Israel has condemned the meeting between former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the exiled leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas in Damascus. But as Robert Berger reports from the VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there are some dissenting voices.

The Israeli government believes former President Carter's meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal harms the global war on terrorism and the Middle East peace process. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, refuses to renounce violence or recognize the Jewish state, and therefore, Israel says the organization should be shunned and not embraced.

Israeli analyst Dan Dyker says Mr. Carter's meeting in Damascus strengthens Hamas while weakening the moderate, internationally-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

"By going to speak to an Iranian agent in Khaled Meshaal in Syria, all that does is to weaken the forces in the Palestinian Authority that are amenable to a peace agreement with Israel," he said.

Most Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, snubbed Mr. Carter on his visit here, not only because of his plans to meet Hamas, but also because of his book that compared Israeli policies to apartheid.

"Carter's comments have been widely distorted regarding Israel," said Dan Dyker. "His book is filled with distortions of fact, mistakes of fact. And therefore I think it places him, because of his delegitimization of Israel which he continues to engage in, it places him out of the bounds of diplomacy."

But some Israelis see things differently. Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai told Mr. Carter this week that he wants to meet with Hamas to discuss a prisoner swap for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who has been held in Gaza for nearly two years. Yishai says he asked Carter to arrange a meeting.

Former Israeli diplomat David Kimche says that when it comes to Shalit, Mr. Carter's talks in Damascus could be useful.

"We have unfinished business with Hamas and that is Shalit, and if he can in any manner or form persuade Meshaal to come forward and do something on that, then I don't seem much harm in that from our point of view," he said.

But that is clearly not the position of Israel's government which believes Hamas is part of the problem, not part of the solution.