wave of internal Palestinian conflict culminated in June 2007, leaving Hamas in control of Gaza and Abbas in control of the West Bank.

Although the US, EU and Russia has stated that Hamas won in a very democratic way, they placed sanctions on Palestinian people for voting in the movement, because ‘Hamas refusal to recognize Israel and all past agreements signed with the Palestinians and Israel.’ Hamas says it will to recognize Israel if it ends its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a Palestinian state is formed on the 1967 borders.

Carter said today, ‘they [Hamas] said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians even though Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement.’

Regarding the Palestinian-Israeli Peace talks that were reinstated during the one-day US sponsored Annapolis conference last November, Carter said that the peace process has ‘regressed’.

He did not hide that he felt that the reason for this regression is Israel’s continued settlement activity and the lack of the progress on the ground, such as removing Israeli military road blocks from the West Bank.

‘There is a general feeling almost unanimously agreed that no progress has been made in the peace process of any significance,’ Carter stated during the press conference. ‘As a matter of fact, since Annapolis, the peace process has regressed, more settlements have been announced, more road blocks have been established, and the prison around Gaza has been tightened’.

Regarding Gaza, Carter said, ‘a resolution needs to be made, as people [in Gaza] are continuing to suffer. I believe however, a greater and more effective American role is needed here – going beyond the commitments made by the Bush administration to reach a peace agreement.’

Jimmy Carter is leading a study tour to Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a continued effort to support peace, democracy and human rights in the region.

Former US president Carter was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his roll in mediating conflicts, and for his humanitarian travels for the Carter Center. He has also written a book about the Israeli wall, entitled ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid’ which was released in 2007.