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Jimmy Carter Gets Cold Reception in Israel

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is getting a cold reception in Israel. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Mr. Carter is perceived as having a strong anti-Israel bias.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his foreign minister have snubbed Mr. Carter and are refusing to meet with him. They are angry that the former president compares Israeli policies to apartheid and that he plans to meet this week with Khaled Mashaal, a leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, in Damascus. Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel.

The spokesman for the Israel branch of the Anti-Defamation League, Arieh O'Sullivan, says Mr. Carter is sending the wrong message.

"Former President Jimmy Carter, he is on a very destructive path right now in the Middle East," said Arieh O'Sullivan. "He is going to Syria, he is going to meet with the head of Hamas, to engage with terrorists."

Mr. Carter defended his plans on American television, in an interview with ABC's This Week.

"I think there is no doubt in anyone's mind that if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process," said Jimmy Carter.

He said he would try to convince Hamas to halt attacks against Israeli civilians, but in an unofficial capacity.

"I am not going as a mediator or negotiator," he said. "This is a mission we take as part of the overall Carter Center project to promote peace in the region."

Despite the snub by Israeli leaders, Mr. Carter did meet with Israel's ceremonial President Shimon Peres. On Monday, the former president will visit the southern Israeli town of Sderot that has been battered by Palestinian rockets fired from nearby Gaza and on Tuesday, he travels to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.