Jimmy Carter just doesn’t get it.
The former president has reported to Israel that Hamas has agreed to a 10-year truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 lines — an offer the United States, Israel, and anyone with brains have written off as meaningless. The Nobel laureate may be the only president to have successfully negotiated a peace treaty between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors, but he does not understand that what worked in the 1970s will not work today.
Egypt under Anwar el-Sadat was guided by a pan-Arabic idea of nationalism. Egypt was the champion of the Arab world, and any blow it dealt to Israel was seen as boosting Arab honor. Likewise, any defeat was seen as humiliating. Whereas the goal of the 1948 war had been to destroy the fledgling Jewish nation, at the core of each subsequent conflict was the desire to erase the humiliation of that first struggle. Pragmatically, Sadat knew that continued war would be only a detriment to his nation, but he could not afford to appear weak to his brethren or to the world. The key was to achieve peace while Egypt retained its honor, which resulted in Egypt’s receiving the entire Sinai Peninsula. In the eyes of the Arab world, he achieved a victory by winning a territorial concession from Israel as well as a massive aid package from the United States.
Hamas cannot be placated as easily. For Khaled Mashaal and other Hamas leaders, the conflict is not about nationalism. It is about "submission to Allah" (the word "Islam" in English translation) and the directive Hamas believes it has from Allah to destroy Israel. Carter thinks that he can woo Hamas to peace the same way he swayed Egypt. But one cannot be a party to peace when one is religiously dedicated to the annihilation of the adversary.
Egypt’s nationalism could be tempered and negotiated. As long as Egypt appeared to gain something, then peace could be attained. It was about image, not conviction. Hamas is more black and white. It believes that its directive to destroy Israel comes from a higher authority than Carter, the United States, or moderate Arab nations. That kind of religious zealotry cannot be negotiated.
Hamas has said many times that it would enter into a hudna — a temporary ceasefire — with Israel, but it has never spoken of a lasting peace. In Hamas ideology, there is no such thing; there are only periods of quiet while Hamas re-arms in preparation for striking the final blow. Take, for example, Hamas’ recent offer of a 10-year hudna in exchange for a state in all of Gaza, the west bank, and East Jerusalem. That is everything the Palestinian Authority asks for, so why only a 10-year ceasefire with Hamas?
Carter understood the pragmatism of Egypt but he does not understand the patience of Hamas.