Hamas Tells Carter It's Open to Living in Peace With Israel

APFormer U.S. President Carter delivering an address in Jerusalem on Monday.
JERUSALEM -- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Monday that Hamas -- the Islamic militant group known for its suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israel -- is prepared to accept the Jewish state's right to "live as a neighbor next door in peace."

Hamas is also ready prepared to accept the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, provided it is approved in a Palestinian referendum, or by a Palestinian government chosen in new elections, Carter said.

However, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip said Hamas wouldn't be bound by a referendum's results.

In the past, Hamas officials have said they would establish a "peace in stages" if Israel were to withdraw to the frontiers it held before the 1967 Middle East War. But it has been evasive about how it sees the final borders of a Palestinian state, and has not abandoned its official call for Israel's destruction.

Carter relayed his message in a speech in Jerusalem after meeting two days last week with top Hamas leaders in Syria. The speech capped a nine-day visit to the Middle East designed to break the deadlock between Israel and Hamas militants who rule Gaza.

Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist group and has shunned Carter during his visit because of his meetings with Hamas' supreme chief, Khaled Mashaal, and other group leaders. In his speech in Jerusalem, Carter urged Israel to negotiate directly with Hamas, saying failure to do so was hampering peace efforts.

"We do not believe that peace is likely and certainly that peace is not sustainable unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way," he said. "The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working."